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A Friend named Useful

A Friend named Useful

Words of Faith 12-4-19

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Colossians 4

[9] He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. 


     Paul sent a companion with Tychicus on the journey to Colosse.  His name was Onesimus.  The story of Onesimus is a marvelous one.  He was a runaway slave who apparently robbed his master, Philemon, at Colosse and fled to Rome.  Philemon became a believer, and a house church met in his home.  God guided Onesimus to meet Paul in Rome, and he led him to Christ!  Now Onesimus was a brother, and Paul was sending him back to Colosse with no mention of his past, but with the heart-warming phrase that he is now "one of you.”

     There was another letter, however.  Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with the letter called Philemon.  In it, he implored Philemon to receive his slave as a "faithful and beloved brother." Paul offered to pay Philemon the cost of anything Onesimus had taken and to bear the wrong he had done him. The whole situation raised a lot of issues.

      Interestingly, the name Onesimus means “useful.”  This may have been a useful name for a slave in the ancient world, but it was even more fitting for what God had planned.  God used the slave named “useful” for His own crucial plan. 

       How so?

       Every once in a while, God will bring a person across our path who will test us to see if we really believe the Gospel.  Onesimus was just such a person.  Onesimus presented a challenge to Philemon and probably many of the believers at Colosse.  Why?  Because they now had to deal with whether the Gospel extended even to slaves and robbers.  Could God save such a person?  Could God forgive such a person? And if so, how should they be treated.

       The question confronting Philemon and the other believers at Colosse was simple: Can God save anyone?  Even a slave? Even a runaway slave? Even a runaway slave who was a robber?  And, if the Gospel has really reached such an "unreachable" person, can he be accepted into fellowship, and should he be set free?  Can a believer own another believer as a slave?

         Paul knew the answer to all these questions because he counted himself as chief among sinners.  He knew that his life as Saul of Tarsus was as lost and lost could be.  Paul knew that the grace of God was sufficient to cover the most heinous of crimes.

         For us, the answers may seem obvious today, but they were not 2000 years ago.  Slaves were a lower class of people, and those that would rob a master were especially despised. We don't know exactly how the story ended. Still, some traditions connect Onesimus with a bishop of that name in the second-century church.

        The application is for us is to ask: Is there a group of people or a “class of sinner” that we have considered unforgivable?  Is there a type of person that I would not receive as a brother or sister in Christ, even though the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has saved them?  

        Hmm.  Of course, I want all people to come to Jesus and find salvation, but am I really willing to receive them in fellowship?  What about former Muslims?  Or former gays?  Or former criminals?  Or former addicts?  The issue here is not a matter of unrepentant sinners desiring to be received in fellowship.  It is about those who have come to Christ and found redemption in His blood who are seeking the fellowship and guidance of the Body of Christ.

       Onesimus was useful to God. God surely used Onesimus in the lives of believers in Colosse and perhaps in the lives of believers today.


     Father God, teach me the wideness of Your grace and mercy while also reminding me of the narrowness of the road that actually leads to You.  In Jesus’ Name.


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The Words of Faith devotion is published five days a week by E-mail, and our website, and our church app, excluding Federal holidays. Please feel free to forward this devotion to a friend who might be blessed by this devotion. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from the New International Version (R) of The Holy Bible. Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. Words of Faith (c) 1997, 2010 Jeffrey D. Hoy. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward this copyrighted material or use portions of it with appropriate notation of the source for non-profit purposes.  

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