“For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever…”
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose,
Paul suggests to Philemon that God used the bad situation of Onesimus’ temporary departure as a renegade slave for His own purpose. God turned evil into good. The evil of this slave’s thievery and flight to Rome led to his salvation and a better employee for Philemon. God turned evil into good in Paul’s own imprisonment.
Php 1:12-14, 12 “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
The word “perhaps” shows that the providential work of God is veiled to men, so Paul could only speak of that work with provisional deliberation. He had no exclusive admission to the eternal counsels of God. God has a purpose in everything, but only He can announce what it is. However, in this case, the outcome in Onesimus’ life made it apparent what God intended for Philemon’s loss.
that you might receive him forever
The transformation that occurred in Onesimus changed his whole value system. If necessary, he will be a faithful slave to Philemon without any hitches. The thief turned Christian will be honest, “You can trust Onesimus now, Philemon. A temporary loss of Onesimus’ services now results in a new brother in Christ and a lasting fellowship with him.” Onesimus’ conversion led to an eternal relationship between him and Philemon. It was a fellowship that transcended the social structure of master and slave.
The words “while” and “forever” stand in stark contrast. Philemon’s temporary loss of Onesimus’ services and money resulted in something that will last forever. There was a big gain for a relatively small loss. Onesimus departed lost, but he returned saved forever. They will have a fellowship at a very high elevation.
God overrules evil for good.
God has a purpose for everything that happens to us. God even has a purpose in evil, for He overturns evil for good in our lives. God’s providential grace takes finite circumstances and uses them for His infinite purposes. We can see God’s hand in our situation if we take notice.
Ge. 45:5, “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Ge 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
Ps 76:10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You;
With the remainder of wrath, You shall gird Yourself.”
Ro. 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”