Onesimus, a bondservant in the house of Philemon, who had since escaped with stolen goods, is set to head back from where he came.
He fled over 1,00 miles, ultimately landing in Rome.
Here he met Paul. Here he met Jesus. Here the running stopped. Here he became truly free.
And instead of continuing to run, Paul is sending Onesimus on a mission, letter in hand, back to Philemon. The letter he carries is unlike Paul’s other letters. This one is personal…believer to believer. A plea to Philemon to see Onesimus with new eyes; to see him as he is…a child of God sold out for Jesus. No longer a bondservant, but a beloved brother in Christ.
Paul pleads to a friend on behalf of a friend, desiring reconciliation and restoration. Paul offers to personally right any wrongs; to pay anything owed on Onesimus’ behalf for what he had taken. Paul is careful to not order or command it, but to appeal on behalf of Christian love and compassion. Because it is a heart change that transforms, not another dictate to follow.
As Onesimus makes his way to Colossae – over 1,000 miles back to the owner he fled from – I wonder what is going through his mind. Is he terrified? Is he hopeful? Is he praying? Is he having second thoughts? I wonder if he is making connections to the freedom the One he put his hope and faith brought about on his behalf…not the freedom from a bondservant-owner relationship, but the freedom from sin and condemnation and eternal death.
Bravely Onesimus goes, no doubt clinging to, and safely guarding, Paul’s letter. No longer a slave; no longer in hiding. He messed up and he must make it right. But everything is different this time. In the blood of Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…male or female…for we are all one in Christ (re: Galatians 3:28). Onesimus is returning repentant and free.
Scholars believe that the Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus was THIS Onesimus. Perhaps he played a part in preserving this letter – his story – in God’s story to us. Freedom is contagious. And when we are truly free, there is no stopping us. You who are in Christ are FREE. You no longer have to run or hide or be afraid. Be free and step into your new life; your new calling.
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