I love the story of Onesimus. He is mentioned in the Letter to the Colossians as one of their number, so he and his (former?) master Philemon must have lived in Colossae. (Colossae was in what we know as western Turkey.)
Onesimus was a slave. His very name tells us that. Onesimus means ‘useful’. That was his name, Useful. Not much of a name, is it? Onesimus was a ‘slave name’—it was a name only a slave would have been given. It was also his identity—he was fed and housed because he was useful. Woe betide him if he ever became useless.
Well, in fact that’s just what did happen. He became useless to his master. It seems that he left Philemon, ran into the Apostle Paul in jail, and became a believer. Listen again to what Paul says, and listen for the play on words:
I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was ‘useless’ to you, but now he is indeed ‘useful’ both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
Onesimus has become a Christian, and Paul is his spiritual father.
But things are complicated.