Recently I was asked a question while travelling in a car with 3 others, what is your favourite book in the bible, or what book in the bible would you want to have if you were stranded on a desert island?
One of those travelling in the car said they would like a long read and said the book of Isaiah, the others chose their favourite books and added why they had chosen them. Like many of us we all have a favourite book we like to go to, relate to or a book that we know that will be something we can learn from. For myself, I like the books of Philemon and Ephesians. Ephesians because it has the whole gospel in 6 small chapters. Philemon because it has a message that I and probably many other people can relate to, a book about a complete transformation of a man’s life.
The book of Philemon is only 25 verses long and is a letter Paul wrote to Timothy the leader of the church in Colossae and to Philemon, the leader of a house church nearby. The letter is about a man by the name of Onesimus.
What I find fascinating about this letter is the transformation that this one person has gone through and the change that comes with it. Onesimus was a slave and was considered useless or unprofitable in who he was as a person. As a slave he was poor, rejected and in bondage. This is how we all were before we found Jesus. Onesimus may have heard Paul speak at Philemon’s house when they had met together. He may have even served Paul and his co-workers in Christ, yet was still bound by the circumstances of life, bought and used as a slave to Philemon.
We read how Onesimus then steals from his master (Phil 18) and then runs away. He eventually finds his way to Rome and meets Paul, who leads him to Christ, disciples him and then wants to send him back to Philemon.
This is a remarkable transformation in his life and circumstances.
Onesimus is sent back not as a slave and unprofitable, but as a free person, now a son, brother and is counted as useful and profitable. This is a remarkable transformation in his life and circumstances. There has been a divine exchange that has taken place in his life.
It is so remarkable that it is hard to comprehend, but as I look at my own life, it has been exactly the same – I was once bound in my own ways, bound by drugs, alcohol and that sense of being a nobody – running away, trying to find what life was all about – to eventually finding God and finding or discovering that I am someone who has significance and is profitable to God and His Kingdom. Isn’t this the same with all of us?
I ended up leaving my job, family, friends, and country
As I looked at Onesimus, I could see many similarities in my own life. Many years ago, I found myself in a wrong crowd and because of this I found myself involved with a lifestyle that led me to a place where I no longer valued who I was and became lost. I ended up leaving my job, family, friends, and country to try and run away from the life I had. Over a period of 7 years, I ran from person to person, country to country, until I couldn’t run anymore. In the end I had no place to run and ended up with severe depression and poor mental health. After much treatment, I was asked to attend a church where I found the answers to all my life’s questions.
Onesimus like many others was the same, he ran from Colossae to Rome, quite a long journey to take some 2000 years ago, where he also found Jesus (through Paul’s ministry).
Onesimus and I are very similar in many ways, after finding God we both embarked on a healing and discipleship journey that changed our lives forever. Onesimus name means useful or profitable, he discovered who he was in Christ and was then sent back to Philemon totally different to when he left. This transformed life Onesimus discovered showed himself as a son, a brother, free and profitable.
when I stopped running and found Jesus, things changed.
I can say the same as what Paul writes to Onesimus: I was once running away trying to find and search for answers, yet when I stopped running and found Jesus, things changed. I no longer run away from God but to Him, only He has the answers to all life’s issues.
I would like to have been there when Onesimus came face to face to his old master Philemon, to see how he received him, no longer as his slave but as a brother in Christ. It must have been a remarkable sight to see: accepted, loved and forgiven. This is the most remarkable exchange of the cross of Jesus and what He can do for all our lives.
I wonder, how do you see yourself today?
I wonder, how do you see yourself today (slave or free, unprofitable or profitable) and where do we run to (away from God or to God)?
Onesimus was a changed person, because of his position in life. In this book it teaches us that when we meet with Jesus, He can transform our lives and we can live in a different way, as a son, a brother or sister in Christ, forgiven, healed, discovering our destiny and in freedom.
When someone asks me what is my favourite book and I say Philemon, now you know why, maybe it become yours as well.
By Robert Steel, Director of Ellel Glyndley Manor
If this article spoke into your heart, you may want to consider the following event:
10 September – 1st October
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