Once Unprofitable…Now Profitable (Philemon 11)
During World War II, an engineer at General Electric, named James Wright, was searching for a synthetic rubber substitute. In one of his experiments, he poured boric acid into a test tube filled with silicone oil, and it became a soft, malleable substance. Imagine his surprise when he dropped a glob of the substance on the floor—and it bounced! With a little more investigation, Wright discovered that the substance could also be stretched, flattened, rolled, and sculpted into many different shapes.
Around the General Electric labs, the substance became something of a novelty. Soon many GE employees were taking some home to show their family and friends. Unfortunately, the new substance proved to have a rather short shelf life, which made it useless for engineering purposes. It was dismissed by the GE engineers as an interesting, but worthless, discovery. But a writer named Peter Hodgson became intrigued with the amazing substance after he saw it demonstrated at a party. Hodgson, a copywriter for a toy catalog, had a feeling that the failed rubber substitute would be extremely popular with children, even if it was not useful for engineers.
After testing the material for safety, Hodgson packaged the stuff in plastic eggs and added a name to it. Within months the weird rubber, known as Silly Putty, became one of the hottest-selling toys in American history. What looked completely worthless to one person, when put in the hands of another, was extremely valuable. The wise man saw value in that which looked like a failure, or worthless.
Onesimus was a slave who had ran away from his master, Philemon. He later came to faith in Christ through the apostle Paul’s ministry. In fact, Paul refers to Onesimus as “my son” because Paul directly shared Christ with him (Philemon 10). The book of Philemon is a letter Paul wrote to tell Philemon (a believer who also came to Christ through Paul’s ministry) that Onesimus had come to saving faith in Christ
In the letter, Paul asks that Philemon allow Onesimus to return to him without fear of punishment. Paul not only asks that Philemon accept Onesimus back, but also that he welcome him as a brother in Christ (Philemon 15-16). Onesimus’s name means “useful”, or “profitable.” Paul states, “Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: (Philemon 11). Once useless, Onesimus became useful through the saving and transforming grace of God. We perhaps would not count him as profitable, but Paul is writing Philemon to let him know that Onesimus is profitable for him. People that you may think are worthless, or there is no hope for them, God can save that person and make them into something great for his glory and use. That person is very profitable for the ministry.
The truth is, before Christ, we were Onesimus. We were useless. We were rebellious and runaway slaves. Deserving punishment for our sins, we feared returning home to our Master. We felt ashamed, worthless and unloved. The story of Onesimus and Philemon is also our story — the story of Jesus transforming us from useless to useful, from wandering runaways to beloved brothers and sisters.
PRAYER: Father, it amazes me that You are ever mindful of me and that my worth matters to You. I thank You for sending Your Son Jesus to give His life that I can have life eternal. Knowing that I’m precious to You, and that every day You are transforming me to be more like Jesus, encourages me to give my life to You in service to others. In Jesus name, Amen.
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