PHILEMON

 

Read Philemon 1-7 – Paul’s Greeting to Philemon

 

v1.  “PAUL, A PRISONER OF JESUS CHRIST, AND TIMOTHY our BROTHER, UNTO PHILEMON OUR DEARLY BELOVED, AND FELLOWLABOUR.”

 

            This is the only private letter written by the Apostle Paul that has been preserved in the accepted canon of scripture.  It was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome about 62 or 63.  Philemon was living in Colossae, was converted by Paul there and a member of the church there.  At the time that Paul writes this letter Timothy is with him.

 

v2.  “AND TO our BELOVED APPHIA, AND ARCHIPPUS OUR FELLOW-SOLDIER, AND TO THE CHURCH IN THY HOUSE.”

 

            This letter is addressed to other people as well as Philemon and here Paul names them.  Archippus has the church meeting in his house and that was not uncommon during these times:

 

Romans 16:5  LIKEWISE greet THE CHURCH THAT IS IN THEIR HOUSE.  SALUTE MY WELLBELOVED EPENETUS, WHO IS THE FIRSTFRUITS OF ACHAIA UNTO CHRIST.”

 

            The man Archippus is also a minister of the Lord’s church as we can see in

 

Colossians 4:17  AND SAY TO ARCHIPPUS, TAKE HEED TO THE MINISTRY WHICH THOU HAST RECEIVED IN THE LORD, THAT THOU FULFIL IT.”

 

v3.  “GRACE TO YOU, AND PEACE, FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.”

 

            Paul’s greeting typical of his writings

 

v4.  “I THANK MY GOD, MAKING MENTION OF THEE ALWAYS IN MY PRAYERS.”

 

            Again much the same as we might write today, that is those of us who take the trouble to write letters.  Paul is thankful for Philemon, his work in the Lord’s church and mentions him in his daily prayers to the Lord.

 

v5.  “HEARING OF THY LOVE AND FAITH, WHICH THOU HAST TOWARD THE LORD JESUS, AND TOWARD ALL SAINTS.”

 

            In this day of the internet, text messaging, instant messaging, etc. we take our ability to communicate immediately with each other pretty much for granted.  But in the days when most travel was by ship or on foot, with only the wealthy having animals to convey them; the reputation of brethren in certain places was still known to brethren in other locations.  The condition of the church at Rome was known to Paul as the states in the Roman letter (Romans 1:8).  The people in the church at Colossae had a very good reputation as Paul notes in his letter to them:

 

Colossians 1:4  SINCE WE HEARD OF YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, AND OF THE LOVE which ye have TO ALL THE SAINTS.”

 

v6.  “THAT THE COMMUNICATION OF THY FAITH MAY BECOME EFFECTUAL BY THE ACKNOWLEDGING OF EVERY GOOD THING WHICH IS IN YOU IN CHRIST JESUS.”

 

            The word communication here is translated fellowship in other translations and does indeed deal with the fellowship with those of the faith, their righteous living, their love for those of the faith, their faith and their concern for other Christians that is characteristic of a true Christian.  Philemon and the brethren at Colossae were indeed walking as the Apostle John tells us we all must walk:

 

I John 1:7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

 

v7.  “FOR WE HAVE GREAT JOY AND CONSOLATION IN THY LOVE, BECAUSE THE BOWELS OF THE SAINTS ARE REFRESHED BY THEE, BROTHER.”

 

            Paul, probably as well as other Christians, had enjoyed the love and hospitality that Philemon was known for; his concern for the brethren, his willingness to help them and his love of the church.

 

Read Philemon 8-22 – Paul’s Purpose in Writing

 

v8.  “WHEREFORE, THOUGH I MIGHT BE MUCH BOLD IN CHRIST TO ENJOIN THEE THAT WHICH IS CONVENIENT.”

 

            Paul now starts to get down to the point of making known to Philemon the purpose of his writing.  And even though Philemon is a good hearted, loving, caring Christian that which Paul is going to ask of him is something that Paul says here himself is pretty bold. 

 

v9.  “YET FOR LOVE’S SAKE I RATHER BESEECH thee, BEING SUCH AN ONE AS PAUL THE AGED, AND NOW ALSO A PRISONER OF JESUS CHRIST.”

 

            Even though what Paul is going to request is something pretty bold, he tells Philemon that for love’s sake he’s going to beseech or beg him to consider it anyway and even goes so far as to picture himself as one who is now aged, and a prisoner because of the cause of Christ.  His words are designed to arouse Philemon’s compassion and care and appeal to his better nature.

 

v10.  “I BESEECH THEE FOR MY SON ONESIMUS WHOM I HAVE BEGOTTEN IN MY BONDS.”

 

            Philemon had a slave named Onesimus.  This man had apparently done something wrong, perhaps he stole from his master, or done something of that nature that was wrong and he had run away.  Now Paul has converted Onesimus and he is a fellow Christian.  Paul apparently sends this letter along with the letter to the Colossian church at the same time and Onesimus is one of the messengers who carries Paul’s letters.

 

Colossians 4:9  WITH ONESIMUS, A FAITHFUL AND BELOVED BROTHER, WHO IS one OF YOU.  THEY SHALL MAKE KNOWN UNTO YOU ALL THINGS WHICH are done HERE.”

 

v11.  WHICH IN TIME PAST WAS TO THEE UNPROFITABLE, BUT NOW PROFITABLE TO THEE AND TO ME.

 

            Paul acknowledges that this man had been unprofitable to Philemon in the past.  Now he says that he would be profitable both unto Philemon and unto him; that is unto Paul.  Partially because he is now a Christian brother, faithful to Jesus Christ and he’s done away with, repented of all those things that he might have done in past times that were wrong, that were sin.

            What else does this tell us about the church or apostles in the first century?  They understood slavery; they understood the relationship between masters and their servants.  Did they interfere with that relationship?  No.  They were told to be content in whatever state they found themselves and taught how to conduct themselves in that state.  They were to be as Paul himself wrote:

 

Philippians 4:11-12Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

 

v12.  “WHOM I HAVE SENT AGAIN: THOU THEREFORE RECEIVE HIM, THAT IS, MINE OWN BOWELS.”

 

            Paul has sent this slave back to his master.  Do you think perhaps that returning to Philemon was part of the repenting necessary for Onesimus to do?  Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, he remained his slave regardless of whether he was a Christian brother or not.  Therefore it was necessary for him to do what was right.  The church didn’t involve themselves in politics or things related to civil law and relationships related to things of that nature and it shouldn’t today.

 

Colossians 3:22-24  “SERVANTS, OBEY IN ALL THINGS your MASTERS ACCORDING TO THE FLESH; NOT WITH EYESERVICE, AS MENPLEASERS; BUT IN SINGLENESS OF HEART, FEARING GOD:  AND WHATSOEVER YE DO, TO it HEARTILY, AS TO THE LORD, AND NOT UNTO MEN; KNOWING THAT OF THE LORD YE SHALL RECEIVE THE REWARD OF THE INHERITANCE: FOR YE SERVE THE LORD CHRIST.”

 

v13.  “WHOM I WOULD HAVE RETAINED WITH ME, THAT IN THY STEAD HE MIGHT HAVE MINISTERED UNTO ME IN THE BONDS OF THE GOSPEL.”

 

            Paul says that he would like to have kept Onesimus with him.  So that Onesimus might minister unto him in his current situation, being in prison.  That his service would be valuable to Paul and with Paul being allowed in much of his imprisonment to keep his own house to live somewhere beside in the prison itself we could understand that.

 

v14.  “BUT WITHOUT THY MIND WOULD I DO NOTHING; THAT THY BENEFIT SHOULD NOT BE AS IT WERE OF NECESSITY, BUT WILLINGLY.”

 

            Paul says that he would not keep Onesimus since he didn’t know the mind of Philemon on the matter.  If he did, then Philemon’s support of Paul would be of necessity not willingly and Paul wouldn’t take advantage of his good graces.

 

v15.  “FOR PERHAPS HE THEREFORE DEPARTED FOR A SEASON, THAT THOU SHOULDEST RECEIVE HIM FOR EVER;”

 

            Paul here is appealing to Philemon to approach Onesimus having run away and been our of service as him only having been gone away for a season or as we might say for a little while, that he might returned to him as a brother for ever.  He suggests that even perhaps it is through the providence of God that Onesimus and gained the opportunity to become a child of God and therefore much more valuable to Philemon.

 

v16.  “NOT NOW AS A SERVANT, BUT ABOVE A SERVANT, A BROTHER BELOVED, SPECIALLY TO ME, BUT HOW MUCH MORE UNTO THEE, BOTH IN THE FLESH, AND IN THE LORD?”

 

            Philemon and Onesimus have a completely new relationship.  Where once their relationship was only as master and slave, now they are also brethren in Christ.  This runaway that once rebelled against his master and did him wrong is now a brother in Christ just as Jesus tells us:

 

“BUT BE NOT YE CALLED RABBI: FOR ONE IS YOUR MASTER, even CHRIST; AND ALL YE ARE BRETHREN.” Matthew 23:8 

 

This slave, in his new-found status with God, would be a much better servant than he had been before – why?  Because as a child of God he will follow the instruction of Paul regarding those that are Christians:

 

Colossians 3:22  SERVANTS, OBEY IN ALL THINGS your MASTERS ACCORDING TO THE FLESH; NOT WITH EYESERVICE, AS MENPLEASERS; BUT IN SINGLENESS OF HEART, FEARING GOD?”

 

And Paul instructs Christians further through his writing to Timothy

 

I Timothy 6:2  “AND THEY THAT HAVE BELIEVING MASTERS, LET THEM NOT DESPISE them, BECAUSE THEY ARE BRETHREN, BUT RATHER DO them SERVICE, BECAUSE THEY ARE FAITHFUL AND BELOVED, PARTAKERS OF THE BENEFIT.  THESE THINGS TEACH AND EXHORT.”

 

v17.  “IF THOU COUNT ME THEREFORE A PARTNER, RECEIVE HIM AS MYSELF.”

 

Paul makes very clear his intentions regarding how he wants Philemon to react to the return of this runaway slave.  He says to receive and treat him just like you would me.  This runaway slave, in Paul’s thinking, deserves the same welcome, the same honor as a brother in Christ that Paul himself would receive if he chose to travel to Colossae.  In addition, Onesimus, as Paul’s trusted companion, is also being sent as a messenger carrying the epistles of Paul both to Philemon and the church, just as Titus was sent to Corinth.

 

II Corinthians 8:23  WHETHER any do inquire of TITUS, he is MY PARTNER AND FELLOWHELPER CONCERNING YOU: OR OUR BRETHREN be inquired of, they are MESSENGERS OF THE CHURCHES, and THE GLORY OF CHRIST.”

 

v18.  “IF HE HATH WRONGED THEE, OR OWETH thee OUGHT, PUT THAT ON MINE ACCOUNT;”

 

            Paul even goes so far as to tell Philemon that if this man has wronged him or owes him anything that he, Paul, would pay his debt.

 

v19.  “I PAUL HAVE WRITTEN it WITH MY OWN HAND, I WILL REPAY it; ALBEIT I DO NOT SAY TO THEE HOW THOU OWEST UNTO ME EVEN THINE OWN SELF BESIDES.”

 

            Paul even writes in his own hand where normally he has someone actually transcribing his words for him and reminds Philemon how much that he owes Paul.  He says that Philemon even owes himself to Paul, how would that be?  Because Paul converted Philemon, brought him into fellowship with God and set him on his life’s journey what would lead him to eternal life with God.

 

v20.  “YEA, BROTHER, LET ME HAVE JOY OF THEE IN THE LORD: REFRESH MY BOWELS IN THE LORD.”

 

            Let Paul be joyful of the way that Philemon would treat this slave, refreshing his heart in the Lord.

 

v21.  “HAVING CONFIDENCE IN THY OBEDIENCE I WROTE UNTO THEE, KNOWING THAT THOU WILT ALSO DO MORE THAN I SAY.”

 

            Paul has written to Philemon because he knows that Philemon will actually do more and go further than Paul has requested.  He feels that Philemon will change his attitude toward Onesimus just as Paul did the church at Corinth after they repented of their wrongs.  In his second letter; after upbraiding them in the first and having heard that the church there has embraced the instructions that he gave them and repented before God he tells them:

 

“I REJOICE THEREFORE THAT I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOU IN ALL things.” II Corinthians 7:16 

 

            Because of their change he goes from chastising them strongly to being completely confident that they will do what the God requires of them.

 

v22.  “BUT WITHAL PREPARE ME ALSO A LODGING: FOR I TRUST THAT THROUGH YOUR PRAYERS I SHALL BE GIVEN UNTO YOU.”

 

            Paul, as he often writes, expects that God will allow him to journey to Colossae and tells Philemon to prepare him a place to stay when he gets there.  He believes also in the power of prayer, that the power of Philemon’s prayers will help him leave this Roman prison he’s in and as a result be able to return to Colossae again.

 

Read Philemon 1:23-25 – Paul’s Salutation

 

v23.  “THERE SALUTE THEE EPAPHRAS, MY FELLOWPRISONER IN CHRIST JESUS;”

 

            Epaphras is a minister to the Colossian church.  Colossians 1:7

 

v24.  “MARCUS, ARISTARCHUS, DEMAS, LUCAS, MY FELLOWLABOURS.

 

            Verse 24 is simply a continuation of verse 23.  He also sends greeting to Mark, Demas, Luke and Aristarchus.  Mark we know, Luke we know, but who is Aristarchus?  A Macedonian from Thessalonica who traveled with Paul – See Acts 27:2.  Who is this Demas?

 

“FOR DEMAS HATH FORSAKEN ME, HAVING LOVED THIS PRESENT WORLD, AND IS DEPARTED UNTO THESSALONICA; CRESCENS TO GALATIA, TITUS UNTO DALMATIA.” II Timothy 4:10 

 

            Demas was one who later forsook Paul, left the missionary work and returned to his home city.

 

v25.  “THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST be WITH YOUR SPIRIT.  AMEN.”