Onesimus. I am thinking that a majority of Christians have no idea who Onesimus is. His story is tucked away in a Book of Philemon, a place few Christians visit. The Epistle to Philemon is a mere 335 words long, the shortest of Paul’s epistles. Those who take the time to explore the book will come away with an enormous revelation: God is the God of Second Chances!
Starting in the eighth verse, Paul pens an appeal on behalf of a man who once served as Philemon’s slave- Onesimus. Note that the word “Onesimus” means “profitable or helpful.” Onesimus was a runaway slave, and could have faced death if caught and punished. He was not only a slave, but a fugitive as well.
Paul saw something different in Onesimus- profit and potential. Well over half of the Epistle to Philemon centered on Paul’s passionate plea regarding the fate of his new found friend. When Paul looked at Onesimus, he didn’t see a fugitive and a slave. he saw a Christian brother who had turned his life around. What an encouragement that is for all of us.
That speaks directly to our own relationship with God. This journey through life isn’t easy. We are knocked around by the world, bruised and battered. As you get older, you look back on life desperately trying to validate your existence. It’s easy to focus on failure, and major on minors. We look back on missed opportunities and “what could have been”. We grade ourselves based upon how the world defines success. Don’t forget poor Onesimus! He had little to brag about, yet the Apostle Paul jumped to his defense. He saw qualities that others couldn’t see by a simple glance.
I am reminded of a similar experience between the Lord and Samuel. In Chapter Sixteen, He gives Samuel a lesson on what God sees as truly valuable. God’s priorities are clearly laid out:
“for the Lord sees not as a man sees: for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
It is evident that God is not primarily concerned with what we’ve accomplished, but what we have become. Just like Onesimus, God views each of us as “profitable and helpful”. Paul had no reason to trust Onesimus based upon his track record. He was a fugitive. Paul came to the defense of Onesimus because he knew his heart was in the right place. Yes, people around you can sense if your heart is in the right place. Most importantly, God can sense if your heart is in the right place.
Rejoice in the fact that we have a God who sees value in us, even when we don’t see it in ourselves. He is indeed the God of Second Chances!