UNDERSTANDING the DEPTH of GOD’S LOVE: "Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ-- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me." (Philemon 1:8-11)
The background of Apostle Paul’s letter from his prison to Philemon is to ask for a favor through an appeal. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus stole from his master and ran away to Rome where he had an encounter with Paul. Paul led Onesimus to the saving knowledge of Jesus, so this runaway slave became a Christian believer. How should Paul deal with Onesimus now? Should he allow him to stay in Rome knowing that he has offended both his master Philemon and God in stealing and running away?
Instead, Paul writes a very personal letter to his “beloved friend and fellow laborer” (v. 1) on behalf of Onesimus requesting that Philemon receive Onesimus back as a beloved brother and no longer as a slave (v. 15). He would pay for any loss from his personal account (vv. 18-19).
The name Onesimus means ‘profitable’. But when he ran away, Philemon was probably tempted to call him a worthless rascal. Paul says, in effect, “Yes, he was useless as far as you were concerned, but now he is useful to you and to me.” The slave who was returning to Philemon was a better slave than the one who had run away!
We can understand the depth of God’s love through this moving story. On the cross, Jesus paid the price of our sins because He loved us so much. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)
How can we repay the love of God? Only through obeying God’s commandments, for this is what Jesus told when He was on earth: "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15)