Philemon 11–12 (ESV) — 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
Paul incorporates a play on words in his letter to Philemon. The name Onesimus means “useful”. We do not know why Paul includes the remark that Onesimus was formerly “useless”. As was mentioned yesterday, some believe that Onesimus was a runaway slave and not his return has made him useful again. Others believe that there was a conflict between Onesimus and Philemon and this is the reason he was useless (due to the conflict). And still others believe that this statement refers to Onesimus’ spiritual condition. He was an unbeliever when he departed from Philemon, but became a believer while with Paul, which now make him far more useful.
We often wish we knew more details behind some of the things we read in Scripture, but we must be satisfied with what the Lord has given us. The word is sufficient and gives us everything God intended for us to have. I believe the far more important detail is to see the second verse. In it, we get a glimpse at how Paul felt about Onesimus. He was sending his “very heart” in sending back Onesimus. Paul loved Onesimus deeply. In verse 10 he had called Onesimus “my child” and referred to himself as his “father”. This is the kind of love we are called to have for one another within the church. Throughout the New Testament, the church is pictured as a family. We are bothers and sisters in Christ and our relationships should reflect the depth of affection that is found in families. All of the things that divide the people of the world (e.g. wealth, social class, race, etc.) are gone within the church. We are family and our love for one another runs deep.
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