Posts Tagged ‘useful’

“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.” Philemon 10-11

Onesimus was a slave, while not the lowest of the low in that society he was pretty far down the list.  Then he became a runaway slave and went even lower.  We do not have the back story of Onesimus but I bet that as Paul penned these words, he did.  However the details do not really matter because at its core, this is the story of humanity.  I love this verse because in an obscure verse, in an obscure book using what might seem purely concrete language Paul summarizes the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit takes that which was formerly useless and makes it useful.  It is Romans 8 in a nutshell.  “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-7 

Paul makes it clear that the change from useless to useful is not about performance of duties.  It is also not about a change in life status.  Paul acknowledges that Onesimus is Philemon’s property.  There is no impassioned plea to free the slaves.  How often we want to link our progress from useless to useful on a change in our circumstances.  The lie of Satan is that our usefulness rests in those circumstances.  Yet Paul begs Philemon to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in Onesimus’ life, transforming him from a useless slave to much more, a beloved brother.  “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 16

Paul then does something amazing which serves as an example to us all.  He engages this transformation from useless to useful on a personal level.  He leverages his own reputation and his own usefulness to aver the spiritual change in Onesimus and to square the life debt that he incurred.  The model is inescabable, demonstrating the way that Jesus stands before the throne and answers the accusations of the Devil, “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” Philemon 18  What a wonderful illustration of our Lord and Savior’s advocacy for us.  It is also a wonderful illustration of the way that we should be standing in the gap for our brothers’ and sisters’ in Christ.  Just as Jesus stands with us and offers himself to erase the debt of our sin, we should stand ready to leverage ourselves in service of those to whom the Holy Spirit leads us as we serve Him.

While the Bible does not give us the rest of the story, church traditions tell us that some years later Philemon and Onesimus were martyred for their faith, together.

 

 

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