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).


Philemon 8-16 From Unprofitable Slave To Profitable Brother.

Paul might have been very bold to command what was fitting “in Christ,” but instead he appeals to Philemon as a brother on behalf of another brother, his runaway slave Onesimus (v. 8). Paul was a prisoner, something worse than a slave, making his appeal through love for one he also regarded as a son, who in the providence of God became a Christian through his ministry (vv. 9-10). “As Paul, the aged,” he spoke with the wisdom but also the urgency of one who knew his time was running out. He wished that Onesimus could stay with him, but he did what was right and fair by sending him back to his rightful owner (vv. 12-13 Cf. Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22). Nevertheless, he appeals to him out of love for both. Paul wanted Philemon to free Onesimus, but to do so willingly, and not “by compulsion” (v. 14). Before Onesimus became a Christian he was unprofitable to Philemon, since he had run away. However, now that he was a brother, he became profitable to many besides Philemon, including Paul. Paul saw in Onesimus’ departure the providence of God, because through his ministry Onesimus was being returned to Philemon as a brother (vv. 11, 15-16 Cf. Col. 4:9).


Philemon 1-7 Witness Bearing In Word, Character, And Deed.

Paul writes from prison at approximately 60 AD. Philemon was a Christian slaveholder in Colosse, and his runaway slave Onesimus had become a Christian through Paul’s ministry while in Rome. Timothy appears to be in Rome with Paul, if not in prison with him. Paul considered Philemon to be a “beloved friend and fellow labourer,” and appeals to him as such (v. 1). It would be a mistake to liken slavery in new testament times to slavery that has occurred at other times in history. Nevertheless, Paul does appeal to Philemon to let Onesimus, now a brother, be free. It is also clear from this initial greeting, that there were churches which then met in houses. Paul also sends greetings to another beloved, Apphia, and Archippus a “fellow soldier,” a fellow minister in the church (v. 2 Cf. Col. 4:17). To all of these Paul sends his usual greeting of grace and peace “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” peace made possible through grace (v. 3).

Paul gives us a good example of what we ought to be thankful for, and for faithfulness in prayer (v. 4). He lets Philemon know that he remembers him always in his prayers, and is thankful to God for him and in hearing of his “love and faith” which he had “toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints” (v. 5). Paul is also thankful that Philemon was willing to share his faith, and prayed that his witness and testimony would be made “effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing” which is in every true believer like Philemon (v. 6). For Paul, the sharing of one’s faith is made effective through the evidence of good things in one’s life, things which those who hear must acknowledge. By one’s fruit, one is known (Mt. 7:15-20). Words alone, without a consistent character and deeds, does not have the same effect. Paul was also thankful for the love Philemon had for the saints, and “great joy and consolation” in how this refreshed the hearts of the saints (v. 7).