Be a “Paul” For Today’s “Onesimus”

By Craig Stevenson

First, stop here and get your bible. Read the Book of Philemon. It will take you as long to go get your Bible as it does to read the Book of Philemon. It is 25 verses long—the entire book!

The story is simple. Paul is writing from jail to Philemon. He’s begging Philemon to free Onesimus and go beyond welcoming him back as a slave—but to free him. Onesimus has apparently run away as a slave, but Paul implores Philemon to forgive him and allow him to spread the Good News as a converted Christian.

What part of the story tugs at your heart? It could be…

  • Paul’s feeling of imprisonment / our recent stay-at-home orders
  • Onesimus’ feeling of uncertainty of what to do: return home or not / scared of what will happen next in our world as we re-open and cases of COVID-19 rise again
  • Philemon’s desire to possibly get his slave back so he can make up for lost time / a burning desire to get back to what was our normal speed-of-life

For me, what tugs at my heart is this: Paul is standing to support someone whose voice has been minimized for some reason. Whether it be the pandemic, recent tragedies that have enflamed already strained race relation conversations in our country, or the return to regular political-fighting. The past few weeks have highlighted the need for more “Paul’s” in the world.

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90).

Paul stood-up for Onesimus so that the Gospel could be spread. Onesimus doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible. However, a historical letter later written by a Christian martyr Ignatius mentions the name of Onesimus as a bishop of the province of Asia. Historians aren’t sure if this is the same Onesimus in which Paul advocated for and mentored. I would like to think it’s the same person.

Who can you identify as someone to invest in, advocate for, and encourage? What does their life trajectory look like if you don’t stand up for them vs. if you do? Paul knew first-hand, by experience, the life-changing love of Jesus Christ—it changed his life. He used every opportunity to help those around him in the name of Jesus. I miss these opportunities everyday….but this month, I’m going to try a little harder to do so. Our world needs it. Our God has called us to do it. Our Christian forefathers did it. Now, it’s our turn. Let’s go be the church.