My Son Onesimus

Phm. 1:10-11.

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

To beseech is to beg or plead with humility. Paul was not approaching Philemon in arrogance, counting on his great influence among believers to maneuver Philemon into doing something he didn’t want to do. He was pleading with him.

Onesimus was not Paul’s son by physical birth. He was Paul’s spiritual son, having come to a saving knowledge of Christ under Paul’s ministry while Paul was imprisoned. Verse 19 tells us that Paul also led Philemon to the Lord, so in that respect Philemon and Onesimus were now brothers.

Did Onesimus hear of Paul and visit him, hoping to find answers to his own confusion? Was he perhaps hoping that Paul would tell him that running away from Philemon had been the right thing to do? I can easily imagine a whole story being developed around this situation can’t you? I’m sure someone has already written such a story, perhaps an entire book.

In any case, Paul led Onesimus to Jesus Christ while he himself was “in bonds,” imprisoned in Rome.

Paul states in v. 11 that Onesimus had once been unprofitable, or useless to Philemon. A slave who ran away successfully was a sizable financial loss to his owner. It is also possible that Onesimus had been an uncooperative slave, unwilling to work for a man who owned him.

There was an ancient Greek law (inherited by the Romans) allowing any escaped slave sanctuary at an altar. The altar could even be the hearth of a private family home; then the head of the family was obligated to give the slave protection while he tried to persuade him to return to his master. If the slave refused, the head of the family would put the slave up for auction and give the price for the slave to the former master. Paul gave Onesimus protection, and now was working the issue out with Philemon.

Blue Letter Bible

The name Onesimus means profitable. Paul says that Onesimus, though unprofitable to Philemon, had become profitable to Paul. We don’t know how he was profitable, or helpful. Perhaps he acted as a messenger; maybe he helped Paul write some of his letters. Maybe he was physically serving Paul’s needs as he was chained both hands and feet, and would need assistance in his daily needs.

And now, since Onesimus had become a believer, he could also become profitable to Philemon.

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