Towards the end of the New Testament there is a little book named Philemon, a letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had robbed him and run away. In God’s providence, Paul and Onesimus crossed paths. Onesimus had become a believer through Paul’s teaching and was quite useful to Paul. I can imagine that in discussions with Paul, Onesimus must of revealed his past and Paul felt compelled to send Onesimus back to Philemon along with the letter published in our Bibles. The letter was an appeal for Onesimus’ life, accept him as a brother in Christ and a bold request that Onesimus be sent back to Paul because Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me (Phlm 11)—this was a play on words, as Onesimus’ name means useful.
Whether or not Onesimus was sent back to Paul is unknown. But we can learn two things from this letter:
- In verse 18 Paul writes if he has wronged you at all, owes you anything, charge that to my account. Paul is willing to bear Onesimus’ penalty. This offer is a picture of the way in which God reconciled sinners to Himself in Christ. We offend God by our sins against Him and His law, yet He had mercy on us and sent His beloved Son to bear the penalty of our sins that we might be restored to fellowship with Him.
- Our relationship with one another should reflect God’s mercy in Christ to us.
- In verse 16, Paul urges Philemon to receive Onesimus no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Paul is not suggesting that Onesimus will no longer be a slave, but he will be much more. When we become Christians, we do cease being parents, spouses, employees, etc.—but, the gospel radically transform our relationships with people in our lives.
- Too often we, as Christians, especially when we are new believers fall into the fallacy that we need to be in full-time ministry in order to be useful to God. The truth is that God needs Christians in all professions—Christians whose faith permeates their lives and their professions.
These are more life lesson than leadership lessons, but I hope you’ll forgive my slight digression from my useful format.