Being locked up in prison complicates Paul’s method of ministry. No longer able to move about freely, he becomes dependent on letters and those he trusts to deliver them. God places the right people into Paul’s team. Onesimus is one of the members. We learn about him because he has a relationship with Paul, has a history with Philemon and a future for Christ as one of the team.
Relationship With Paul
In the Letter to the Colossians, we learn that Onesimus is from Colossae. Paul describes him as a faithful servant and a beloved brother. We learn more from the Letter Paul wrote to Philemon. Paul refers to Onesimus as a son. He was “begotten” during Paul’s imprisonment. Now he is of great value to Paul in his ministry, but something needs to happen first.
His History with Philemon
Philemon is a beloved friend and fellow labourer of Paul. In these relationships it is necessary to have nothing between them to hinder the work of Christ. At one time, Onesimus belonged to Philemon. He was his slave. It appears he ran away and there could be other things involved as well. We only know Paul wants to make things right.
A Future for Christ
Paul has birthed and fathered Onesimus in the faith. Now he desires to send him out. First, however, he sends him back to Philemon. Then Paul promises to restore any loss caused by Onesimus. He really wants him on his team, but it must be God’s way and in God’s time. Philemon and Onesimus need to be restored to one another, beyond master and slave, to the place of brotherhood. We do not get to see how it worked out, but we do see this man, now on Paul’s team as one willing and ready to be sent out.
When Paul writes, “for perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother,” we get a glimpse. God is at work in all things for His glory. Sometimes it takes awhile to build the right team when done God’s way. Yet In Colossians 4:9, we see Onesimus on the ground, work boots on, and mission in hand.