Onesimus, Paul and PhilemonFrom series Significant Biblical Men.
Onesimus Pronunciation On-ay-si-mos
What does Onesimus mean? Profitable, helpful
What is the Origin of the name Onesimus? Greek
What References are there to Onesimus in the Bible? The story of Onesimus can be found in the epistle of Paul to Philemon, and in the epistle of Paul to the Colossians (Colossians 4:9)
Outline of the story of Onesimus
Onesimus was the slave of a wealthy man named Philemon, and he had run away to Paul the apostle (also known as "The Apostle Paul", or "Saint Paul", or Saul of Tarsus) who was in Rome. Onesimus was subsequently converted and baptised as a Christian.
The apostle Paul and Philemon were good friends, and in a heart felt letter, which was all about slavery and being brothers in Christ, Paul urged Philemon to receive Onesimus back: not as a slave, but “as one of us”.
Realizing that Onesimus had embarrassed and disgraced his master by running away, and that Philemon had the right to flog and even kill him, the apostle Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, trusting that all would be well.
The Apostle Paul outlined in his epistle to Philemon how helpful Onesimus had been, and how profitable it was having him in Rome for spreading the gospel. However, Paul the apostle recognized how much more of a help Onesimus would now be, as a Christian brother, to Philemon for spreading the gospel to the people in Colossae.
The Legacy of Onesimus
About fifty years after the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to Philemon, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote a series of letters to the churches in Asia minor; letters that still survive today. In the first of these letters, to the church in Ephesus, he addresses the bishop of Ephesus. The name of the bishop was Onesimus, and in similar tone to the apostle Paul, Ignatius wrote: “Onesimus by name, Onesimus by nature”
Summary of the story of Onesimus
In being sent back to Philemon, Onesimus was being asked to leave the safety and security, leave the mentoring and training, leave the companionship and camaraderie of being with Paul the apostle, and the others that were with him. Onesimus then went on a mission to support Philemon, their relationship was not all about slavery, rather it was a brotherly commitment to presenting together the gospel to Colossae, and the surrounding areas. This was a mission that became the life work of Onesimus, and he excelled in it, and through his work many became converts to Christianity.