Before his conversion, he may have been a hard task master. He ruled his family with an iron fist and a vociferous will. Going against him was not just hard, it was impossible. He owned slaves and most of them knuckled under quickly. All but Ones, that is. That was his name, Ones, short for something else no one quite remembered. Ones was ornery. It didn’t matter how many times Phil, the owner, had him whipped, he’d still bow up sometimes and refuse to do what he was told. Fire would glimmer in his eyes even as the whip lashed his back. Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before there was an explosion.
But then something happened. A missionary came to their town and Phil went to hear him. Something happened in his black heart and his life was radically changed. Not so with Ones, however. His rebellion continued till, one day, he broke free and ran away . . . but not before making off with enough money and household property to make himself comfortable . . . at least for a while.
But then the money ran out, as it always does. Ones began to be hungry. What he could steal, he stole, but he was too afraid of getting caught to take much. He was getting desperate.
Then he heard about that missionary. Someone said he was now in jail for his faith but that people regularly went to see him to ask advice. For some reason he felt compelled to go. He didn’t know why. He was quite sure the guy didn’t have any money, and he probably had no food. He wasn’t sure how he’d be received. After all, Phil and the missionary were great friends.
When he arrived, he was led down a flight of steps to a dusky, damp room. There, by candle light sat that old missionary. Looking up through the flickering light, he asked, Do I know you? All of a sudden he was frightened. What if this missionary contacted his master? What if he had just walked into a trap? Still, there was something about this short little Jew’s kind eyes and friendly face that drew him in. Before he knew it, he was telling everything.
Well, long story short, Ones gave his heart to Christ that night. The missionary met with him day after day and, at first things were great, but then something began to bother Ones. You see, the Holy Spirit was beginning to work in his heart. He knew that the way he left Phil’s house was wrong. He knew he’d stolen. He thought Phil must really be angry at him. One day he asked the question that had been on his heart. Should he return to Phil and make things right. The old missionary smiled and said, “I was wondering when you’d ask that question. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you what to do.”
The next day came. When Ones arrived at the jail, the missionary gave him a letter. He said, “Show this to Phil and, I promise you, it will be ok.”
In a few days, he was back, standing on that familiar porch, the letter in his hand, and his heart in his throat. He knew it was what he needed to do, but he was so afraid. What was about to happen?
When Phil came to the door, he was shocked, to say the least. He didn’t think he’d ever see his rebellious slave again. Without a word Ones looked at him, and with frightened eyes, handed him the letter. It read:
I, Paul, am a prisoner for the sake of Christ, here with my brother Timothy. I write this letter to you, Philemon, my good friend and companion in this work . . .While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.15–16 Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That’s what he was to me—he’ll be even more than that to you.17–20 So if you still consider me a comrade-in-arms, welcome him back as you would me. If he damaged anything or owes you anything, chalk it up to my account. This is my personal signature—Paul—and I stand behind it. (I don’t need to remind you, do I, that you owe your very life to me?) Do me this big favor, friend. You’ll be doing it for Christ, but it will also do my heart good.
As Philemon finished reading, he looked up with a broad grin and said, “Welcome home, Onesimous, All is forgiven.”