In a very private and personal letter, the Apostle Paul writes to the beloved Philemon to receive back a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had since come to faith in Christ. Reminding Philemon of his debt to Paul and seeking the same grace for this fugitive, Paul paint a grand picture of rescuing grace and the debt we owe Jesus which we could never pay back. Grace reminds us that salvation is all from, about, and in Jesus Christ who still sets the captives free and pays our sin debt which we could never pay.

Philemon has been called by some “the polite epistle,” for the aged apostle Paul used great courtesy and tact in writing it.  It was one of Paul’s prison epistles, but this one was the most personal of all. A slave by the name of Onesimus (whose name means profitable, or useful) had robbed his master Philemon, and had then ran for his life to the city of Rome, where he heard Paul preach the gospel of The Lord Jesus Christ and became converted.  The exact way that they met is speculation, but God in His providence allowed them to meet.

After hearing his testimony, Paul sent him back to his Christian master by the name of Philemon with the following letter of apology.  Paul is acting as the classic example of the beatitude, blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Although the context of the letter is clearly intended to restore a runaway slave to his master, the letter contains some great types of biblical doctrine of redemption and principles for godly living within a church community.

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. 

1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ (He refers to his chains five times in this letter),

  • 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 in that place for God’s purpose.
  • Perspective! 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.
  • Paul’s crime was the stand he took for the Lord Jesus Christ.

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 was a wealthy man, because he had slaves. 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. The unfortunate thing was that a slave had no rights at all; they were nothing more than tool or appliances that had no will of their own, but lived totally for their Master.
  • 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.
  • Every single person 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____________. The prophet Malachi writes, Mal 3:18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
  • There is not a whole lot of wiggle room in this verses beloved…as far as God sees it, we are either righteous or wicked, we either serve The Lord or we don’t. No room for neutrality people.

2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church 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 a godly couple are for the children and grandchildren!
  • Archippus is a Christian brother. Please note the word fellow soldier. Beloved, the very moment that you and I forget that we are engaged in spiritual warfare, we put our defenses down and open ourselves up to the lusts of the flesh and the wiles of the enemy.
  • The church in thy house- We know now 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.
  • Philemon had church meetings held in his home. Here is a wealthy man, evidently successful as well, but his home belonged to Jesus and was open to the service of The King and His people.
  • Listen saints, everyone is in the ministry in some capacity because ministry is needed right where you live…in your house.

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

  • The Greek word for grace here refers to the divine influence and favor upon the heart that finds its expression in one’s life. In other words beloved, grace 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 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 that comes through placing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The communion that we celebrate is a remembrance of the grace of God that has provided salvation for mankind through the finished work of Jesus Christ. In 1 Tim 4.10 Paul writes to Timothy, we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.

4 I thank my God (an offering of thanksgiving to God), making mention of thee always in my prayers,

  • One sure way to express thanks to God for one another 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 are doing well, those who have opened their home for ministry.
  • But in verse 5, note the reason why Paul thanked God for Philemon was due to his godly, Christ-like example.

5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast (first) toward the Lord Jesus, and (secondly) toward all saints;

  • The believers’ invisible faith becomes visible in the demonstration of love for others. An outward evidence of genuine salvation is the love that The Spirit of God puts within your heart primarily for The Lord Jesus and then for all who are a part of the body of Christ. 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.
  • In fact, in 1 John, we are told that we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.
  • Faith in The Lord Jesus Christ, and love to Him, should unite saints more closely with one another than any outward relation can unite the people of the world.
  • Communion is a message of both the love of Christ and forgiveness. As Christians, in the letter to Ephesus, The Spirit of God tells us that we are to forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. This is in the bible because The Lord knows our flesh nature and the tendency to offend or hurt one another.
  • Unforgiveness is tormenting because that person that we refuse to forgive or hold a grudge against in our hearts in one way shape or form controls your life. That refusal to forgive others will cause bitterness inside and you will begin to spiritually rot from the inside out beloved.
  • The Master teaches us to forgive one another 70 x 7….take that to Calvary.

6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

  • Please note that the communication of our faith becomes effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing that is in us in Christ Jesus. Saints, despite all of the things that the world may throw at us. Despite all of the fiery darts that the enemy may hurl at us. Despite all of the challenges that we face in life, never let any of those things undermine all the good things that we have in Christ Jesus.
  • One translation says, put into action the generosity that comes from your faith. That translation reminds us a basic principle of living in the kingdom of God….the only way that our faith grows, is to the extent that we give it away.
  • The Kingdom of God functions the opposite of this present evil world. In the kingdom of God, we must die if we expect to live, we give in order to receive, we surrender in order to be set free.
  • Share your faith verbally and practically….put The Lord Jesus Christ on display everywhere that you go and in everything that you do beloved.
  • The Greek word for the KJV communication here is Koinonia and it is used in the NT to carry a wide range of meaning, including the ideas of generosity, partnership, and fellowship that result from the common faith and common life that believers have in Christ.

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.

  • The Greek word for bold here means “frankness” or “openness” to speak freely about difficult matters.
  • Paul makes this appeal to Philemon out of love, not from a position of apostolic authority. Paul is going to ask that Philemon receive Onesimus kindly. The usual penalty for an escaped slave was death or branding with a hot iron to mark him as a fugitive.
  • Many scholars and bible teachers believe that Paul is at least 60 years old at this time.

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 whom I have begotten in my bonds.
    • 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.
  • Can you see how the heavenly perspective we saw in verse one caused Paul to look for the opportunities to serve The Lord in his prison instead of pout over his circumstances? (cp. Acts 16 when he and Silas were in prison).
  • Here is Paul in prison and his concern was always for others. While “bound” he set Onesimus free. 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. There is no caste system within the body of Christ. Yes, there are different callings of service and levels or responsibility within the body of Christ, but apart from those distinctions for functional purposes, we are all equal in Christ Jesus, Who is our Master.
  • And while it is absolutely true that we are His servants (lit. slaves), it is equally true that we are His workmanship, His bride and the sheep of His pasture.
  • Jesus doesn’t look down from heaven upon you 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 being 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 Philemon would 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.
  • One great evidence of true repentance consists in returning to practice the duties which have been neglected. In his unconverted state, Onesimus had withdrawn, to his master’s injury; but now he had seen his sin and repented, he was willing and desirous to return to his duty. Matthew Henry
  • Before we come to Christ, our lives, no matter how they appear 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. A wasted life is one that is not investing in the Kingdom of God, and that is because we only those things that are done out of a love for Christ and for the glory of God are of eternal value.
  • We were created and are recreated in Christ Jesus to have fellowship with God and to live lives of service unto Our Lord.
  • Jesus Christ came to call sinners to repentance! When you repent of your sin and turn to Christ alone for forgiveness and pardon, a miracle of grace begins to occur 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 now takes on meaning, because it is now lived for the glory of God, which is the very purpose of you being created.

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.

  • If a servant who has left a Christian master and gone to a distant place, has himself become a Christian, and wishes to return, it is right for other Christians to assist him by requesting his former master to receive him in a Christian manner as he would receive one of them, especially when they know that he will do what they ask of him. FBN program
  • Paul handled this matter decently and in order. He dealt with this problem by implementing biblical wisdom within the society that he lived in.

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 around for the good.
  • Interesting thing to consider here. Onesimus could have gotten saved simply by listening to the Bible studies at the house meetings. However, it wasn’t The Lord’s design for him to come to the saving knowledge of Christ in that way. I’m quite sure that Philemon and his family prayed for Onesimus’ salvation regularly. Their prayers were answered but I am sure that the way God did it blew them away. God’s ways are not our ways beloved. Who is your Onesimus? A runaway, backslider son or daughter? A spouse? Your mother or father? Siblings?
  • In verse 16, Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus is not now simply a servant. He is more than a servant; he is a Christian brother, someone special to me, how much more to you. Philemon could have legally had Onesimus murdered, but, having been shown grace by Christ, how could he refuse grace to another person?
  • Communion reminds us today that we were all slaves to sin; our sin not only hurt us and those around us, but they broke the heart of Christ and dishonored His holy Name.
  • That is why Jesus came; Christ died for sinners, and I may be wrong about a lot of things, but there is one thing that I know for sure, every single person here this morning is a sinner that is in need of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
  • The Lord Jesus first words in the gospel of Mark are repent and believe the gospel. Communion reminds us that on the cross, The Lord Jesus Christ has blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us.

17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 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?
  • The appeal that Paul makes to Philemon is the very same thing that Jesus Christ has done for us on Calvary. The Lord placed upon Jesus Christ the iniquity of us all. This is theologically known as the doctrine of imputation. 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. However, atonement accomplished is not to be interpreted as atonement applied, for that does not take place personally until we repent of our sin and call upon His Name.
  • That is when we received forgiveness for sin and that is when, His 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.
  • Jesus Christ of His own will bore the punishment of our sins, that we by grace through faith might receive the gift of His righteousness.  
  • 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. 21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. 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, doesn’t stop him from praying for his release from prison. Paul believed that providence and prayer work 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 fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus (A Colossian, imprisoned with Paul); 24 Marcus (John Mark), Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers.

  • 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, like a frog in the frying pan.

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.
  • G-R-A-C-E – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense.