Many bible scholars believe that this epistle was written at Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment, nearly four years after his arrest at Jerusalem (Ac 21:33), during all of which time he had been in bonds, but permitted to preach. See Ac 28:31.
Philemon was one of Paul’s prison epistles, but this one was the most personal of all. This letter was written at the same time that Paul wrote the Colossian epistle. When Paul wrote the Colossian epistle, he made mention that he was sending the letter with Tychicus, and that also Onesimus, who was one of their own, would be coming with Tychicus with the epistle.
A slave by the name of Onesimus (who’s name means profitable or useful) had robbed his master Philemon. He then ran for his life to the city of Rome where in the providence of God, he became acquainted with the apostle Paul. It was here that he heard Paul preach the gospel and came to the saving knowledge of The Lord Jesus Christ.
After hearing his testimony, Paul sent him back to his Christian master by the name of Philemon with the following letter of apology.
Some of the life lessons that this epistle teaches us is that:
- The Living God is the God of providence. There is no such thing as a coincidence in God’s universe.
- The Living God is the God of redemption. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Only God can save us, we cannot save ourselves.
- The Living God is the God of reconciliation. Christ came into the world to reconcile and restore fallen man’s fellowship with God. And Christ also came to reconcile and restore our fellowship with one another.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ (He refers to his chains five times in this letter),
- Paul’s crime and the reason for his incarceration was the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Paul here recognizes the sovereign hand of God upon his life as a disciple of The Lord Jesus Christ. He writes this epistle from a Roman prison, but he knows that he is not a prisoner of Rome; he is a prisoner of The Lord Jesus Christ.
- As a servant of Jesus Christ, Paul’s life was totally committed to the cause of Jesus Christ and to the care of Christ. So whatever happened to him in the line of duty, he received as coming from The Lord and for His purposes. Having been bought with a price, Paul was no longer in control of his life, Christ was.
- Perspective! My God is in control of my life, not me. What a tremendous effect this truth has upon your life, especially when things get tough or times get hard. My times are in His hands said the Psalmist.
and Timothy our brother,
- Timothy was a young man who “shadowed” the apostle Paul and served alongside of him in the gospel. 1 and 2 Timothy were written to him.
unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,
- Philemon apparently he was a wealthy man, because he had slaves. Philemon was first and foremost a man of God and a fellow laborer of Paul’s in the gospel of Jesus Christ… He had wealth, but wealth did not have him because His Master was Jesus Christ.
- It is estimated that there were 60 million slaves in the world in those days. Slavery was a way of life in biblical times and it was not always bad thing.
- Every single person in this sanctuary this morning has a master. By master I mean that something or someone that your life revolves around…something or someone that is the prominent person or thing in your life. That something or someone that drives you to make the choices and live the way you do.
- Jesus said no man can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and____________.
2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church (ekklesia; called out ones) in thy house:
- Apphia is believed to be Philemon’s wife and how beautiful it is indeed to see a husband and wife, sold out for Jesus and serving Him together (like Aquila and Priscilla). What a great example godly couples are for the children and grandchildren!
- Archippus is a Christian brother. Please note the word fellow soldier. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Every Christianis commanded to put on the whole armor of God and to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
- The church in thy house- We know that there was no such thing as a church building per se until around the 3rd century. The early church either met in homes or in rented buildings (1Co 16:19; Col 4:15). The church is people. The church is a living organism, not an organization.
- Philemon had church meetings held in his home. Here is a wealthy man, evidently successful as well, but his home and his family belonged to Jesus and were open to the service of The King and His people.
3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The order is always grace and then peace, or in some cases mercy. That is because we can never experience any other attribute of God until we first experience His saving grace that brings salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The Greek word for grace not only refers to God’s unconditional and unmerited favor. It also refers to the divine influence and favor upon the heart that finds its expression in one’s life. In other words beloved, when the saving grace of Jesus is real in a person’s life, the practical manifestation of the grace of God will always is visible.
- When Barnabas came to Antioch, the Scriptures tell us, Ac 11:23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad. The saving grace of God produces believers, not make believers.
4 I thank my God (an offering of thanksgiving to God), making mention of thee always in my prayers,
- The people that God uses are man and women of prayer. It is interesting how often Paul makes references to his own personal prayer life in each of the epistles. He makes mention of how that he is praying for them continually. And in some of them, how he is interceding for them night and day.
- Paul is chained to a Roman soldier and is not able to preach or teach as freely as when he is out on the streets. But he is able to do something that is even better. He is praying for the saints.
- One sure way to express thanks to God for one another and help them grow in The Lord is by praying for that person.
- We generally spend time in prayer for those who are in a crisis or sick, and we should do that. But in addition to that, I suggest that we follow Paul’s pattern of praying for those who have made themselves and their homes available for the ministry of the saints and the furtherance of the gospel.
5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast (first) toward the Lord Jesus, and (secondly) toward all saints;
6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
- The Greek word for the KJV communication here is Koinonia and it is used to describe the common faith and common life that believers have in Christ. But it carries a wider range of meanings, including the practical expressions of generosity, sharing, and fellowship that are put into action.
- One translation reads, put into action the generosity that comes from your faith in Christ.
- Philemon’s invisible faith in The Lord Jesus Christ was visibly demonstrated by his love for others practically. Scripture tells us that faith worketh by love, and this love for Jesus Christ and one another is a verb, not simply some sentimental feelings. It is something that we demonstrate practically, not simply talk about.
- James 2.17 says that faith without works is dead. Any profession of faith in Jesus Christ that is not accompanied by action, is a false faith; a dead faith. In fact.
- 1 John 3.16-18, we are told that This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).
- A genuine conversion is manifested by a life of good works that are motivated by a love for God and for His glory. Philemon’s faith in Christ was expressed towards others. The life of Philemon was a testimony of the grace of God.
- The practical expressions of our faith stem from the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. It is so easy to join the world and their mantra of despair and gloom.Beloved, Peter writes that God has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness thought the knowledge of Him Who has called us to glory and virtue.
- Yes the pains and sorrows that we face in life are real, but the way to combat those fiery darts of discouragement is by acknowledging all of the good things that we have in Christ Jesus.
7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
- The KJV word “bowels” speaks of that deepest part of man’s being. Philemon was a minister of refreshment to others. The word refreshed means to restore strength or revive; to arouse or stimulate.
- When The Spirit of God is working in and through our lives, the effect will be that of refreshing others within the body.
8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, 9 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.
- Paul the aged. Many scholars and bible teachers believe that Paul is at least 60 years old at this time. Though he was only 60, he speaks of himself as the aged. No doubt Paul looked much older than 60 due to the years of physical pain and toil as a result of persecution and the daily “wear and tear” of spiritual, emotional and mental effects because of his commitment to Christ.
- Paul makes this appeal to Philemon out of love, not from a position of apostolic boldness and authority. And so here is Paul. He could have used his authority as an apostle and command Philemon to forgive Onesimus and restore him. But rather than coming on heavy with authority and commanding Philemon in the Name of Jesus to let Onesimus go. He appeals to the higher law of love and asks that Philemon receive and restore Onesimus kindly and graciously as Christ has received and restored him.
10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
- Paul was used by The Lord to lead Onesimus to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ while in prison in Rome. That is the idea behind the words my son whom I have begotten in my bonds.
o 1Cor 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
- God’s plan to save Onesimus was not at a bible study at Philemon’s home, but in a Roman prison cell through the apostle Paul. Oh the beautiful and often perplexing mystery of divine providence. It is happening in your life right now. You might not feel it, or understand it, but it is happening right now.
- Can you see how the heavenly perspective we saw in verse 1 changed the way that Paul lived his life now? Paul was looking for the opportunities to serve The Lord in his prison instead of pout over the fact that he was in one (cp. Acts 16 when he and Silas were in prison). While “bound” he was used by Jesus to set Onesimus free.
- There is no cast system within the body of Christ. On planet earth there is only one race, and that is the human race. Here is Paul, a genius and former respected rabbi, befriending a slave, who in those days was no more than tools for their master to use.
- Jesus doesn’t look down from heaven upon you this morning as a tool to play with, but as someone who has been created in His image and likeness. Psalm 139 tells us that every single human is an image of God bearer who has been fearfully and wonderfully made. We were created to have fellowship with God, but sin has separated us from God, thus Christ Jesus came into the world deal with that sin problem and to seek and to save that, which was lost.
11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
- There is a play on words that is descriptive of Onesimus before and after his conversion experience. He that was once unprofitable to Philemonwould now be, by the grace of God, profitable, for the name Onesimus means “profitable”.
- This play on words provides a beautiful picture of the regenerating power of The Lord Jesus Christ.
- Before we come to Christ, our lives, no matter how successful they appear to be externally, are unprofitable. As Solomon wrote in the Book of Ecclesiastes, any life that is not dedicated to The Lord Jesus Christ and for His glory is vanity and unprofitable. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: 13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
- In verse 13, Paul admits that he would have liked to keep Onesimus. Paul is here in prison. He is old and sick and cold. Onesimus could have been a tremendous help me. He would have liked to keep him there with him. But Paul would not make such an appeal without Philemon’s permission. If Philemon were to allow Onesimus to stay in Rome, Paul wanted that decision to be made willingly, and not out of force or necessity.
- Beloved, God does not want anything we do for Him or give to Him to be given out of necessity or out of pressure. God never uses pressure tactics on man. We are not to be motivated by guilt, the desire to be seen of men, but by a love for Christ and to bring Him glory and honor.
- When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the subject of giving to the work of The Lord. He said that our giving should never be done out of necessity, or pressure. When we give, we are to do so cheerfully, for God loves a cheerful, or in the Greek, a “hilarious” giver. So what you can give to God hilariously give, but what you can’t give hilariously keep. It is better that you keep it than to give it to God grudgingly. God doesn’t want anything done in a grudging way.
- Beloved, God does not want us to gripe and moan and pout when we give or serve Him. That is insulting to Him and a misrepresentation of Jesus Christ.
15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever (i.e. Onesimus departure was providential); 16 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?
- In other words, Paul asks Philemon to consider the sovereignty of God in this matter. Whatever evil had happened in the past, God turned that around for the good. Now rarely do we know what God is working out in our lives when we experience unexpected disappointments or losses. When Onesimus took the money and split, Philemon was no doubt very upset. And he probably was saying, why would God allow him to rip me off like that and take off?
- And Paul says, look, you may never know why God allowed all of this to happen. But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purposes. For it was while he was in Rome that he came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Now he’s an eternal brother in Christ. So you lost him for a moment but you gained him forever. He’s now an eternal brother in the bond of Jesus Christ.
- Philemon could have legally had Onesimus murdered, but, having been shown so much grace by God through Jesus Christ, how could he possibly refuse extending grace to another sinner?
17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
- Since you count me as a partner, I want you to receive him just like you would receive me.
18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;
- Put that on my account- This Greek phrase put that on my acount is translated “imputed” in Rom. 5:13. Paul asked Philemon to impute or reckon Onesimus’s debt against Paul’s account and to receive him as he would receive Paul himself.
- This is a beautiful illustration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Imputation means that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sin, the totality of the sin debt that we owed God was placed upon Him. Thus, when we believe the gospel and receive Christ as Lord, His perfect righteousness becomes (is imputed unto us) as our righteousness. Our righteousness, or right standing with God is not earned or deserved; it is imputed unto us by grace through faith in The Lord Jesus Christ.
- That is what it means to be in Christ—accepted in the Beloved. Oh, what a picture this is of the way God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ accept you and accept me.
19 I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.
- Philemon was indebted to Paul, as the instrument of his conversion and salvation. Paul was a soul winner.
- Do you remember the instrument that The Lord used to lead you to Christ?
- Written with my own hand-The mention of Paul’s autograph here, rather than at the end of the letter, may indicate that he wrote the whole epistle with his own hand, contrary to his usual custom of employing someone to write for him.
20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
- It would bring joy to Paul’s heart to hear that Philemon and Onesimus’ friendship and relationship was restored.
21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.
- You will do more than I say- Paul expresses his confidence in him and is sure that Philemon will do more than he requests. It is characteristic of real believers to do more than is requested. Jesus asks us to go the second mile.
22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
- The fact that Paul accepts his imprisonment as being the will of God presently doesn’t stop him from praying for his release from prison. Paul believed that providence and prayer works hand in hand.
- 1Pe 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.
23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus (a Colossian, imprisoned with Paul); 24 Marcus (John Mark), Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
- Marcus- The story of the once severed but now mended relationship between Paul and Mark (Acts 15:38–40; 2 Tim. 4:11) would have been well known to the believers in Colossae (Col. 4:10). Listing Mark’s name here would serve to remind Philemon that Paul himself had worked through the issues of forgiveness, and that the instructions he was passing on to his friend were ones the apostle himself had already implemented in his relationship with John Mark. J.MacStudy Bible.
- Demas- 2 Tim 4.10 Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. Demas stopped fighting the good fight of faith…nobody forsakes The Lord overnight…it usually happens gradually with a little compromise here and a little compromise there….the proverbial frog in the frying pan illustration.
25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
- This letter that makes an appeal for grace ends with a request for a blessing of grace.
- God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense.
Jesus Christ came to call sinners to repentance! When you repent of your sin and turn to Christ, God imputes unto you complete forgiveness and pardon for Christ’s sake. Your sin debt is cancelled upon the merits of Christ’s sacrifice.
At the moment of conversion, a miracle of grace takes place deep within, and The Spirit of God begins working in you from the inside out. Your life that was once a waste of The Creator’s talents and abilities will now be used for His glory and honor, which is the very purpose for Him giving them to you in the first place.
Perhaps you are dealing with a relationship with another person that has gone bad like with Onesimus and Philemon. There are two ways of dealing with a relationship gone wrong. Your way or God’s way. God’s way is the way of the cross.
How has God forgiven you and why? Freely and unconditionally. Will you forgive them, as Christ has forgiven you?
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him (In other words, forgiveness is to be unlimited). Luke 17.3,4
Do the math, beloved. 7 times in one day is once every 3 hours and 25 minutes! This is another way of Jesus telling us that if we find it hard to forgive someone who has hurt us and asks us to forgive them 7 times in one day, we have no idea how many times we offend God each and every day, and yet He extends grace, mercy and forgiveness!