“That I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” Philemon 1:10-21 NIV
It seems that Onesimus was a runaway slave and a thief. Somehow in the providence of God, Onesimus ran into Paul. Perhaps they were introduced after Onesimus became a believer. Either of them could have chosen not to engage, but instead, by God’s grace, they began a conversation. Notice, Paul could have been in the same place, but chosen not to talk to a runaway slave. How different this story would be! Or imagine if Onesiums had been ashamed to talk with Paul. God used their willingness to become friends as the backdrop of a book of the Bible!
Imagine Onesimus having just returned to Philemon and having handed this letter to Philemon—and Philemon standing there reading this letter. What were his thoughts? What was the impact upon Philemon, the slave owner who had been converted to Christ? What would he do now? There standing before him was a former slave who had broken the law by running away, broken one of the major laws upon which the Roman empire was built. (Rome kept the peace by enslaving and scattering the people of conquered nations all over the world, breaking their loyalty to their homeland. Death was the punishment for runaway slaves.)
Onesimus faced his past in order to right his wrongs. This is clear evidence that the heart of Onesimus had been truly converted to Christ. He wanted to return and right the wrong he had done.
⇒ A Christian believer is to make restitution, to right whatever wrong he has done, in so far as it is humanly possible. No Christian should ever try to escape from making restitution, from righting whatever wrong he has done.
Onesimus had been changed by the hand of God. Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus had left for just a brief time so that he could return. God was overlooking and overruling the whole event for the sake of Onesimus’ salvation. Philemon was now able to be associated with Onesimus forever. The implication is that both shall live forever with Christ, worshipping and serving Christ throughout all eternity.
Questions for reflection:
Are you willing to make friendships with those who are different from you?
Is there someone you need to reconcile with?