The sermon continued in the epistle to Philemon verses 10-11 where we learn about the relationship between Paul and Onesimus and through that relationship the demonstration of Jesus in life of Paul and the reflection of God’s heart towards us. If we can see what God’s love produced in Paul’s heart, we can understand what God wants to produce in us.
Before Paul calls Onesimus by his name, he calls him ‘my child’ which shows the depth of relationship they had. Most of the time we don’t call those who are closest to us by their names. We prefer to call our spouse not by name first but by a nickname that expresses our relationship. It’s similar between parents and children. Paul is the spiritual father of Onesimus and sees him first as his loving child, someone very close to his heart. He has begotten his child while in chains, but as he said in verse 1, not chains that Rome bound him with but he was bound by the love of Christ. And so in Paul’s heart we see the heart of Christ.
In Romans 8:14-17 Paul tells us what God’s relationship to us is. We are God’s children, He brought us into his family, into his Kingdom. God doesn’t call us just by our names but he call us ‘my child’, my son, my daughter. This is who I am to God, this is who I am in Christ Jesus. Understanding his identity in God and how God feels about me and other people produces the same kind of heart in Paul towards Onesimus and people around him. In Ephesians 3:14-19, he gives an urgent prayer for the believers to know the depth of God’s love for us. This kind of urgent heart longing to know love and extend love doesn’t come from our personality. Saul was a cold-hearted young man standing by agreeably while Stephan was being stoned to death. This heart of love was produced in Paul by the love of Christ.
In verse 11, Paul makes a word-play on the name of Onesimus which means profitable or useful in Greek. The usefulness of Onesimus as a slave was on a practical level, but now that he became a dear brother in Christ (vs 16) to Philemon, his value, his usefulness, is in Christ and what God will do through Onesimus in his master’s life. We must realize that we are not tools for God that He picks up to use for His benefit, but that what He desires is us, God longs for relationship with us. In the same way, the goal of our faith is the relationship with God, God Himself is our goal and reward. We don’t believe in God for his blessings, health and wealth, we don’t believe in Christ because hell is too scary, but because God’s love is the greatest reward and purpose.
The world is different and our value lies in what we can do, how well we can do and how much we make. This also reflects in our relationships – we view the value of a person in his ability to help advance my goals and meet my needs, and when someone is not useful we don’t bother getting close to them. But for God we are not tools, in fact there is nothing useful about us, we are completely insufficient in every way and there is no benefit we can give to God, but God loves us despite that, we are not means to His goals, we are His goal. As we realize this, we can start seeing the true value of people around us and we stop measuring their value by their usefulness but know that their true value, just as my own value, is in God’s love for us.