Onesimus’s Reference Letter — #AtoZChallenge

#This week I have found myself looking at several different types of applications. Whether you are a student applying for college, an individual applying for a job, loan, apartment, or scholarship all of the forms ask for some similar information. Like references. You need references for all of those applications plus things like phone lines, electric accounts, cable accounts, and various other accounts.

Have you ever had to ask someone to be a reference for you? Do you look for someone who is willing to put their entire reputation on the line for you? Someone who is aware of the absolute worst thing you have done and is willing to plead your cause still the same?

Yeah, I’m not sure I would either. Many people try to hide the worst altogether, and they definitely wouldn’t expect someone who knew the worst to risk their own reputation trying to advance theirs.

But what would a reference letter like that look like?

Philemon11I’m pretty sure I’ve found one today while researching an “O” person in the Bible for the #AtoZChallenge.


Have you ever heard of him?

Onesimus was a slave. Most likely a slave who ran away from his owner, Philemon. In his escapade to hide, he ran into Paul and became like a son to him.

I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart. I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced. Philemon 1:10-14

Nothing like getting a reference letter that says, “Hey, you know that slave that ran away? He’s with me know and I’ve become his spiritual father. I want to keep him. He’s so helpful to me, but I know he belongs to you, so I’m sending you a piece of my heart. Please treat him the way that you’d treat me.”

How do you feel about someone who has done you wrong, perhaps even committed criminal acts against you, accepting salvation and expecting you to treat them the way you treat your spiritual mentor?

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He 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. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. and I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul! Philemon 1:15-19

Paul doesn’t stop his reference letter there. No, he goes on to say you lost a slave, but are getting back a brother. Whatever he owes you, charge it to me. I will repay it. Don’t worry about the fact that you owe me for your soul.


Why would Paul put himself on the line like this for a runaway slave?

Does Onesimus’s story remind you of anyone else’s story?

Wait. Don’t say no. Think another minute or so.

I know his story reminds me of someone else’s story.


Who was the Paul in my life?



I too was a slave, and Jesus put more than his reputation on the line to buy my freedom. He put his life on the line.

Even though Paul does all the talking about Onesimus, we can learn something from Onesimus, too. Once Onesimus accepted Jesus, he was willing to return to Philemon, the master he ran away from, to deal with the consequences. Yes, Paul was asking for his forgiveness, but the punishment was severe for runaway slaves. Onesimus had no guarantee that Paul’s plea would be respected.

In your story today, who are you? Are you Paul, a spiritual parent to a Onesimus? Are you Philemon, the one wronged by someone that your are now being called to forgive and accept as a sibling? Are you Onesimus, a runaway slave who has been redeemed and has to go back to face the music? What is one thing you can do this weekend to respond in a Christ-like way to your situation?


  • A character that I had never heard of , so thanks.

    • Carol,
      This one was new to me too! That’s one of the awesome things about the #AtoZChallenge. It isn’t necessarily writing about things you already know. You have to stretch yourself to make some of the letters work. Thank you so much for dropping in today!

  • Hi Carrie, Beautifully shared and thank you – I’ve read the Bible several times – don’t remember this and am so glad for this today – as far as responding in a Christ like way to any of my situations, for me is to always be aware of His presence and guidance, living in the moment. Big hugs 🙂

  • This story touches my heart. I think I’ve heard it before in another form. Maybe a movie. Love it when people are redeemed.

  • I loved this story. I am Paul and I see the love in every person I meet. I think that helps raise the vibration of everyone and everything.

  • This was a fascinating story so I wanted to find out more. I don’t know how reliable the information I found was, but what I found was that Onesimus was martyred and that both Onesimus and Philemon became saints in certain Christian denominations. So that didn’t fully explain if Philemon forgave Onesimus for running away (or punished him lightly) and if Philemon ever granted Onesimus freedom at some point. One of these stories that begs for a historical novel.

  • I only vaguely remembered this story, so thank you for sharing!

  • Yes, this is one of those intriguing Bible stories that I’ve read and heard preached on many times on the subject of forgiveness and unconditional love. I’m in a situation now of seeking forgiveness for past offenses from someone who wants to continue to hold those over my head – over a decade later. But since I dearly love this person, I will continue to pray and trust God for His timing on restoration of the relationship.