Philemon Key People


Onesimus

God must have a special love for runaways. The pages of Scripture record dozens of people who were prone to flight. From Adam and Eve's attempt to elude God, through Jacob's escape from his brother, past generations of God's people on the run, to that inner circle of disciples who fled from the garden when Jesus was captured, the Bible is a collection of runaway lives. God's special love for runaways is beautifully illustrated in the life of a slave named Onesimus.


We are not told why Onesimus ran away from Philemon's house in Colosse. Eventually, he and Paul were reunited in Rome. Though we might crave details, Paul simply wrote that Onesimus became a follower of Jesus. Later, his spiritual growth caused Paul to call him a “faithful and beloved brother" (Colossians 4:9).


Eventually, Paul and Onesimus decided it was time for the runaway slave to return home. Paul wrote a letter of explanation to his friend Philemon, assuring him that Onesimus would now serve him wholeheartedly. Although the culture of the day gave masters complete control over their slaves and although severe punishment usually faced a runaway, Paul challenged Philemon to think of Onesimus more as a brother than as a slave. Paul took responsibility for any restitution Philemon might require of Onesimus. As difficult as it might be for him, Onesimus, the runaway slave turned believer, had to return and face his old life as a new person.


When God finds runaways, he often sends them back to the very places and people from which they ran in the first place. As God has become real in your life, how has your past come into new perspective? Are there still situations from your past that need to be resolved? In what ways has your relationship with Christ given you new opportunities and resources to face what you used to run away from?


Strengths and accomplishments

  • Tracked down and listened to the apostle Paul's message

  • Grew into an able believer and assistant to Paul while in Rome

  • Returned to his previous master as a willing slave


Weakness and mistake

  • Ran away from his master, Philemon


Lessons from his life

  • God is in the radical forgiveness business

  • We cannot run from God and hope to escape


Vital statistics

Where: Colosse

Occupation: Slave


Key verses

  • “It seems Onesimus ran away for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord" (Philemon 1:15-16).


Onesimus is mentioned in Colossians 4:9 and is the subject of Paul's letter to Philemon.