«I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me» (Philemon 10, 11).
PAUL WAS A PRISONER in Rome and his friend and spiritual son, Philemon, resided in Colossus. Philemon was the Lord’s faithful believer and missionary. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves, but had robbed him and escaped to Rome to hide in the big city. His crimes were enough to be paid for with his very life, but he met Paul in Rome and consequently, met Christ. The result was his conversion to Jesus.
Paul could have appealed to Philemon by the strength of his apostleship, with the order of a superior, as an elder, or as a prisoner suffering for the cause of Christ. He cried out, asked for help, and interceded for a former slave and a former thief who had fled and wanted to return as a repentant Christian.
A rabbinical saying goes like this: «If someone teaches the Law to the son of his neighbor, the Scripture considers him as much a son as if he had begotten him.» Therefore, Paul said that Onesimus (which means «useful») was like a son whom he had fathered in prison.
The still-imprisoned apostle continued to father new children for the Kingdom of God. He did not miss any chances. Onesimus improved the days Paul had to spend in prison, and in return, Paul opened up eternal days for him. Bringing children to Christ is as important (or even more so) than bringing them into the world.
Paul was Philemon’s spiritual father, friend, brother, and companion in mission. Paul was a spiritual father for Onesimus, a reconciler and also a companion in mission. Paul always built bridges between people, between people and God, and between God and people.
Onesimus fled from Colossus as a fugitive, a pagan slave. Now, he returned as a Christian brother. That was why Paul appealed for him to be received with forgiveness and as a partner of God in the mission of rescuing people from the bondage of sin.
Paul looked at people through Jesus’s eyes.
«In all men He saw fallen souls whom it was His mission to save»(Steps to Christ, p. 12).
Paul saw Onesimus just as Jesus did:
«In every human being [Jesus] discerned infinite possibilities.
He saw men as they might be, transfigured by His grace»(Education, p. 80).