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Philemon (web)

New Found Freedom in Christ

1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
to Philemon, our beloved fellow worker,
1:2 to the beloved Apphia, to Archippus, our fellow soldier,
and to the assembly in your house:
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers,
1:5 hearing of your love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus,
and toward all the saints;
1:6 that the fellowship of your faith may become effective,
in the knowledge of every good thing which is in us in Christ Jesus.
1:7 For we have much joy and comfort in your love,
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

1:8 Therefore, though I have all boldness in Christ to command you that which is appropriate,
1:9 yet for love's sake I rather beg, being such a one as Paul, the aged,
but also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
1:10 I beg you for my child, whom I have become the father of in my chains,
Onesimus,{Onesimus means "useful."}

1:11 who once was useless to you, but now is useful to you and to me.
1:12 I am sending him back. Therefore receive him, that is, my own heart,
1:13 whom I desired to keep with me,
that on your behalf he might serve me in my chains for the gospel.
1:14 But I was willing to do nothing without your consent,
that your goodness would not be as of necessity, but of free will.

1:15 For perhaps he was therefore separated from you for a while,
that you would have him forever,
1:16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother,
especially to me, but how much rather to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
1:17 If then you count me a partner, receive him as you would receive me.
1:18 But if he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, put that to my account.
1:19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it
(not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self besides).
1:20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in the Lord.

1:21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you,
knowing that you will do even beyond what I say.
1:22 Also, prepare a guest room for me,
for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.
1:23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you,
1:24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
1:25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Discussion Questions

Who is Philemon? What relationship did he have with Paul?
From this letter, what were Philemon's outstanding characteristics?
vs 6 How has sharing your faith enhanced and deepened your knowledge of Christ?
Who is Onesimus and what happened to him?
What was Paul's attitude towards slavery? (See also 1Cor 7:21-23)
How is Paul's attitude and treatment of Onesimus similar to Christ's treatment of us believers?
What factors also may have helped Paul to empathize with Onesimus?
How would you have handled this situation differently?


Philemon - Intro

Phm 1:1-3
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Interesting that the content of this letter is directed to an individual, Philemon. Yet in fact he indicates that this letter is to be open to lots of other people. When you write to an individual, write as if at some point your letter would be read by a wider audience.

Archippus is mentioned also in Col 4:17 and some say he was a member of Philemon’s family, probably his son. There it says of him, "See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord."

And as is common to most of Paul's greetings, first on his mind is to pray grace and peace upon them. We should desire our fellow Christians to experience the grace of God and the peace that comes from God, based upon having been reconciled to Him through the cross.

Pray for Active Faith

Phm 1:4-6  I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

What do other Christians here of your faith and your love for all the saints? These characteristics were outstanding among the early Christians. Of the Thessalonians Paul writes, "We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1Thess 1:3 and goes on to say, "The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your faith in God has become known everywhere." 1Thess 1:8 Likewise of the Ephesians he says, "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers." Eph 1:15,16 and of the Colossians as well (Col 1:3,4)

Evangelism should be natural to those of the faith. Paul writes, "It is written: 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak." 2Cor 4:13 Pray for other Christians that they may be active in sharing their faith. Understand that actively sharing your faith not only benefits those who hear, but it also benefits you. Many of us have had this experience, that sharing our faith increases our understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Or another reading is, I pray "that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus." Prayer can make evangelism effective.

Encourage others through Love

Phm 1:7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

"refreshed" is to give rest. Paul experienced himself in 1Corinthians, "I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men." 1Cor 16:15,16 How might you give rest to those who labor for the Lord?

Not only will your love bring great joy and encouragement to those whom you refresh, but also to other Christians who see your example.

Appeal to the Mature

Phm 1:8-10 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul— an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.

Onesimus was a runaway slave owned by Philemon, a Christian and friend of Paul. Onesimus had runaway to Paul and apparently subsequently became a Christian with such devotion Paul identified him as his son.

Paul had instructions for Philemon concerning Onesimus. But Paul had a choice in terms of the manner in which he would communicate his instructions. For he could communicate it in the form of commands, or more in terms of advice, relying upon Philemon's love to do the right thing. For afterall, "Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1John 3:10b But often this is a matter of degree, a function of one's maturity. For just as adults will more often instruct children by way of commands, but more in terms of advice as they mature, so also in the Christian community.

But what is also interesting here is that Paul tells Philemon explicitly of his choice of the manner of his instructions. Sometimes it's best to tell people that you believe they are mature enough to wisely accept advice and act upon it. While there is love in obeying commands, matured love is demonstrated in the context of freedom of choice. Consider generosity. Under the Law tithing was an obligation. But that which is an obligation is not an act of generosity. Yet God wants us to practice generosity and thus has removed regulations so that we can act upon principle rather than via regulations. This is the perspective Paul had and as such desired to provide Philemon freedom of choice that he may act out of love rather than simply out of obligation.

Useful Christians

Phm 1:11-13  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him— who is my very heart— back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.

Formerly Onesimus, as a non-Christian, was viewed as "useless". For while non-Christian servants may have some practical usefulness with regards to material things, such things are vain if they don't include a spiritual component. For example Paul elsewhere writes, "What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." 1Cor 7:29-31

But those who have been born of God are to be viewed not only as saved, but useful. "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Eph 2:10

Paul shows his own generosity in his free choice of sending Onesimus back to Philemon. But realize this didn't simply involve Paul's choice, but also that of Onesimus. For the Law said, "You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him." Deut 23:15,16

This verse reveals a misconception that many through the years have had concerning what the Bible condones concerning slavery. Slavery under the law was much more one's personal choice than many today realize.

Furthermore Paul also writes concerning Christian slaves, "Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you-- although if you can gain your freedom, do so.  For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men." 1Cor 7:21-23

Accommodate Spontaneity

Phm 1:14-16  But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

As I mentioned, Christians should not be largely driven by a sense of legal obligations, but rather to be driven by the Spirit, doing what is right naturally, spontaneously, rather than having a sense of being forced to do so. "With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith." 2Th 1:11

Notice Paul's view of God's sovereignty in this matter. "He was separated" is passive rather than active. For while Onesimus no doubt took action in leaving, yet God was behind it, Onesimus even being a non-Christian at the time. For God can move non-Christians to action, whether it be kings (Pr 21:1), or slaves. Paul speaks of the circumstances into which one is born, "He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."Acts 17:26,27

And as with Onesimus, so also with the rest of us, as Paul writes in Gal 4:3-7 "When we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, <'Abba>, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

Taking on Other's Debt

Phm 1:17-19 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back— not to mention that you owe me your very self.

One is reminded of the parable of the good samaritan in which the good samaritan not only saved the man, but also said to the innkeeper,  ‘Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Or as it says in Mt 25:40 "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." And by grace what we owed was reckoned to Jesus who paid our debt. This is the lesson Paul learned, and this is the example he set.

Also that phrase "you owe me your very self." reminds us of how grateful and indebted we should be not only to Christ, but also to those who led us to Christ. One is reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant who, after being forgiven a great personal debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant of a minor debt.

Though realize how difficult culturally it would have been to welcome this former runaway slave as a son. The culture of the Kingdom is often at odds with the culture of the world, especially with regards to relationships.

Confident of Your Obedience

Phm 1:20,21  I do wish, brother, that I may have 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 ask.

Realize that while Paul explicitly didn't intend for his request to be taken as an order, yet a request from someone of his authority should involve some compliance. In verse 8 Paul noted he had the authority to order Philemon what to do. But in verse 14 he noted that he wanted Philemon to feel free to take his own initiative in the matter, to be spontaneous and not forced to do so.

I think this is important because it largely reflects upon how Christ exercises his Lordship over mature Christians, and likewise sets a precedent for our relationship as Christians over one another.  If He's confident of our obedience, then the Lord doesn't force us, but rather allows us to be spontaneous. There are those Christians who need to be told what to do. And such to varying degrees. But the mature are spontaneous and take their own initiative. For there's an obedience that comes from faith (Rom 1:5), an obedience which is natural and not forced. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27 That's the nature of sheep and that's the nature of those born-again.

Furthermore the mature don't simply do what they are asked. Rather they characteristically do more than they are asked, "doing the will of God from your heart." Eph 6:6 Consider how you might do more than you're asked.

Christian Fellowship

Phm 1:23-25 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

The Christian life and ministry is not intended to be exercised in isolation but in concert with a fellowship of believers. Implied in such a concept is the necessity of practicing hospitality. If you're going to live the Christian life, yes you are going to have to spend some personal time with other Christians which may even involve opening your home to them, as intrusive as they may seem. Indeed such should not be done reluctantly but enthusiastically.

If you're buying a house, do so with hospitality in mind. If you have the resources have extra space available to accomodate potential fellowship. And by extension, when making decisions, if you can, allow for extra resources and extra time to allow fellowship and ministry. Some simply fill up their schedule and assign their resources just in order to excuse themselves from ministry and fellowship. Though, granted this takes more sacrifice from some more than others. But people always seem to find the time and resources for the things which are important for them.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 28,2022