He [Onesimus] is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:16
Onesimus was a run-away slave from Philemon’s household. Philemon was Christian man, but Onesimus still felt the resentment of being a slave. This practice was not uncommon in the world at that time and many fell into servitude for a variety of reasons, some of their own making. We do not know the circumstances of the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon – but we do know that the Apostle Paul stepped in, and through his letter, introduced radical social change.
As the master, Philemon had something to learn about being a Christian employer and what that means regarding the treatment of his staff – was he fair, respectful, kind? Perhaps a change would be necessary in his business affairs. Through his praise of Onesimus, Paul raised his value from property to partner; a far more profitable relationship for both.
Onesimus had fled his situation, but his resentment and spiritual bondage clearly followed him – right into jail and into the presence of Paul. Ironically, the slave had to go to prison to find freedom. From the Paul’s writing, we can see that Onesimus’ was not a good worker – “useless” is how he is described. Maybe his behavior was the result of being unhappy with the job he was assigned, with the compensation, with his treatment, or very likely, with his own self-worth.
When he met Paul, however, he learned that no matter what our job or its circumstances, as Christians, we are expected to give our best to our boss – as if serving our Lord. That can be a tall order when our jobs are hard, our employers demanding, and customers – difficult. The lesson here is that none of those things matter – they are generally outside of our control – we can only control ourselves and our response to external influences. By changing our view of who we serve, it changes our whole attitude toward service. The drudgery becomes a joy and our lives, more happy and fulfilling.
Labor Day was created to honor the worker; Christian workers create honor for the Lord through our work.