If you have read the book or watched the movie, you know the story of Eustace Scrubb. If I might sum up his life before encountering Aslan in Narnia it would be one word that sounds an awful lot like his name, useless. Without spoiling the best part of the story I will simply say that Eustace becomes a dragon. However, it was the best thing that ever happened to him because Aslan shows up to perform a miracle in his life!
I share that brief story because something similar happened to someone named Onesimus prior to this letter to Philemon. In fact, it is the occasion from which this letter is written. Even though this letter is short, there’s much that could be highlighted, but let’s see this amazing transformation in Onesimus.
Philemon and Onesimus had some type of master-servant relationship. We don’t know much about it but it seems that Onesimus had left for some reason. Again, the details are minimal but somehow Onesimus runs into the Apostle Paul while in prison for the gospel.
What is clear is that something amazing happened to Onesimus. It was perhaps the darkest days of his life, yet this might have been the best thing that had ever happened to him because he heard and believed the gospel!
Similar to Eustace/useless, Onesimus’s name on the contrary meant “useful” though he was not useful. But that changes when he meets Jesus like Eustace met Aslan. Here’s what Paul says about it.
10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) – Philemon 1:10-11
For Paul to become Onesimus’s father would mean his father in the faith. It simply means that Paul shared the gospel with him and he believed. This is such rich language that describes discipleship. There is a profound responsibility Paul has for Onesimus and we should see discipleship like that too.
Paul will go on to say concerning why all of this happened:
15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever,
16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother-especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16
Not only did Onesimus become useful to Paul but also to Jesus and the Kingdom. We hear of him later. See this:
7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,
9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. – Colossians 4:7-9
It is the miracle of the gospel! May you be encouraged and not loss heart! God is transforming us from Eustace to Onesimus by His grace and for His glory!