16 October 2015
by Philip Layton

Paul pleads with Philemon to take back and forgive Onesimus

Click here to read Philemon

Discussion Questions

  • Paul is obviously using a play on words here – Onesimus means ‘useful’ (vv 10, 11). Paul describes him as once useless and now useful to Philemon. What might this teach us about the rest of his letters? Can there be subtleties that are missing?

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Paul was a prisoner in Rome. His friend, Philemon, was in Colosse. The human link between the two was the slave, Onesimus – who apparently had taken money from his master, escaping to Rome. Then a miracle happened. He got saved!

The easiest thing would have been for Onesimus to stay with Paul. But the apostle felt it was important for Onesimus to return to Colosse and straighten things out with Philemon. The law at the time permitted a master to execute a rebellious slave. Paul decided to write a letter to Philemon, hoping his friend would be receptive to Onesimus’s return.

With whom do you identify in this letter? Martin Luther once wrote: ‘All of us are Onesimuses!’ He was certainly right, as we are all sinners – saved by grace. At one time or another, if not many  times, we have run away from God. We try to hide in the ‘big city’ of life; but to no avail. God always knows where we are. We then need to return, in all humility, asking for his forgiveness.

We can also identify with Paul – helping to build bridges for people. Interceding for them. Being a friend to those who feel so alone. We are to bring hope; genuinely loving and caring for people:

I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you (v 12).

We are not only to be like Onesimus, asking for forgiveness; or like Paul, interceding on another’s behalf. We’re to be ready to do what Paul longed for Philemon to do: forgive – all because Christ forgives us, and loves us so deeply.

May God give us open minds and hearts, as we love him with all that we are, and love one another as God would have us do.

Tags: Philemon