Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and me.
Paul is continuing with his plea for Onesimus and at the current moment we don’t actually know what Onesimus had done but very soon it will become clearer. The key word in this verse is useful. Paul mentions that in the past Onesimus was useless to Philemon but now he is useful to both. Again it is not yet clear in this verse how Onesimus was useless and how is now useful. Interestingly, the name ´Onesimus´ means someone who is useful or profitable and Paul seems to play with words here. This means that in the past Onesimus did not leave up to his name but now he had aligned his life to the meaning of his name.
It appears that Onesimus might have helped Paul after his conversion to Rome in different ways. Paul was in prison and not allowed to leave his house and therefore, people who visited him were important especially with bringing news of what was happening in the churches. Onesimus after conversion might have played the role of delivering Paul letters to Colossae and to Philemon. This means he was now participating in the mission of the gospel and this might be the usefulness that Paul is referring to. Two takeaways: 1. God´s grace radically transforms people from their evil past. 2. Personal transformation in Christ changes one´s perspective on a broad range of values
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