While we were in Turkey, we went to the un-excavated site of the ancient city of Colossae. Located at the base of the huge Cadmiz Mountains and on the Lycos River, it was a major city around 500 B.C. By the time of the Common Era, though, it had lost its significance and was a much smaller town compared to its close neighboring cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. It was known for its good supply of cold, good to drink, water.
The church in Colossae was a house church, founded by Epaphras. Epaphras had been led to Christ by Paul while Paul was preaching in Ephesus (Coll 1:7-8). Epaphras then carried the gospel back to these three neighboring cities where he grew up. Most of the people in the church here at Colossae were Gentiles. They met in the home of Archippus and Apphia (Philemon1:1-3). Paul never came to Colossae as far as we know, but wrote these two letters in response to some problems that were coming up with these new believers. Epaphras went to Rome, where Paul was a prisoner, and talked to him about the problems back in Colossae. Paul responded by writing the letters and sending them back with Tychius and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9).
While in Colossae, I heard the story of Onesimus, a slave, and his master Philemon. Onesimus, it seems, had messed up and had most likely stolen something from his master and then ran away. He evidently knew about Paul, because he went to him, all the way to Rome, to ask for help. While there, Onesimus became a follower of Christ and a disciple of Paul.
Paul wrote the letter to Philemon to ask him to forgive Onesimus and take him back. Although, what Onesimus had done was punishable by death according to Roman law, Paul said, “He is a changed man.” Paul said, “I’ll pay you for anything that he owes you.” Paul told Philemon, “don’t just take him back as a slave, take him back as a brother”. “Give him another chance, I promise he will not disappoint.” An interesting point is that the name Onesimus means, “Useful”. Paul, using a word play in Greek, was saying that although Onesimus was once useless, I guarantee that he now is useful (Philemon 1:11).
Here is the other great part of the story. Evidently, Philemon takes Onesimus back and forgives him and takes him as a brother. Church history records that Onesimus later became a bishop in the church at Ephesus! He was the first bishop to start collecting all the books of the New Testament and organizing them. What if Philemon hadn’t forgiven him? What if Paul hadn’t taken him in and introduced him to Christ? What if Onesimus hadn’t been given a second chance?
Who do we need to free up and give a fresh start to? Or, are we the one who needs the slate wiped clean? Who is the Onesimus in your life that you need to forgive and let them start over? Aren’t we glad that we serve the God of the second chance?
About the author:
Bob is the creator of this site and a disciple of Ray Vander Laan. Along with his wife of 50 years, he teaches a Bible study at Christ’s Church in Roswell, NM. He is also an avid hunter and fisher.