The Epistle to Philemon: Paul’s Plea for Onesimus.

10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)” (Philemon 10–11 ESV).

Mentoring is the task and responsibility of advising or training someone who is younger or inexperienced. A mentor counsels, guides, teaches, supports and advises children, employees, a church congregation or students of all ages. The word mentor originated from the Greek word Mentōr. This was the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey.

The Apostle Paul knew well what it was like to be mentored. Barnabas was a mentor to Paul when he was a new Christian. Later they became missionaries. God used them in beginning many churches (Acts 4:32-37; 9:26-30; 11:19-26; 13:1-14:28). Barnabas encouraged Paul as a new believer in Christ when others remained skeptical of his conversion.

What Paul learned from Barnabas he put into practice with others such as Timothy, Titus, Philemon and Onesimus. In today’s text, the apostle called Onesimus his child. The word child (τέκνον; teknon) means a dear friend or a dear man. While the word may refer to a biological child it can also mean an individual for whom there is great affection. Onesimus was just such a dear friend to Paul.

Paul continuously appealed (παρακαλέω; parakaleo) to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. While as of yet, no reason is given for what circumstances prompted Paul to make such an earnest plea, an earnest plea was made.

Paul became Onesimus’ spiritual father while they were both imprisoned in Rome. While Paul was still a prisoner, Onesimus was free and prepared to come home to Colossae and to the house of Philemon.  

Paul acknowledged that Onesimus was formerly useless (ἄχρηστος; achrestos) or worthless to Philemon. However, not only did Paul presently refer to the young man as useful to him but also to Philemon.   

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “External conformity to the law of the Lord is not enough to please Him. Certainly, it is better to follow the commands even when we lack a desire to do so than it is to ignore the law completely, but a “good” deed is truly and fully good only if it has the right motivation — love for God and neighbor (Luke 10:25–28).”

“Love, in fact, is primary in Christian ethics. Paul appealed to Philemon to act in love and did not command him to free Onesimus because he wanted to be sure that Philemon’s motives would please the Lord (Philem. 8–10). There is no exhausting what love would have us do in service to God and neighbor; true love always moves us to do more than the letter of the law, encouraging us to go above and beyond duty’s call.”

Who has God called you to self-sacrificially love? Remember, it may not be an individual you necessarily like or with whom you agree on most subjects. Self-sacrificial love is a love of the will and not emotion. However, when the will is right the emotions will follow.

Soli deo Gloria!   

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