An Appeal for Onesimus
Open Your Bible
Philemon 1:8-25, Genesis 50:15-20, 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, Galatians 3:28
To my knowledge, I’ve never had a real enemy. Maybe a couple “frenemies” over the years, after silly quarrels or jealousies, but no one who was really out to get me. But, like most of us, I have crossed paths with a few people who have behaved harmfully toward my friends and family, and these folks are probably the hardest ones to love in the name of Christ. My inner Mama Bear comes out, and I get protective.
In this second half of the book of Philemon, the apostle Paul makes a big ask. He appeals on behalf of Onesimus, the formerly enslaved man and his companion in prison, asking Philemon to welcome him with open arms. The apostle goes as far as to call Onesimus his “very own heart” and offers to take on whatever debt the man happens to owe in order to give him a fresh start (Philemon 12). “Refresh my heart in Christ,” Paul tells Philemon (v.20). It seems that while in prison, God arrested Paul’s heart and taught him what it meant to care for others even—no, especially—when they have done wrong.
Philemon is the shortest and most personal of Paul’s letters, but it packs a punch by capturing the heart of the gospel. This letter is an intimate glimpse at what the book of Colossians looks like in practice, when we care for others because of the price Christ paid. In it, we find a beautiful model for the ministry of reconciliation that Christ calls all believers to (2 Corinthians 5:16–17).
It’s a ministry of extending forgiveness to those who have wronged us, just like Joseph was asked to do by his father (Genesis 50:17). It’s a ministry of showing compassion to those who may or may not deserve it. It involves considering each other first and foremost as part of our spiritual family, instead of only through the lens of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender (Galatians 3:28). Because we all bear the image of God, we are all invited to have a seat at the table in His household. This is the true gospel.
We have work to do, friends! This ministry of reconciliation is the most life-giving thing we could ever participate in. But thankfully, we don’t do it in our own strength. The Spirit of the Lord is what moves our hearts and serves as the bridge between us and those God calls us to seek out and love.
Thank you, Jesus, for reconciling us to you through your life, death, and resurrection. We praise you for being Lord over all creation—over our everyday, breakfast-making lives, and over the universe in all its cosmic complexity. Help us have eyes to see our brothers and sisters as You see them: men and women, image-bearers, and dearly loved children of God.