Loaned Not Owned
Paul's love for those who helped him was big enough to let them go! So he sent Onesimus, the runaway slave, back to Philemon, his master in Colossae. Since believing in Jesus, Onesimus had developed a truly serving heart. He had become very useful to Paul, but the Apostle knew that Onesimus did not belong to him. He knew that he could not keep for himself anything (or anybody) that did not belong to him.
The bond between Paul and Onesimus was strong. It was forged in gospel conversation when Paul led this Greek slave to Christ. The young man’s heart had been changed as he welcomed Jesus and fellowship turned into glad service as Onesimus cared for Paul, and the Apostle taught him about Jesus. Paul describes him as a “faithful and beloved brother” (Colossians 4:9).
Even though Paul and Philemon were brothers in Christ, Paul did not want to presume that he had the right to anything which was not freely given to him. Onesimus had only been loaned to Paul by Jesus. So, at the first opportunity (going with Tychicus to deliver a letter to the church in Colossae – Colossians 4:9) it was right for him to go back to his master's home and to his master's service. Perhaps the key to Paul's attitude was that he loved him dearly calling him "my very heart": true love is generous, and able to let go.
The family of Christ needs to keep relearning this lesson. Although we belong together and share together (Acts 4:32) we do not own one another or their possessions or money. We have no rights over each other except by asking permission, and even that must be freely given. That applies especially where one believer works for another either in the church or the workplace. And so, we must be careful not to abuse the serving nature of those who give their lives to honour the Lord. but give them the full respect of a brother or sister who belongs to the Lord (Romans 14:8).
© Dr Paul Adams