Profitability for Christian Giving
Written by Dr. Ken Hemphill
The word profit refers to what we derive from an act or transaction. Tragically, some Christians look at giving with a profit — or “what’s in it for me” — perspective. Advocates of the prosperity gospel often rely on this give-to get approach to Christian giving and ministry support, as shown in his letter to Philemon.
Paul writes to encourage Philemon to increase the Kingdom’s profit by welcoming back his runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul had met the deserter Onesimus while imprisoned in Rome and had the joy of leading him to saving faith In Christ. Now Paul is asking Philemon to accept Onesimus into his service again – and into the Church’s service as well.
Paul appeals to Philemon as a beloved brother (v. 2) on behalf of a slave who has become Paul’s own spiritual child (v. 11). It is possible Onesimus knew of Paul when he served in Philemon’s home, and so he may have sought Paul out when in Rome. That’s how the slave heard the Gospel and became a freeman in Christ.
Onesimus was a common Greek name, especially among slaves, meaning “profitable” or “useful.” Notice the play on words as Paul remind Philemon that Onesimus, Useful, was formerly Useless to him (v. 11). It’s possible Onesimus had been useless because he was lazy or because he had run away. But now, Onesimus was a child of God, no longer a slave but a beloved brother to both Paul and Philemon (v. 16).
As a brother in Christ, the “useless” one has now become “useful both to you and to me” (v. 11, Holman Christian Standard Bible). The former “useless” slave has, by the grace of God, become a “useful” brother. Paul even asks Philemon to return Onesimus to Rome so Onesimus might minister to him during his imprisonment (v. 13)
How could sending Onesimus—a potentially profitable asset—back to Rome be “useful” to Philemon? This gift would enable Philemon to invest in the Kingdom by forgiving a fellow believer and enabling him to be a useful servant of the King. Likewise, your giving allows you to profit through the lives transformed by your generosity. There is no greater benefit than this!