Bible Topics
in the Christian Library
"Hey Look! I'm No Longer A _____!"

Philemon 16

John L. Kachelman, Jr. 


I. Obedient faith will always produce a marvelous joy (Ac 8:39; 16:34). This joy cannot be contained -- it radiates, it beams. This joy is seated deep within our hearts and is rooted by obedience to God's commands. 

II. One of the clearest evidences of this joy is the total change that occurs in the believer's life--he becomes a totally "new" person (Ro 6:4; Ep 4:24; Col 3:10). 

1. A young apprentice in New England was converted and applied for admission into a church. The practice was for the preacher to examine each petition to see if the person was worthy of being counted a member. The preacher went to the boy's employer and asked about his work. Pointing to an iron chain hanging in the room, "Do you see that chain? It was forged for him. I was obliged to chain him to the bench each week to keep him at work. He was the worst boy I ever had. No punishment seemed to have any salutary influence upon him. I could not trust him out of my sight; but now, sir, he is completely changed. He has really become a lamb. He is one of my best apprentices. I would trust him with untold gold. I have no objection to his being received into communion. I wish all my boys were prepared to go with him." 

  1. 2 Co 5:17 is a text which clearly discusses this "total change."

  1. There are a number of illustrations which provide an understanding of this "newness" (1 Co 6:9-11; Col 3:5-10).

4. One of the best illustrations is Onesimus. He was one who was totally "renewed" by the gospel. The emphasis of Paul is upon the changes in character and relationships. For Onesimus, the past in no way compared to the present. 


I. The Dramatic Differences in his change. 

A. He became a "brother" (16). 

1. This term refers to the bond of fellowship shared by Christians. They are all part of the body of Christ and members of God's family (Ep 2:14-16 -- note vs 15b-16, 19) 

2. The slave and master were united into a "oneness" of fellowship (Gal 3:28). 

3. Once Onesimus was opposed to Philemon -- enmity existed and hatred spawned. But no more! Now they were "brothers"! 

4. In a world where isolation is common and tender ties of unity are scarce, it is wonderful to know that one can find a family attachment. Such a dramatic difference is seen as one becomes a Christian. 

5. When King Antichus was coming upon Greece with great forces and all men trembled at the report of his numbers and equipment. Quinctius told the Achaians this story: "Once I dined with a friend at Chalcis and when I wondered at the variety of the dishes, my host said, 'All of these are pork, only in dressing and sauces are they different.' And, therefore, be not amazed at the king's forces when you hear talk about spear men and men-at-arms, and choice footmen, and horse-archers, for all of these are but Syrians with some little difference in their weapons." The wonderful news from God is that all who obey His will are "brothers." They may look different but they are brothers! 

B. He became "useful" (11). 

1. There is a play on words used by Paul. The name "Onesimus" literally means "useful." Paul adds that before Onesimus was useless; but now, for the first time, he is useful! 

2. "But now" marks the radical difference. 

3. This change must be seen in all believers. Before obeying the gospel, all are useless (Ep 4:18,19). But in Christ their entire attitude changes (Ep 4:20-24). 

C. He was bound with affection -- "beloved" (16). 

1. It was no longer chains and fetters that bound Onesimus to Philemon, but a love grounded in Christ (Col 2:2). 

2. No longer was he to function from selfishness but from love (Ep 4:31,32). 

D. He was God's servant (16). 

1. Although still owned by Philemon, Onesimus had become God's slave (Ro 6:17,18). 

2. As such, he was duty-bound to follow God's will. Imagine how drastic this change would be to him--to be God's slave after being a slave of man. 

E. Surely these differences were obvious to all who saw Onesimus. These dramatic changes would make it easier for Philemon to accept the runaway slave back once again. 

II. The Essential Elements of his change. Onesimus' change did not occur without reason. The dramatic change occurred because of three things.... 

A. He heard the gospel story. Somehow he had become a part of Paul's audience and had heard of Christ's salvation (1 Co 15:3,4). 

B. He believed the gospel

C. He obeyed the gospel

1. He understood what God had done for him in sending Jesus Christ to die. 

2. He believed that Christ was God's Son. 

3. He obeyed the gospel's commands: 

a. Repentance (Lk 13:3). 

b. Confession (Ac 8:37). 

c. Immersion (Ac 22:16). 

D. By doing these three things, Onesimus became a Christian and embarked upon the life-changing habit of living as a "beloved brother" to others, a slave to God, and being "useful" to everyone (2 Co 5:17). 

III. The Comforting Contemplations of his change. 

A study of the dramatic renewal in Onesimus is concluded by contemplating two comforting facts. 

A. Let us realize how wonderful the message of the gospel really is! Total failure in our past does not have to dictate total failure in the present! We can find peaceful contentment in the present and triumphant victory in the future! This is possible because of God's "amazing grace!" (Ep 2:1-13 -- note vss. 1,6,8,9). 

B. Let us accept and obey the commands which can enable us to cast away the old, corrupt life and claim the "new"--the gospel message! When you look at Onesimus' life and how it was changed by obeying the gospel, it is no wonder that it is called the "Good News!" (1 Ti 1:13-16).. 


I. From the story of a runaway slave comes a great message of hope and cheer for a sin-intoxicated society. To all who hunger for "new beginnings," the character of Onesimus is a welcome discovery. To all who labor with the burdens of past sins, past failures, and past weaknesses, Onesimus says, "Hey, look at me! I once was just like you, but now I'm no longer a slave. I'm much more than a slave!" 

II. A converted Chinaman said to a missionary, "I want every person to know that I am converted all over."

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

Top of Page