Onesimus, the Ungrateful Slave

Scriptures: Philemon 1:10 ; Daniel 9:9
by Jacob Abshire on May 31, 2023

To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness,
for we have rebelled against him.

Daniel 9:9

Not all of Philemon’s slaves saw his grace as beneficial. One in particular, desired a life in the world, a supposed freedom without authority and daily responsibilities. His name was Onesimus (Phile. 10). He was an ungrateful slave.

Discontent with his master’s grace, Onesimus runs 1200 miles away to Rome, a treacherous journey for a disappointing life. He stole from his master to assure him the safest travels and to help him blend in among the Roman citizens (Phile. 18). But, the sprawling metropolis did not deliver the hope that he had given it.

Rome was a crowded and industrious place, so it was easy for slaves to hide. However, landing a good job was not, especially for a runaway slave. Unsurprisingly, Onesimus was unable to feed himself. So, he stole again, this time from the local market where there were more suspicious eyes on shoppers and loafers. 

Onesimus was caught, seized, and imprisoned. The world he thought was going to bring him freedom brought him confinement. He rejected the grace of his master to wallow in the disgrace of the world. It began with ungratefulness and led to betraying his master—a crime punishable by death. Now, imprisoned for petty thievery, Onesimus has hit rock bottom. What a sad life for an ungrateful man.

His story is not unlike our own. We are born ungrateful slaves who betray the gracious master for the disgrace of the world. We struggle hard strides to get away from Him and blend in with the world to hide from His righteous gaze. Our betrayal is a crime punishable by death, eternal. And yet, by God’s good providence, we are stopped in our rebellion and positioned for mercy. “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him” (Dan. 9:9).

  1. What parallels can you draw from Onesimus’ life as you think about your own? Have you found yourself in a place of mercy and forgiveness?
  2. What does this teach us about the character and grace of God? How can this stir you to be grateful for the forgiveness He freely provides?
  3. How can this help you today? How can it steer you toward God when so much of society and technology draw you away from Him?
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