Transformed For God's Better Plans
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Chan Gin Kai
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you. 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. (Philemon 11-13)
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever – 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. (Philemon 15-16)
There’s a reason for all that’s happening; a divine purpose we often fail to see. We may ponder on the injustices in the world and feel discouraged. We may suffer misfortunes in our life and wonder if God cares. But what we don’t see is not proof that God doesn’t exist, and what we don’t understand is no justification for our loss of faith. We’ve got to learn to be patient, to see His plan unveil.
Even as Paul appealed to Philemon “on the basis of love” (Philemon 9), he helped Philemon to understand that God has a divine plan for all that has happened.
A More Valuable Purpose
A runaway slave was a disruption to business (or domestic services) and the loss of an economic asset. Yet Paul described Onesimus as, “formerly he was useless to you”. Onesimus was certainly not useless to Philemon; no one buys a slave to sit around and do nothing. But Paul was contrasting Onesimus’ less important physical duties as a slave to his newfound spiritual role in helping Paul. He emphasised to Philemon that in comparison with his previous function, Onesimus has “become more useful” now. Onesimus served a physical purpose in Philemon’s business (or household), but he played an even more significant role in God’s Kingdom.
Are you a “slave” to work? Just another cog in the gigantic machinery called society? Let’s face it, the qualifications you’ve earned and the skill sets you have are not unique to you. It’s true you’re not useless; but let's admit it – you are dispensable. Losing you may be an inconvenience to your company, but your boss will find a replacement in no time. And the value of what you do at work is nothing compared to what you do for God.
Making money for your boss versus making disciples for Christ. Bringing goods and services to clients versus bringing salvation to the lost. Creating short-lived conveniences for customers versus transforming people’s lives for eternity. We are useful to our workplace and society, but we've got a far more valuable purpose in God’s Kingdom. Are you putting time and effort to serving God?
A More Valuable Relationship
Philemon ran away as a slave, but would return “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother”.
It would take Philemon some getting used to. Onesimus was his slave. Onesimus became a fugitive by running away and breaking the law. Then Onesimus became Philemon’s brother-in-Christ. If Philemon were to take the world’s point of view, it would have been very unfair to him. He had suffered economic loss. The law was on his side and he could have Onesimus severely punished. But now he would have to embrace this person who had wronged him as his brother. How convenient for Onesimus!
But Paul showed Philemon a spiritual point of view – a brother is better than a slave. A slave is a property; a brother is a relationship. Aren’t relationships are far more valuable than property? Sadly, many in the world think otherwise. When we learn to see it with God’s eyes, Philemon lost a slave but gained a brother. This is far better!
We have to treasure the valuable relationships we have in the Kingdom. While your boss may regard you as an asset or contribution to your workplace, God regards you as His precious child. You are my brothers and sisters. While we may not always see eye to eye, and we may wrong each other sometimes, we are bonded by the blood of Jesus. Let us treasure each other!
Philemon may have suffered an injustice and a loss, but God gave Onesimus a more valuable purpose, and Philemon a more valuable relationship.
God uses what appears bad for us to create good. We will all be transformed to serve God’s better plans, and we’ll all be better off because of it. We may not always see or understand it, but we have to trust that “God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".