Philemon 17-25 Standing Together.
Paul had partners in the ministry, and he considered Philemon to be one of them. In this letter he appeals to Philemon to regard him in a similar fashion, and to bear this in mind with respect to his runaway slave Onesimus, that he be received just as though it were Paul himself (v. 17). This is the level of conviction which Paul had for believing that Onesimus was also to be regarded as a partner in ministry and in the faith. Paul is even willing to owe Philemon anything which Onesimus may have been obligated to his master for (v. 18). It is very likely, as a runaway slave, that Onesimus did not have much himself, and so Paul wanted to make good for him on his behalf.
Perhaps to assure Philemon of the veracity of his offer and estimate of Onesimus, Paul adds that he is writing this in his own handwriting, which Philemon would be very likely to recognize (v. 19a Cf. I Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; II Th. 3:17). In an age when letter writing was the only means of communication, other than being present in person, Paul perhaps wanted Philemon to know that the contents weren’t simply something Onesimus wrote for himself. Just to press his point further, Paul adds that he could say that Philemon “owed him one,” to use a vernacular expression, since Paul reminds him that he owes Paul his very life-either physically or spiritually or both (v. 19b).
Paul, in effect, revisits thoughts he had concerning Philemon, which he expressed earlier. Paul had earlier said that he wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother, not “by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary” (v. 14). In the same fashion, Paul says that he is confident of Philemon’s obedience, that he would in fact “do even more than” what Paul was requesting (v. 21). He makes clear that this was the joy and refreshment he sought from Philemon, in the Lord (v. 20). Paul also still held out hope that he himself would be able to have a return visit, asking that Philemon prepare a guest room for him.
In sharing his hope of seeing Philemon again, Paul gives us a valuable insight into the place of prayer in his life. No one could be more clear concerning the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and yet Paul says that he will return to Philemon if the latter’s prayers are answered in that regard. Paul knew it was not strictly up to his will, he recognized that it was ultimately is up to God, but it is also true that God predestines the means as well as the end, and hence the importance of mentioning Philemon’s prayers. When our prayers are answered as we hope, it is because they are “granted” because of God’s mercy (vv. 22-23 Cf. Phil. 2:24; II Cor. 1:11).
In his conclusion to this letter we learn that Paul has in one Epaphras a “fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (v. 23). Evidently the former was involved in some sort of ministry with Paul or on his own, which also caused him to be arrested and thrown in prison (Cf. Col. 1:7; 4:12). Paul also sends greetings from Mark, Luke, Aristarchus, and one Demas-as his fellow labourers. Demas is an interesting mention. He seems to have been a companion to Luke at one point (Col. 4:14). However, Paul also mentions that he had later forsaken him, if not the Lord (II Tim. 4:10, 16). As always, Paul prays for “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in this case to be with Philemon’s spirit (v. 25 Cf. II Tim. 4:22).