Summary: Onesimus was a slave who became a criminal and fugitive. His name means "useful," but he wasn't. He met Paul in Rome and received Christ. He became useful; His master freed him and he became a minister. We too are to become useful for God.


Philemon 1:9-18



1. A church service occurred during Covid-19 and only two people showed up: the preacher and a rancher. The preacher led songs, took up the offering, and then he preached for an hour and a half.

2. When they were going out the preacher asked the rancher how he liked the sermon. The rancher said in his slow drawl, “Well Pastor, when I go out to feed my cows, if only one shows up to eat, I usually don’t feed that one the full load!”


1. Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 …I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 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. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent…15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. NIV


1. We’re looking at how God can release our potential and make us productive for the Kingdom.

2. The title of this message is “You’re a person of Potential!”



1. This letter was sent by Paul to a believer living in Colosse, Asia Minor, whose name was Philemon. He was a prominent citizen and Christian of the city; in fact, the church met in his house (Phm. 2).

2. Evidently Paul was responsible for Philemon’s conversion as a Christian (Phm. 19). This Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus whom he undoubtedly treated well, being a prominent Christian.

3. SIDENOTE: Early Christians didn’t tackle the issue of slavery in the first century – probably because the church was so small and there was so much persecution against them. Leading a movement against slavery had to wait until Christianity was well-enough established to reshape society’s direction. But this letter shows Paul’s true feelings that slavery was wrong in the sight of God. Paul told Philemon to free Onesimus; he was his brother, not slave.

4. Although Philemon undoubtedly treated him fairly, Onesimus not only ran away, but probably stole things to finance his trip (Phm. 18) and may have wronged Philemon in other ways. According to the times, Onesimus was a robber and a fugitive, a criminal. His heart was in rebellion against that society.


1. Just as Onesimus was useless for good in his rebellious state, neither were we when were lost. We were just as much slaves, but to the devil. Jesus told us, “I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” John 8:34.

2. Paul said in Eph. 2:1-3, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, …the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving [Gr. “children”] of [God’s] wrath.”

3. Paul said in another place, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing” Rom. 7:18. God couldn’t use us for anything good because we were offspring of a fallen nature enslaved to sin.

4. Onesimus and US always had godly potential before we were Christians, but that potential was shackled to sin.



1. The story continues. Onesimus ran away from the subcontinent of Turkey and went all the way to Rome, Italy. Somehow he ended up meeting the Apostle Paul who was a prisoner awaiting trial before Caesar and had his own rented house (Acts 28:16). Paul was lightly chained to a Roman soldier, who stayed with him.

2. Paul did have the freedom to entertain company in his house, and people frequently came to see him (Acts 28:17,30-31). Paul was there for two years before his trial. It was evidently during this time that he met Onesimus (Phm. 10).

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