When was the last time you cracked open your Bible and just started to read it? Have you ever gotten lost in the biblical narrative about ancient Israel, read the details of Christ’s life as recorded in the gospels, or scoured the lesser-known moments within the book of Acts? How about a complete, cover-to-cover read-through of the Bible—have you ever attempted that?
When we read the Bible, we are reading a message written straight from our Father to us—to you and me. The Bible is a giant book full of words that He wants us to digest—to take seriously and mull over. He wants us to know the history recorded within its pages so well that we feel as though we are experiencing those events along with the biblical personalities we are reading about. If we truly dig into the Bible like God wants us to, it can fill us with wonder!
But all too often, we don’t just sit down and read the Bible. More than likely, we skip around within the Bible, leaving parts of it mostly—or even completely—untouched. There is a time and place for skipping to the exact scripture we are looking for, of course—but that often means that other parts of the Bible are left in obscurity.
We shouldn’t let this be the case. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” God included each verse, chapter and book in the Bible because it contains something of great profit for us! If there are parts of the Bible that we’ve never read before, we are missing out on specific instruction from our loving Father. Now is the best time to remedy that. Now is the time to begin to read the entire Bible.
For many of us, one letter has remained unopened simply because we have overlooked it or not taken the time to really study it. But if we do take the time, we find an intriguing story within its pages! It’s called the book of Philemon—and it is a perfect place for you to begin your study of the entire Bible.
Philemon was originally written in Greek, as was the entire New Testament. It is not technically a book, however. It is an epistle, or letter, from the Apostle Paul to a man named Philemon. When the letter was added to the canonized version of the Bible, it was named after the man Paul wrote it to.
While the Apostle Paul was in or around Ephesus, God used him to convert Philemon and his family. Eventually, as Philemon grew and prospered in God’s way of life, he was ordained a minister. As a minister, Philemon served with the Apostle Paul in the work of spreading the gospel. Church services in the area were held in his home, and he and his family were dynamically involved in Church activities and serving the brethren however they could.
Philemon likely had many servants in his home. One of his servants was named Onesimus. One day, Onesimus committed some sort of crime against Philemon. The epistle doesn’t specifically state what Onesimus did, but we can assume that he stole something. After he committed the crime, he fled to Rome, where he ran into Paul, who had traveled to Rome as well. Through miraculous intervention, the two men met, and God used Paul to convert Onesimus to the truth—just as He had used Paul to convert Philemon.
After he was converted, Onesimus made a complete turnaround and began to fervently serve the Apostle Paul and further the Work of God. What Paul didn’t know, however, was that Onesimus had been Philemon’s servant. That was yet to be uncovered. And eventually it was. As he and Paul became acquainted on a deeper level, they talked frequently, and Onesimus finally explained who he had worked for and why he had fled to Rome. Paul suddenly realized that this man had worked for his fellow minister!
Once he knew that Onesimus had previously belonged to Philemon, Paul determined to resolve the situation. He sent Onesimus back to Philemon, and he gave him a letter to deliver to his master upon his return. The letter Onesimus delivered to Philemon is the very same one we find in the New Testament today.
In this letter, Paul beseeches Philemon to forgive Onesimus for the crime he committed. Paul saw how Onesimus had repented, and he knew that he had been truly converted. He acts, through this letter, as an intercessor for Onesimus, begging Philemon to accept his repentance in good faith.
“Onesimus” means profitable. In his letter, Paul urges Philemon to forgive and release Onesimus from his bond service so that he may be more profitable for God’s Work. He also urges Onesimus to live up to his name—to be profitable for both Philemon and the Work of God from then on. Although Philemon would be losing a slave, Christ would be gaining one—one that would become a profitable servant.
That is the little-known story of Philemon. It is a story of subversion and treachery, a story of repentance and conversion. It’s exciting! And it was included in the inspired Word of God because it is profitable for you and me. Don’t downplay the importance of the more obscure books of the Bible simply because you don’t know what they are about. Let the fact that they are unknown to you compel you to dig into them and find out what they are about! God promises that if you do, you will gain valuable information from them—and you might just find an intriguing story like Onesimus’s too.