Philemon 1

Philemon 1

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Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon’s Love and Faith

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Final Greetings

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.


Philemon 1 Commentary

by Hank Workman

He saw the chance and bolted.  Slavery was widespread throughout the Roman Empire and usually if not most were mistreated.  Onesimus found himself on the streets of Rome and somehow came into contact with Paul who was under house arrest in 60 AD.  His life was never the same.  He came to believe in Christ, experienced forgiveness and Paul took this young man under his wings.  The irony was Paul knew his master, Philemon, who was a member of the church of Colossae.  Go figure, right?  This is just like God to bring people together in the most unexpected ways.

Whatever the conversation looked like, Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to his master with a letter in hand.  It was a bold move but Paul believed enough in his friend Philemon that the outcome would be incredibly favorable.  There was much fear however on this slave’s mind.  Onesimus has stolen from his master when he fled that night and law provided for an owner to kill any runaway slave if found.

This backdrop shows the amazing outlook Paul had.  In this brief letter, he speaks lovingly to his friend even offering to pay for whatever it cost him in his loss of Onesimus.  But there was more – Paul speaks how he is no longer a slave but a brother in Christ.  He tactfully asks Philemon to accept and forgive his brother and let the barriers that had divided be knocked down and they move forward in the power of Christ.  He was confident his friend would do this and then send Onesimus back as he wanted this young man close by to continue his mentorship and needed him.

Forgiveness of those who have harmed us in one way or another is quite difficult.  We have a lot to work through as we know.  But forgiveness of one another and their sins that have affected us directly is what God asks of each.  When dealing within the family of God, it also asks for reconciliation – or reestablishing a relationship on some level.  Jesus broke the barriers that separated this slave and master and changed things from slave to brother.

What is fascinating is we don’t know the outcome of this story.  There is no mention of either name again in Paul’s letters.  A choice was laid out for Philemon and he then had to respond.  What did he do?  How did he respond?  But life is much the same for us.  When we are confronted with the hard aspect of forgiveness of one who is a fellow Believer we too must make a choice.  What will we do? How will we respond?

Philemon 1 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

Here in Philemon, Paul offers us a lesson in diplomacy and peacemaking. For Onesimus, he once was a rebellious slave who left Colossae to take refuge in Rome. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Onesimus met up with Paul who eventually led him to Jesus. Through this process, Onesimus received a new identity as a brother of Christ. Paul no longer defined him as a fugitive but as one of his spiritual children.

For Philemon, he was once Onesimus’ master. He was also a close friend of Paul’s and apparently a model Christian who was holding church gatherings at his home. The crime of Onesimus was heavy. He not only ran away, but he stole money from Philemon. Both the Roman law as well as the Old Testament law gave Philemon the green light to punish Onesimus. But Paul has another idea.

With his diplomatic approach, Paul draws Philemon into accountability with Jesus. Yes, Onesimus had wronged him. Yes, it was a punishable offense. Yes, he had stolen money and left Philemon without a worker in his household. But Philemon was once living in rebellion to Jesus before Paul led him to Christ. So, in a very gentle way, Paul is reminding Philemon that whatever he chooses to do with Onesimus should be in line with what Jesus has done for him.

On top of this, the book of Philemon really highlights the issue of identity. Onesimus should no longer be viewed as a slave. The greater relationship he has to both Paul and Philemon is as a brother in Christ. Philemon’s role as “master” and Onesimus’ role as “slave” were secondary to the identities they shared as children of God.

This is a great teaching point for us today. Do we favor our secular titles over our spiritual identity? It would have been fair and right for Philemon to punish Onesimus. The world wouldn’t have blinked. But for a true follower of Christ, their new identity must guide all decisions and behaviors. Just in case Philemon was having doubts, Paul threw in one last gentle reminder. God willing, he will be coming to visit Philemon and will no doubt be checking up with this situation to see how everything has turned out.

“Finally, Paul delicately reminds his friend, in Phm 1:19, that Philemon owed him a great deal more than a trifle of money, namely, his spiritual life. Does not our Lord address us in similar terms? We surely owe ourselves to Him!”

F.B. Meyer
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