22nd April 2013

A Man Called “Useful!”

“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.”
Philemon 10-11 (NIV)
 

Here in this very short letter to Philemon the apostle Paul goes to bat for the runaway slave, Onesimus, who has been converted to Christianity under his ministry. Paul explains that he would like to have kept Onesimus as a helper in his ministry but not without his master Philemon’s approval. As you can probably guess, this is a very sensitive subject.  He is asking that this runaway should not be punished but accepted back now, not as a slave, but as brother in Christ. (verse 16). 

Paul also plays on words here; the name Onesimus means “useful” or “profitable”. He points out that until now this young man has not lived up to his name; however, a transformation has taken place in the slave’s life, and now he is useful to you and me! (See scripture above). 

His hope is that Philemon will release Onesimus to return to him to serve freely without threat of reprisal. (V 12-13). This individual whose life looked like a failure turned out to be of real help to others. 

Notice what Paul tells the church at Galatia on this subject of conversion to Christianity:  “All of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor freeman, no male nor female; in Christ Jesus you are all one, and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and by promise his heirs.”(Galatians 3: 27-29 Williams). 

Some fifty years later a man named Onesimus was the bishop of Ephesus.  Was this the same person? We don’t know for sure but what we do know with certainty is that wherever we go God’s grace follows along and there is no reason why this runaway slave should not have become an influential Christian leader in the area. 

In light of this message to Philemon there are two questions that I need to ask myself and they are—“When was the last time I cared enough and had the courage to intercede for someone else?” And, “Am I being useful in sharing the Gospel with others?” 

Prayer
Father thank you for this special example of Paul your servant who, in great love for a runaway slave approached Philemon to ask forgiveness for him and to point out his usefulness in preaching the Good News. May we also be useful to you and others every day because of your power.
Amen

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 cliffneillAbout the Author:
Cliff Neill is an Elder in Grace Communion Church Luton, the Worldwide Church of God UK Congregation in Luton.

Local  Congregation:
Grace Communion Church Luton
Farley Hill Methodist Church
North Drift Way
Farley Hill
LUTON
LU1 5JE

Meeting time:
Saturday 10:30am

Local Congregational Contact:
Harry Sullivan
Phone:  01908-582222
Email: harry_sullivan@wcg.org.uk

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