December 15 (Daily reading: Colossians, Philemon) Paul wrote to Philemon concerning Onesimus: “Accept him as you would me” (v. 17). Onesimus had run away from his master, Philemon. Somehow Onesimus made it from Colossae to Rome, where, by divine appointment, Paul led Onesimus to faith in Christ, as he had probably earlier led Philemon. Paul appealed to his personal relationship with Philemon, hoping to convince him to forgive and receive Onesimus. He wrote that Onesimus was formerly “useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me” (v. 11). This was a play on words because the name Onesimus means “useful.” His usefulness was much greater in the faith he shared with Paul and Philemon than it had been as a slave. Onesimus had ministered to Paul in prison and sending him back to Philemon was like “sending my very heart” (v. 12).
Paul used the word “brother” five times in this letter, in reference to Timothy, Philemon and Onesimus. Paul was a brother to all of them. Philemon could now have Onesimus “back forever, no longer as a slave, but (as) a beloved brother” (v. 16). Now converted to Christ, Onesimus was just as much Philemon’s brother as Paul was. Asking Philemon to “accept him as you would me” mean accepting him as a free man, because Philemon would never have treated Paul as a slave.
Why is this short letter in the New Testament? It illustrates the awesome power of being in the family of God. Barriers are broken down and bridges are built as we are guided by the Holy Spirit to live as brothers and sisters in Christ! We are guided in the church by the principle: “Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). We are family! (Adapted from my book, “We Love Because God First Loved Us,” pages 145-147).
– Al Gary