Philemon 1:11

Monday, 16 July 2018

…who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. Philemon 1:11

Paul now makes a pun based on the meaning of the name of Onesimus. As noted previously, his name means “Useful,” as in “profitable,” or in “advantage.” Now, using a different Greek word, euchréstos, which carries the same basic meaning, he notes that Onesimus was once “unprofitable to you.”

Philemon had a slave named “Useful,” and his slave was apparently of no value to him. He may have been lazy, a thief, or whatever else; but at some point, he even went so far as to run away from him. The name he bore was an unbecoming epithet. However, Paul shows that a change has taken place by saying, “but now is profitable.”

Useless Onesimus had become useful Onesimus. There was profit to be found in him, but it was not in the way which he had previously been considered in terms of value. Paul will explain how he hopes value can be derived from him in verse 16. For now, all he notes is that he who once was unprofitable now has value “to you.”

In the conversion of Onesimus to faith in Christ, there could possibly now be a new and wonderful dynamic, if Philemon would simply avail himself of it. Paul is asking for him to consider this, and to act on it for the sake of love. He then finishes this verse with, “and to me.” This is a creative type of afterthought that Paul uses from time to time in order to include himself in something that others will also benefit from. For example, he does it Philippines 2:27 when saying, “For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.”

The inclusion of himself now is the key to all of his words which built up Philemon, and which showed Paul’s own difficult condition. He has a need, and that need can be met in Onesimus. However, in meeting this need for Paul, Onesimus will also be profitable to Philemon.

Concerning the conversion of Onesimus, the scholar Maclaren says, “Christianity knows nothing of hopeless cases. It professes its ability to take the most crooked stick and bring it straight, to flash a new power into the blackest carbon, which will turn it into a diamond” (Expositor’s Bible).

Life application: Our willingness to put aside past differences, or past wrongs, can become the basis for amazing friendships or partnerships. The person who is forgiven will often feel a continuing debt is owed for such kindness. The wrongs of the past become overshadowed by an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude which can lead to wonderful things for both concerned, if we are willing to make that first move of reconciliation. Let us carefully consider this, especially in light of what we have been forgiven in Christ Jesus.

Lord God, in Christ we have been forgiven a debt we could never repay. Help us to always consider that in regards to wrongs which have been brought against us. There are times we can withhold forgiving others, as Your word indicates; but when a person is repentant over their conduct towards us, we are to forgive, even as we have been forgiven. Help us in this Lord, it can often be difficult. Amen.

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