Yesterday I mentioned how pastor Ray Johnston brought the book of Philemon alive to me. Did you read it again? If not, go and read and come back. Basically, Philemon was a wealthy slave owner who had a slave (Onesimus) rip him off and run away. Onesimus met Paul and became a Christ-follower. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon (his old slave master) asking him to accept Onesimus back as a “son” and member of his family. Not only was he a slave (which were killed and treated as unhuman), but he had ripped Philemon off and ran away.
So, after reading Paul’s words to Philemon, do you think Philemon did it? Did he accept Onesimus back and not kill him for running off? For the answer we look to ancient Church history and letters written 50 years later by an early Christian leader (St. Ignatius of Antioch) to the Church at Ephesus. In the very first chapter of St. Ignatius’ letter he praises their “their wonderful bishop” (pastor) Onesimus. Think it’s a coincidence? Ignatius uses the identical phrase that Paul uses in verse 11 – “who formerly was useless, but now is useful.”
Say what? Onesimus – a slave, became one of the great leaders of the Christian church and most likely was the pastor of the Church of Ephesus. Many scholars point out that Ephesus was the center of where they met to choose the letters to be included in the Biblical canon and Onesimus might have had a hand in encouraging them to include his story (the book of Philemon) in our Bible. Have you ever wondered why such a strange and short book was included in the Bible? Maybe God wanted us to see the amazing story of a slave who became a pastor and leader in the early Church. What are your thoughts?