Onesimus faced his past in order to right his wrong. This is clear evidence that the heart of Onesimus had been truly converted to Christ. He wanted to return and right the wrong he had done. Christ always does this to a person when he is truly converted.
How dear this slave was to Paul, Paul says that he was sending a part of his own heart to Philemon. Paul loved this man who had been a law-breaker and thief. This slave had become a dear, very dear to Paul’s heart. He was so dear that Paul would have preferred to keep Onesimus with him. Paul, who was in prison, desperately needed Onesimus, needed his companionship, encouragement, and assistance.
But Paul would not ask him to stay. Why? Because Paul would do nothing without the consent of Philemon. Onesimus owed Philemon and it was up to Philemon where Onesimus should serve, either with Philemon as a slave or to return and serve with Paul as a minister. The strength of Paul’s wish is seen in his including Onesimus in the list of some great ministers who had been serving with Paul (Col. 4:7-9). Paul elevated Onesimus so highly that he said that Onesimus could share exactly what had been happening to the gospel through Rome.
A Christian believer is to make restitution, to right whatever wrong he has done, in so far as it is humanly possible. No Christian should ever try to escape from making restitution, from righting whatever wrong he has done. The very cause of Christ upon earth is righteousness and justice. If believers shirk their duty to right their own personal wrongs, then of what value is their Christianity? This is the reason Onesimus was returning to Philemon, the reason Paul was sending him back despite the fact that he himself desperately needed Onesimus.
Onesimus was a changed man. And what a change he had experienced. He had been changed by the hand of God, that is, under the providence of God. Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus had left for just a brief time so that he could return forever. God was overlooking and overruling the whole event for the sake of Onesimus’ salvation.
Philemon was now able to be associated with Onesimus forever. The implication is that both shall live forever with Christ, worshipping and serving Christ throughout all eternity. He had been changed from a slave to a brother, a dearly “beloved brother.” Onesimus had left as a slave, but he was now above a slave, was now a beloved brother, was now of great value to Paul, was now of much more value to Philemon.
When Christ changes a life, the life is changed eternally. Earthly relationships are changed forever. The changed person becomes a beloved brother. It does not matter what the relationship has been, a master-slave relationship, a friend-enemy relationship a victim-criminal relationship, a love-hate relationship, a marriage-divorce relationship.If the person has been truly changed by Christ, then he is to be received as a beloved brother. Why? Because God has put His hand upon the person and changed him forever.
Listen to this message here: