“I am sending him (Onesimus) –who is my very heart–back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.” Philemon v.12-13
I’ve wondered what emotions were in the heart of Onesimus as he and Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-9) delivered the letter to the Colossian church and this personal note to Philemon. In Colossians 4:9 Paul describes Onesimus as “our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.” Here in Philemon, Paul speaks of this restored slave as “my very heart.” What joy had God brought to Paul’s heart as he watched this converted slave grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ! One of the greatest joys of ministry is being “a link in the chain” in God’s plan of rescuing sinners. In our own home, we’ve had the joy of seeing this as strangers to God’s grace have been brought by the Spirit into the family of God!
Paul would have preferred to have kept Onesimus with him in Rome. Onesimus was now “free” and could have served Paul and the church there in a variety of ways. Yet Paul opted to send this runaway back in order to pursue peace and reconciliation. Someone else would have to fill the gap left in the absence of this new believer.
The essence of ministry is self-sacrifice isn’t it? We are called to sacrifice our time, our energy, ourselves so that others may be benefited. This is the essence of the missionary call as individuals and couples willingly offer themselves to Christ in an act of self-denial in order to extend the gospel to other parts of the earth. Would parents, grandparents and family members love to ‘hold on’ to their loved ones? Of course, but the Spirit of God compels them to release their family members to pursue whole-heartedly the will of God.