Philemon 1:11
Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
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(11) In time past . . . unprofitable, but now profitable.—The name Onesimus means “useful,” or “profitable,” though derived from a different root from the words here used. It is hardly possible not to see in this passage a play on words, though (curiously enough) this is not noticed by the old Greek commentators. St. Paul seems to say, “He belied his name in days past; he will more than deserve it now.”

To thee and to me.—St. Paul says “to thee,” for he was sending back Onesimus. He adds “to me,” in affectionate notice of his kindly ministrations already rendered to his spiritual father.

1:8-14 It does not lower any one to condescend, and sometimes even to beseech, where, in strictness of right, we might command: the apostle argues from love, rather than authority, in behalf of one converted through his means; and this was Onesimus. In allusion to that name, which signifies profitable, the apostle allows that in time past he had been unprofitable to Philemon, but hastens to mention the change by which he had become profitable. Unholy persons are unprofitable; they answer not the great end of their being. But what happy changes conversion makes! of evil, good; of unprofitable, useful. Religious servants are treasures in a family. Such will make conscience of their time and trusts, and manage all they can for the best. No prospect of usefulness should lead any to neglect their obligations, or to fail in obedience to superiors. One great evidence of true repentance consists in returning to practise the duties which have been neglected. In his unconverted state, Onesimus had withdrawn, to his master's injury; but now he had seen his sin and repented, he was willing and desirous to return to his duty. Little do men know for what purposes the Lord leaves some to change their situations, or engage in undertakings, perhaps from evil motives. Had not the Lord overruled some of our ungodly projects, we may reflect upon cases, in which our destruction must have been sure.Which in time past was to thee unprofitable - Either because he was indolent; because he had wronged him (compare the notes at Plm 1:18), or because he had run away from him. It is possible that there may be an allusion here to the meaning of the name "Onesimus," which denotes "profitable" (from ὀνίνημι oninēmi, future ὀνήσω onēsō, to be useful, to be profitable, to help), and that Paul means to say that he had hitherto not well answered to the meaning of his own name, but that now he would be found to do so.

But now profitable to thee - The Greek here is εὔχρηστον euchrēston, but the meaning is about the same as that of the word Onesimus. It denotes very useful. In 2 Timothy 2:21, it is rendered "meet for use;" in 2 Timothy 4:11, and here, profitable. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament.

And to me - Paul had doubtless found him useful to him as Christian brother in his bonds, and it is easy to conceive that, in his circumstances, he would greatly desire to retain him with him.

11. Which … was … unprofitable—belying his name Onesimus, which means "profitable." Not only was he "unprofitable," but positively injurious, having "wronged" his master. Paul uses a mild expression.

now profitable—Without godliness a man has no station. Profitable in spiritual, as well as in temporal things.

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable; acrhston he useth a soft word, for it appears, Philemon 1:18, he had

wronged him, taking away some of his goods, and running away with them, without Philemon’s knowledge, which made him doubly criminal.

But now profitable to thee and to me; but now eucrhston, profitable, one that may be profitable to thee, having learned Christ, and to me, who have used him in my service, and whose conversion will add to my crown.

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable,.... Yea, injurious and hurtful; one that was an eye servant, that loitered away his time, and set an ill example to fellow servants; and not only so, but embezzled his master's goods, and robbed him, and run away from him. So every man, in his state of unregeneracy, is an unprofitable man, Romans 3:12 unprofitable to God, to men, and to themselves; their sins will not profit them, though they may promise them liberty and pleasure; nor will their riches, should they lose their own souls: nor their own righteousness, in the business of justification and salvation; nor even an outward profession of religion: yea, they are not only said to be unprofitable, but are represented as good for nothing; hence they are compared to dishonourable and unserviceable vessels; to briers and thorns, and the earth which brings them; to the salt that has lost its savour, and is fit neither for the land, nor for the dunghill; to rotten figs, to chaff, and dross of metals: yea, they are hurtful and injurious to themselves, on whom they bring ruin and destruction; to others, to wicked men, whom they more and more corrupt, and harden in sin; and to good men, whom they grieve; and also to the interest and glory of God, whose laws they transgress, and against whom they sin, affront his justice, and provoke the eyes of his glory,

But now profitable to thee and to me; that is, he was now likely to be so, to be profitable to Philemon, as a servant, and to the apostle as a ministering brother. Some think there is in this an allusion to his name Onesimus, which signifies "profitable"; before he did not answer to his name, but now he was a true Onesimus, really a profitable person; grace, of an unprofitable man, makes a profitable one. Such an one is profitable to himself; his godliness is gain unto him, it having both the promise of this life, and of that which is to come; and he is profitable to others, if he has gifts qualifying him for the public work of the ministry, as Onesimus seems to have had; then he is made and becomes very useful to many for conviction, conversion, comfort, and edification; and if only a private believer, he is often profitable to others, by relating the work of God upon his soul; he is serviceable to the interest of Christ, for the support of the ministry, and supply of the poor; he is useful by his good examples, and prayers, in the neighbourhood, town, city, or nation, in which he dwells. This argument from profit, the apostle knew would be an engaging one.

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
Philemon 1:11. Ingenious allusion to the literal signification of the name (current also among the Greeks) Ὀνήσιμος, useful. The objection of Estius, that Paul expresses himself in words derived from another stem (not from ὀνίνημι), presupposes a mechanical procedure, with which Paul is least of all to be charged. We may add that, while there were not such forms as ἀνονήσιμος and εὐονήσιμος, doubtless he might, had he wished to retain the stem of the name, have employed ἀνόνητος and ὀνητός (Suidas), or ὀνήτωρ (Pindar), or ὀνησιφόρος (Plutarch, Lucian). An allusion, however, at the same time to the name of Christian, as sometimes in the Fathers Χριστιανός is brought into relation with χρηστός, is arbitrarily assumed by Cornelius a Lapide, Koch, and others, and the more so, as the expressions have already their occasion in the name Onesimus, and, moreover, by means of σοί and ἐμοί an individually definite reference.

ἄχρηστον] unserviceable, only here in the N.T. (comp. however, δοῦλος ἀχρεῖος, Matthew 25:30; Luke 17:10). Plato, Lys. p. 204 B: φαῦλος καὶ ἄχρηστος, 3Ma 3:29; Sir 37:19. A definition, wherein the uselessness of Onesimus in his service consisted (the usual view from the time of Chrysostom: that he had robbed his master) does not appear more precisely than in the hint Philemon 1:18 f.

νυνὶ δὲεὔχρηστον] Comp. 2 Timothy 2:21; 2 Timothy 4:11; Plato, Pol. iii. p. 411 B: χρήσιμον ἐξ ἀχρήστου ἐποίησεν. The usefulness, which now belongs to Onesimus, is based simply on his conversion which had taken place, Philemon 1:10, and consequently consists for Philemon in the fact, that his slave now will render his service in a far other way than before, namely, in a distinctively Christian frame of mind and activity (consequently without eye-service and man-pleasing, ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ κ.τ.λ., as it is expressed at Colossians 3:2-9 ff.), and for Paul himself in the fact that, because the conversion of Onesimus is his work (Philemon 1:10), in that transformation of the previously useless slave there has accrued to the apostle, as the latter’s spiritual father, gain and recompense of his labour (Php 1:22), the joy and honour of not having striven in vain (Php 2:16). Thus the benefits, which Philemon and Paul have respectively to enjoy from Onesimus as now constituted, are brought into contact and union. Comp. Theodore of Mopsuestia: σοὶ κατὰ τὴν ὑπηρεσίαν, ἐμοὶ κατὰ τὴν βελτίωσιν τοῦ τρόπου. What a weighty and persuasive appeal was urged in the ingenious καὶ ἐμοί (comp. Romans 16:13; 1 Corinthians 16:18) is at once felt.

11. in time past] In the Greek, simply, once.

unprofitable] A gentle “play” on “Helpful’s” name; an allusion, and no more (for no more was needed), to his delinquencies. To Onesimus himself Paul had no doubt spoken, with urgent faithfulness, of his sin against his master. What the sin had been we can only guess, beyond the evident fact that he had run away. Philemon 1:18-19, suggest that he had robbed Philemon before his flight, though the language does not imply more than petty crime of that kind.

Perhaps Philemon would recall the “unprofitable bondservant” of the Lord’s parable, a parable recorded for us by “the beloved physician” now at Paul’s side (Luke 17:10).

and to me] “An after-thought … According to common Greek usage the first person would naturally precede the second” (Lightfoot). The words are a loving testimony to Onesimus’ devotion.

Philemon 1:11. Ἄχρηστον, unprofitable) A Litotes [see Append.] for he was guilty of injury. In like manner there is a mild expression in the use of the word, was separated [departed], Philemon 1:15; likewise Philemon 1:18, but if—he oweth.—σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ, to thee and me) He courteously puts Philemon before himself. He treats of himself, Philemon 1:13-14; of him, Philemon 1:15-16. Chiasmus [see Append.]—εὔχρηστον, truly profitable) The allusion is to the name of Onesimus; so ὀναίμην, Philemon 1:20. Not even does a servant do his duty without godliness. With godliness any man is profitable.—ἀνέπεμψα, I have sent back) Onesimus even before he had attained true profitableness, had however thought well of Paul, and fled to him on the occasion of his own crime.

Verse 11. - Who was aforetime unprofitable ... to me. The play upon words seems unmistakable, and is peculiarly Pauline. Onesimus means "useful," or "profitable;" ἄχρηστος, "unprofitable," and εὔχρηστος is emphatic, "very profitable." "Useful he is named, but in time past he was (I confess it) not useful, but useless; in future, however, he will be of great use to us both." Compare with this the corresponding passage of Pliny's 'Letter to Sabinianus,' given in the Introduction. "Unprofitable" is a figure of speech, a euphemism, for "useless and even injurious." St. Paul makes the best of Onesimus's fault that it will in justice allow. But an old commentator says bluntly that Onesimus was "damnosus fuga et furto." How could he have been, in his unconverted state, otherwise than "unprofitable" to his master? "Olim paganus," says a Lapide, "jam Christianus; olim fur, jam fidelis servus; olim profugus, jam redux." Philemon 1:11Unprofitable (ἄχρηστον)

A play on the word Onesimus profitable. Compare unprofitable (ἀχρεῖος) servant, Matthew 25:30. These plays upon proper names are common both in Greek and Roman literature. Thus Aeschylus on the name of Helen of Troy, the play or pun turning on the root ἑλ, hel, destroy: Helene, helenaus, helandras, heleptolis: Helen, ship-destroyer, man-destroyer, city-destroyer ("Agamemnon," 671). Or, as Robert Browning: "Helen, ship's-hell, man's-hell, city's-hell." So on Prometheus (forethought): "Falsely do the gods call thee Prometheus, for thou thyself hast need of prometheus, i.e., of forethought" ("Prometheus Bound," 85, 86). Or Sophocles on Ajax. Aias (Ajax) cries ai, ai! and says, "Who would have thought that my name would thus be the appropriate expression for my woes?" ("Ajax," 430). In the New Testament, a familiar example is Matthew 16:18; "thou art Petros, and on this petra will I build my church." See on Epaenetus, 2 Corinthians 8:18.

Now profitable

"Christianity knows nothing of hopeless cases. It professes its ability to take the most crooked stick and bring it straight, to flash a new power into the blackest carbon, which will turn it into a diamond" (Maclaren, "Philemon," in "Expositor's Bible").

And to me

The words are ingeniously thrown in as an afterthought. Compare Philippians 2:27; Romans 16:13; 1 Corinthians 16:18. A strong appeal to Philemon lies in the fact that Paul is to reap benefit from Onesimus in his new attitude as a christian brother.

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