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Who is Onesimus?

March 3, 2012
Pastor Boyce - St. John’s Lutheran , Reinbeck Courier

There is a name in the New Testament that doesn't see a lot of daylight. Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master. His master could have had him stoned to death for running away. Philemon was the master of Onesimus as his owner.

While on the run, Onesimus ran into the Apostle Paul. Onesimus means useful. Paul describes Onesimus as a great aid in God's ministry through the Apostle Paul. Somewhere Onesimus and Paul's paths crossed and Onesimus heard the Gospel from the apostle and became a child of God. God had bought back this runaway in Christ, by whom Onesimus had received forgiveness of his sins.

Onesimus had been reconciled back to his heavenly Father by grace through faith. And now it was time to be reconciled back to his earthly master. Paul approaches Philemon with some history behind them. He was a former pagan whom the Lord had brought to faith through Paul. God writes through Paul, "Whatever he owes you, charge to me," writes the Apostle Paul to Philemon as he speaks for the benefit of his new friend and steward in Christ.

Then Paul writes, "Just remember you owe me your very life, Philemon." As a Christian, Philemon could have been executed for his crimes against God, too. Just as the Father had done for Paul and Onesimus, He had also done for Philemon. As Paul speaks about giving his life for Onesimus, if it came to that, Philemon was probably reminded of the blessing of life he had received. The same picture applies to Christians today. The Lord took our death and punishment and put it on His Son for you, for me, for Philemon and Onesimus. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

We are now entering the season of Lent, where we ponder the cost Christ paid for our ransom as He redeemed us. Like Onesimus, we were bought back from our sins, freed to live not for yourself, but for those around you. All the gifts you have received, whether house and home and food; or, in your spiritual life through Christ as you have been redeemed. All this you are enabled to do by what the Father has given you to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Each of us joins Onesimus in our freedom and in his determination to serve the Apostle Paul and his Lord as a faithful servant. So here you are in the Reinbeck area, right in the place God has been pleased for you to serve Him. Each of us has the opportunity to do what the Lord has given us to do. Each one of us is given a vocation(s) through these relationships. St. Paul was an Apostle. Onesimus was Philemon's slave.

Philemon received St. Paul's letter with humility and grace, and then he would respond with great joy as he set the run-away slave free.

Take a look around you, beginning with your immediate family members. Look for needs that you can serve as a servant of God's love and mercy. It can be as simple as being the listening ear, or the smiling and supportive friend. And with Lent-style tunnel vision, may we remember that "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17. Believing is seeing, knowing the love in Christ through His Word.



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