The Story of Onesimus

December 14, 2020

Philemon 1:1-5

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker — also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier —and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.


This week we are mixing things up and providing you the daily devotions in advance of the message being preached. Paul’s letter to Philemon was a very short personal letter to one of the leaders at the church in Colossae. It is very probable that the church met in Philemon’s home. Even though this letter is addressed to Philemon, his whole household and the whole church were included. In his commentary on Philemon, J.V. McGee writes, “Reading this epistle is like looking over the shoulder of Philemon and reading his personal mail.”

Behind every one of Paul’s letters, there is a story. The story of this letter is found in the awful background of slavery. Scholars believe there were over 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. This is astonishing when you consider that the estimated population of the empire was 120 million. Needless to say, slaves were treated very poorly and found themselves subject to the cruelty of their masters.

It appears that Philemon was a wealthy man in Colossae who came to faith in Christ. Being a wealthy man in that day, Philemon owned slaves. One of his slaves was named Onesimus. When the opportunity presented itself, Onesimus decided to escape and leave his slave status behind. Eventually, he made his way to Rome. In Rome, he somehow met the apostle Paul. Paul led him to faith in Christ and true spiritual freedom. As a result of his faith, Onesimus became a new creation in Christ.

Once saved, Onesimus tells Paul that he is a runaway slave. Paul then writes this letter to Philemon and sends Onesimus to deliver the letter to his former master. So, Paul begins this letter by expressing his thankfulness to Philemon. Philemon’s reputation of love and faith was well known among the saints. His testimony of a changed life was well known, and Paul is relying on his godly character for what he is about to ask of him.

The book of Philemon is a powerful testimony to God’s grace, Christian love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the ability of the Gospel to transform lives.

Questions to Ponder

What kind of reputation do you have at home? In the workplace? In the community? In the church? Is your faith and love evident to all? If Paul were writing this personal letter to you, would he be thankful for your new life in Christ?

Prayer Points

  • If you are physically able, get on your knees in a posture of humility and hallow His name for being faithful, forgiving, abounding in love, and rich in mercy and kindness.
  • Thank Him for those in your life who are new to Christ. Pray for their walk to be strengthened in Him. Pray for their protection and that they would grow in Christ.
  • Ask the Lord to show you, today, how you can practically demonstrate His love to Him and those around you. Ask Him to slow you down, hear His voice, and listen and obey.
  • Pray for all of us to respond to those oppressed just like Philemon responded (by being open, inviting, caring, and loving). He put action to his words.

Suggested Prayer
God of comfort, love, and compassion, I praise You that You are full of kindness and tender mercy. You are so caring and are moved by those far from You, close to You, and all who are hurting and weak. Father, help me and Your church at Oak Pointe to live lives that reflect Your love, faithfulness, and forgiving heart that is humble. Help us respond to You and those in our midst. I ask, Abba, that You would slow us down and help us to practically love someone today. Help us to make the most of every opportunity You give to us. I ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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