There are times when I wish I could read the Greek New Testament well, and do so with the mindset and understanding of the early Christians. Verse 11 of Philemon is one of those times. Paul is pleading for Philemon’s slave Onesimus. The Greek words in verse 11 we translate useless and useful are puns on the name Onesimus, a common slave name meaning beneficial or useful. Useful also sounds very similar to Christ (yeah, we really loose a lot in the English). So in verse 11 Paul tries to be funny and some say the early Christians would have found it very humorous. Not quite what we expect from Paul.
Paul is doing everything he can to convince Philemon that Onesimus has changed, that he now can live up to his name. Paul cracks jokes, calls Onesimus his son, lays it on a bit thick, and subtly drops hints about what Philemon should do including help Paul in jail being useful like Onesimus. Paul not so subtly may have been asking Philemon to allow Onesimus to come back to help some more. Onesimus had changed that much. Philemon had to just believe and become useful himself.
Challenge: We are called to be useful to God. God has changed us to be just that. Seek God and ask how you might be useful to Him and to His people today.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” -1 Peter 2:9