Scriptures

9. Onesimus, Quite A Character

Introduction

By Mike Glover

Onesimus:

The Slave Who Became a Brother

“The story of this fugitive Colossian slave is a remarkable evidence of the freedom of access to the prisoner which was granted to all, and ‘a beautiful illustration both of the character of St. Paul and the transfiguring power and righteous principles of the gospel.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary

Questions for discussion

1. When you were a child, did you ever feel like running away from home?

What are some of the reasons that you wanted to run away? Where would you go?

2. Read the short letter to Philemon. Onesimus was a slave who ran away from his master Philemon.

‘Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.’ Philemon 15-16

Why do you think he ran away? Why do you think he went to Rome?

What plausible reason does the author offer Philemon for Onesimus running away? (v15-16)

‘I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.’ Philemon 10

3. When Onesimus arrived in Rome, who did he meet? Where did they meet?

What happened to Onesimus during that meeting? (v10)

‘Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.’ Philemon 11

4. The name Onesimus means ‘useful.’

Do you think Onesimus struggled within himself to live up to his name? (v11)

‘No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.’ Philemon 16

5. Becoming a Christian brought real relationship changes to Onesimus’ life. What were some of those changes? (v16)

‘I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.’ Philemon 12

‘So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.’ Philemon 17

How would this impact his life, especially with Philemon?

What impact would the power of real ‘agape’ love have on Onesimus’ life? (v12, 17)

6. Paul wanted to send Onesimus back to Philemon. (v12)

‘‘I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.’ Philemon 12

‘If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.’ Philemon 18

What emotions might he have had about returning, especially if he had stolen something from Philemon? (v18)

‘I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.’ Philemon 13

7. Becoming a Christian means you get involved in church life. In what areas was Onesimus going to get involved in church life? (v13, see also Colossians 4:9)

‘No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.’ Philemon 16

8. We don’t know the end of Onesimus’ story and we don’t know if Philemon accepted Onesimus back as a brother and not a slave. (v16)

How do you imagine his story ends?

9. Imagine you are Onesimus. Imagine you are sharing your life story with someone.

How would Onesimus’ story help others, especially other slaves, become Christians?

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Hebrews 11:6

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