10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16 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. 17 If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.
Can you understand Paul’s heart here? I think the biggest thing we can witness is the transformation of Onesimus, who formerly was useless but now is not only useful, but considered a brother. The Apostle Paul sees Onesimus useful for ministry, but realized that it would be selfish to keep him to himself, since he once was a part of Philemon’s ministry. Onesimus and Philemon were close at one time and in brotherly love, even though the two had their differences, Paul realizes the deeper bond the two have. I wonder if this return to Philemon started by Onesimus talking to Paul about reconciliation with Philemon, given his recent transformation.
I think about the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) where we read about the power of forgiveness and Godly love. Philemon was raising Onesimus in the ways of the Lord but they had parted ways because of Onesimus’ selfish attitude. He happened to fall into the ministry of Paul where he was able to correct and restore him. Sometimes it takes an “outsider” telling us the same thing we have been hearing in order for it to sink in. Sometimes our transformation needs a boost with a change of scenery. This is what Onesimus got by going to Paul.
How often do we need to change but don’t? One popular phrase from Celebrate Recovery is, “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Our transformation and growth won’t happen if we keep doing the same things over and over again. Our minds and bodies get stuck in a rut and we have to turn the wheel hard and drastically to get out of it. Once we regain control we can return to the road with better focus and new momentum. What kind of transformation do you need? How do you continue to stay in the rut and fail to get out of it? Do you need a change of scenery? What can you change to effect change in your life?