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Philemon

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6 years prior to this, in 58 AD, Paul had planned a visit to Jerusalem.
Paul had left Ephesus where he had ministered for 2 years, teaching at the school of Tyrannus.
There, according to , “The Word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
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But, there was the usual opposition.
Idol makers were being put out of business, and a riot ensued which was put down by the fear that Rome might move in to settle the situation.
And sometime after the uproar had ceased, Paul departed Ephesus for Macedonia.
Paul stayed in Greece for 3 months before going to Troas and then to Miletus.
From there, after exhorting the elders of the church in Ephesus, he set sail for Israel.
He wanted to arrive in Jerusalem in time for Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost.
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This was the 2nd of the 3 pilgrimage feasts and marks the day on which the Torah was given to the Israelites.
(It was also on this day in 30 AD that the church was born.)
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This letter caused quite a stir among the religious Jews of Jerusalem.
Many Messianic Jews also did not know what to think of Paul’s letter.
Another group, the Sicarri, had begun an all out search for Paul.
They wanted to kill him.
The Sicarri would carry small daggers hidden in their cloaks, blend into crowds, and stealthily kill Romans and Roman sympathizers.
They were a blend of terrorist and assassin and they were causing a lot of paranoia in Israel.
At this time, the religious atmosphere within Israel was becoming more legalistic, which was just what the Sicarii wanted.
But Paul’s letter to the Galatians and his continued preaching of the Gospel of Grace was becoming a problem for them.
Wherever Paul went there were usually those who wanted to silence him, whatever that took.
In addition, wherever Paul went there were usually those who wanted to silence him, whatever that took.
There were a lot of people in Jerusalem who wanted to silence Paul.
And for this reason some friends of Paul pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
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He probably had hoped to do that in a couple of ways …
First, by explaining what he wrote … and
Second, by demonstrating that he was not anti-Moses.
He could do THAT by honoring the pilgrimage feast.
But James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem had another idea … for Paul to take a vow and with other devout Jews, enter the temple and fulfill that vow.
However, some who hated Paul saw a man with him in the Temple who looked a lot like Trophimus, a gentile friend of Paul.
And they began to accuse Paul saying that he had brought an unclean Gentile into the Temple.
A riot erupted and Paul was rescued from the mob that would have killed him by Roman guards.
Paul was eventually taken to Caesarea, where he remained imprisoned for the next 2 years before being taken to Rome to testify before Caesar.
It was while he was in prison this first time that he wrote what are often called the prison epistles:
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
Philemon
An Epistle is a letter … and these are letters that he wrote to people and churches from prison.
Now, as I’ve explained probably 6 or 7 times, the letters of the New Testament are not in chronological order.
Instead, with a few exceptions like the Gospels and Acts, they were assembled by author, from longest letter to shortest letter.
Paul’s longest letter was Romans and his shortest letter was Philemon.
We won’t go into great detail about the order of the books because we’ve done that so many times before.
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But it actually became an empire starting with Augustus.
So, by 63 AD, the Empire was 32 years old and had a long time to go.
The last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer in 476 AD.
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This was the same year that Paul
Hegesippus, an early church historian recorded a more detailed account in which James was taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and asked to disavow Jesus to the crowds.
James, however, declared that Jesus was the Messiah.
The people began shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"
James was then thrown down from the pinnacle, but to their surprise got up on his knees and prayed aloud that the LORD forgive them.
The religious leaders then took up stones and stoned James to death.
A series of conflicts between the Parthians and Romans had been going on since the mid-first century BC.
Conflicts would continue until 217 AD.
Nero was the Roman Emperor in 63 AD, though his rule only had 5 more years.
He also planned a great statue of himself that would be about 140 feet tall.
In 64 AD, a great fire burned for over 6 days.
Of Rome's 14 districts, 3 were completely devastated and only 4 completely escaped damage.
It was suspected that Nero had himself set the fires in order to clear land for the building of his great palace.
It was never proven, … but Nero did begin construction after the fire.
It had taken more than 80 years to complete.
The structure proper had taken 46 years, but all the courtyards and everything that went with it had not been completed for 80 years.
This meant 18,000 people were suddenly out of work and a financial disaster ensued.
The decision that Rome made would be the spark that ignited the sacking of Jerusalem.
7 years later Jerusalem would be under seige and fall.
And the Temple of Herod would be destroyed by fire just 7 years after it’s completion.
Onesimus is a form of the Greek word meaning “helpful” or “profitable.”
It was actually a common name for slaves, but not limited to slaves.
Of course, when Philemon had purchased Onesimus he had hoped him to live up to his name.
But he did not.
Instead, he turned out to be a thief and a runaway.
Philemon was a resident of Colossae and it seems that Philemon was converted through the ministry of Paul, perhaps in Ephesus.
That’s one possbility.
Another
While Onesimus was not useful first to Philemon, after he was converted by Paul, he lived up to his name by being useful in ministry to Paul.
There is the possibility that Onesimus lived up to his name in regards to the church as well.
In a letter that supposedly the early church father Ignatius wrote he named an Onesimus as being bishop over the Ephesians.
We must be careful with that information though, because 8 letters attributed to Ignatius are known to be pseudographical … written much later.
Some other letters may be authentic, but they are still in question.
So, how did a runaway slave from Colossae end up with Paul in Rome?
It may be that he followed Epaphras (who had raised up the church in Colossae) as he made his way to Rome.
If that’s the case, then perhaps Epaphras discovered Onesimus following him and brought him to Paul.
Paul could then decide what to do with him.
The penalty for a runaway slave could be as severe as death … the lenient punishment was to be branded on the face.
Paul led this runaway slave to the LORD and wrote to Philemon in hopes of stirring up forgiveness in his heart for Onesimus.
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For one thing, in this letter we see Paul asking for a favor … something we have rarely seen him do in his letter.
No one ever asked fewer favors than he did.
Of course, in this letter he is asking a favor, not so much for himself as for Onesimus.
Another reason this letter is remarkable is that instead of being completely straightforward, the letter is filled with hints.
- He almost tells Philemon to forget the money that was stolen … that he owes Paul far more than that.
- Paul almost says that Onesimus was very profitable for him, even though he was unprofitable for Philemon.
- Paul even hints that Philemon should set Onesimus free.
And just in case Philemon didn’t pick up on the hints, Paul said, “I’m going to be released from prison soon and I plan to come visit you.”
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He was a runaway slave whom Paul had led to the Lord.
His owner was Philemon.
The key verses of this letter are 16-17:
Philemon was clearly a man from whom it was easy to ask a favour.
He was a man whose faith in Christ and love towards the Christian community was well known, and the story of his faith and love had reached even Rome, where Paul was in prison.
That is because the great idea of this letter is forgiveness.
His house must have been like an oasis in a desert—for, as Paul puts it, he had refreshed the hearts of God’s people.
The letter is very personable and lacks the formality of most of his other letters.
It is a lovely thing to go down in history as someone in whose house God’s people were rested and refreshed.
And unlike his other letters, Paul wrote this letter entirely in his own hand.
It is also the shortest of Paul’s letters at only 335 words in Greek.
Perhaps Paul wrote it quickly in order for it to go along with the Epistle to the Colossians.
Along with the Epistle to the Colossians, this letter probably was carried to Colossae by Tychicus and Onesimus
This letter probably was carried to Colossae by Tychicus and Onesimus
The letter was not written to impart doctrine, but to apply it.
The letter was not written to impart doctrine, but to apply it.
For one thing, the power of the Gospel overcomes societal barriers.
As Paul wrote to the Galatians:
And as he wrote to the Colossians:
We also see in Philemon an analogy of the forgiveness that the believer finds in Christ.
We see the application of the Doctrine of Imputation.
Paul is motivated by love to intercede on behalf of Onesimus.
In verse 8 he lays aside his own rights and becomes Onesimus’ substitute and he assumes his debt in verses 18-19.
By Paul’s efforts, Onesimus is restored and given a new relationship with Philemon.
So we see Christ’s work of mediation on our behalf before the Father.
The law condemned Onesimus, but grace saved him and set him free to serve the LORD.
Martin Luther said, “All of us are Onesimuses!” … and he was right.
Martin Luther said, “All of us are Onesimuses!” and he was right.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for everyone gathered here this morning. Thank You that You know each of us by name and have caused us to walk with You. Lord, this morning we open up Your word desiring to hear from You ... not man's word or wisdom, but Your Words and Wisdom. Please soften our hearts to receive from You.
Though Colossae was a Graeco-Phrygian city located in Asia Minor … it was under Roman control.
(And it was subject to Roman laws.)
And it was subject to Roman laws.
At one time Colossae had been a large city with a huge population.
But by the time of this letter, it had become just a small town in contrast to its nearest neighbors, Hierapolis and Laodicea.
Colossae was populated by peoples of Greek and Hebrew origin.
Colossae was populated by peoples of Greek and Hebrew origin. Antiochus the Great is said to have relocated two thousand Jewish families from Babylonia and Mesopotamia to the city, and other cultures and ethnicities were present as well.
Antiochus the Great relocated 2,000 Jewish families from Babylonia and Mesopotamia to Colossae, and other cultures and ethnicities were present as well.
For the most part, the inhabitants of the area were Gentiles, but there was a considerable quantity of Jews among them.
In fact, records pilgrims from this region among the crowds during Pentecost.
Colossae’s 2 neighbors Hierapolis and Laodicea had congregations of believers.
But Colossae did not until a certain man brought the Gospel to the city.
From the New Testament record, these two neighboring cities appear to also have contained a congregation of believers (cf. Philemon 2with ) and are mentioned in Colossians (cf. 2:1; 4:13).
Though small, Colossae of Paul’s day was still a cosmopolitan city with different cultural and religious elements that were mingled together.
As evidence of this, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote:
Colossians
Paul did have an indirect role in it’s formation.
The church there was a result of his ministry in Ephesus … perhaps of the years he taught at the school of Tyrannus.
There, Epaphras was converted and he became the founding pastor of the church at Colossae.
The church met in the home of Philemon and Apphia, his wife.
It’s not certain who Archippus was … some conclude that he was their son.
But it seems more plausible that he was the elder who took the place of Epaphras while he was gone to Rome to help Paul.
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul wrote:
Colossians
This would make sense if Archippus had taken the place of Epaphras.
We also here see that Timothy is with Paul and he also knew Philemon as Paul frames Timothy as, “Our dear friend and fellow worker.”
And finally, we see that the letter was written to Philemon, a fact we of course already knew.
The Roman poet Ovid made the name Philemon popular in his work Metamorphoses with the fable of Baucis and Philemon which emphasized the exercise of hospitality.
Interestingly, the Philemon Paul wrote to was known as a great shower of hospitality … as we see in verse 2.
Philemon placed his house at the disposal of the Colossian Christians for church meetings.
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But this is more of a private letter (that we get to study in public).
And in it he is hinting at favors, so perhaps Paul wanted to appeal to Philemon’s sense of compassion rather than pull rank.
But Paul, even in this introduction, is making a point for Philemon.
You see, Paul was a prisoner of Christ … not meaning that he was a prisoner BECAUSE of Christ, but he is a prisoner for the CAUSE of Christ.
He’s willing to set down his own rights in order to serve Christ.
And to drive the point home, Paul reminds Philemon that he is a fellow laborer, also bearing the witness of Christ to the world.
So, Paul had won Philemon to faith in Christ as vs 19 later informs us, and vs 7 says that Philemon became a blessing to other Christians.
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Philemon
Paul had written to the Galatian Christians:
And a hospitable person is one who receives and entertains guests in a liberal, kind, and generous fashion.
According to scripture, this conduct is extended not only to those one knows, but also to strangers when appropriate.
We see hospitality illustrated in scripture in where Abraham entertained the Lord and two angels.
Abraham did not act “put out” by these unexpected guests.
In fact, he conducted himself as if it was his greatest joy to attend to their “needs”.
In the New Testament, Jesus reprimanded a Pharisee who criticized a sinful women who washed Jesus’ feet with her own tears and fragrant oil.
She had done toward Jesus what the pharisee had not … hospitality.
It’s a very narrow way of understanding that text, but it’s valid none-the-less.
In the New Testament, Hospitality is listed as a requirement for Bishops in , .
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And teaches all believers to be hospitable.
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says that hospitality is to be a practiced behavior of Christians.
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reminds us to entertain strangers.
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prescribes caring for guests as a requirement for a widow who seeks the help of the church.
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According to , Christians are, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”
Another word, φιλοξενία philoxenia meaning “friend to strangers”
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used 2x; kindness to strangers, hospitality, generosity with guests. ; xenodoce,w – xenodocheo; used 1x; to practice hospitality, entertain guests cordially. xevni,zw – xenizo; used 10x; active: to receive as a guest, entertain, to let lodge; passive: to dwell as a guest, be entertained or lodge with. ,,,; ; ; ; ; used metaphorically of being surprised, think as strange. ,
there are 4 Greek words that are translated as “hospitality.”
As followers of Christ, we emulate His love and compassion when we show hospitality.
God welcomes us at His tabl
We demonstrate what says:
And, as Paul pointed out to the Galatians, if we are to do good to unbelievers … how much more should we be to other believers?
And, as Paul pointed out to the Galatians, if we are to do good to all … how much more should we be to other believers?
The idea of Philemon’s goodness toward other believers will play into what Paul writes in just a few verses.
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However, that he is a prisoner of Christ is appropriate to his confinement at Rome.
The word is appropriate to his confinement at Rome. Apostle would not have suited a private letter, and one in which Paul takes the ground of personal friendship and not of apostolic authority.
And we have the seed of another hint here … Paul was in chains for his work in ministering the Gospel and he lists Philemon as a beneficiary.
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Now, most New Testament churches met in homes.
In his greeting, Paul expressed his deep love for his Christian friends, and he reminded them that he was a prisoner for Jesus Christ (see also , , ). Timothy was included in the greeting, though the burden of the letter was from the heart of Paul to the heart of Philemon. Paul’s ministry was a “team” operation, and he often included the names of his associates when he wrote his letters. He liked to use the term “fellow worker” (see , , ; ; ; ; ).
In his greeting, Paul expressed his deep love for his Christian friends, and he reminded them that he was a prisoner for Jesus Christ (see also , , ). Paul’s ministry was a “team” operation, and he often included the names of his associates when he wrote his letters. He liked to use the term “fellow worker” (see , , ; ; ; ; ).
For instance, in and , Paul sent greetings to the church that met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila.
1 Corinthians , Paul sent greetings to the church that met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila.
The New Testament churches met in homes (, ; ), and perhaps the church in Philemon’s house was one of two assemblies in Colossae (). Paul had won Philemon to faith in Christ (see ), and Philemon became a blessing to other Christians ().
And as we see here Philemon had a church meeting in his house … with Archippus as pastor in the absence of Epaphras.
And seems to indicate another church in Colossae meeting in the house of Nymphas.
Of course, as we talked about last week, these are descriptive of the situation then.
They are not prescriptive for today … there is no text that says churches should meet in homes.
It was customary for Paul to open his letters with words of thanks and praise to God. (Galatians is an exception.)
In his thanksgiving, Paul described his friend as a man of love and faith, both toward Jesus Christ and God’s people. His love was practical: he “refreshed” the saints through his words and work.
(The exception is Galatians where Paul opened up with both guns blazing.)
His love was practical: he “refreshed” the saints through his words and work.
We’ll get to this in a moment.
But to build up the hint, Paul uses a phrase in Greek that is difficult to translate.
Paul told Philemon that he was praying for him but he also uses a phrase in Greek that is difficult to translate.
You may have guessed which one, but if not, it is verse 6 … the phrase translated as the sharing of your faith.
The phrase translated as the sharing of your faith is very difficult.
The Greek is koinōnia pisteuōs.
As I’ve said before I like to take the time to translate the passages myself so that I don’t miss anything.
Occasionally, I find phrases that are difficult.
Of course, I never want to go outside of the work that the translators have done … because they are smarter than I am and their work has undergone critical analysis.
So, then I’ll compare various translations and lean towards the one that best matches the Greek.
I couldn’t find one that read
Another tricky thing here is that the meaning of the phrase in verse 6 is dependent on what is said in verse 7 about Philemon’s “refreshing” other believers.
The best meaning of Koinonia here is “act of sharing.”
Literal translations from one language to another can produce sentences that are difficult.
Well, I couldn’t find a translation that read without some difficulty.
So, my attempt to clear it up is by paraphrasing it this way:
He also prayed that his friend would have a deeper understanding of all that he had in Jesus Christ. After all, the better we know Christ and experience His blessings, the more we want to share these blessings with others.
‘It is my prayer that your habit of generously sharing all that you have will lead you more and more deeply into the knowledge of the good things which lead to Christ.’
The better we know Christ and experience His blessings, the more we want to share these blessings with others because of the generosity God has shown us.
What Paul is doing is hinting at Philemon’s reception of Onesimus at his return ... not as a runaway slave, but as a brother in Christ.
The better we know Christ and experience His blessings, the more we want to share these blessings with others.
Paul is going to continue the next section with the word “therefore” connecting what Paul has said with what Paul is going to say.
He’s going to get more closely to the point.
In , Paul referred to himself as an, “Ambassador in chains.”
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Here he refers to himself as an, “old man in chains.”
Some translators have rendered this “ambassador” here, such as with the Revised Standard Version.
The thought is that perhaps a scribe left a letter out … changing the word for Ambassador, Presbeutēs to the word for elder, Presbutēs.
They sound the same, but there is only one letter different.
However, I believe that the translation “old” is preferred.
That is because in this letter Paul is not appealing from a position of authority, but he is appealing rather to Philemon’s sense of Christian love.
This is not the ambassador Paul who is speaking.
This is the old man Paul who has lived hard is now lonely and tired and imprisoned by Rome.
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Imagine Philemon’s surprise to find that out!
The man who was once unprofitable to Philemon is now bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.
Paul says that Onesimus is now profitable to himself and to Philemon.
But how is Onesimus profitable to both?
One can see how he might be profitable to Paul, since he was with Paul perhaps helping Paul with ministry tasks.
But he was not with Philemon.
The reasoning is twofold:
The faithful and true service of one Christian is to the benefit of all.
Additionally, Onesimus has repented of his former rebelliousness.
Now, in Christ, he is to do as Paul had written to Timothy:
1 Timothy
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Estimates suggest that there were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, men and women who were treated like pieces of merchandise to buy and sell.
Estimates suggest that there were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, men and women who were treated like pieces of merchandise to buy and sell.
Most slaves were laborers, the machines of their day. Yet a number of slaves were educators, physicians, skilled artists, and administrators. Materially slaves were often better off than the poor freedmen, who had to work for a daily wage. Their food and clothing was comparable, and slaves were often better housed.
But a number of slaves were educators, physicians, skilled artists, and administrators.
Some slaves were even better off than the poor freedmen … their food and clothing was comparable, and slaves were often better housed.
Their food and clothing was comparable, and slaves were often better housed.
In fact, a slave with the right skills might also earn enough money on his own time to one day purchase his freedom.
Paul alluded to this in .
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In Rome, slaves were not people in a legal sense, though the law did provide a minimum of protection for them. A slave with marketable skills might also earn enough money on his own time to one day purchase his freedom, a thing alluded to in .
The average slave sold for 500 denarii (one denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer).
A familiar proverb was “So many slaves, just so many enemies!”
A familiar proverb was “So many slaves, just so many enemies!”
Estimates suggest that there were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, men and women who were treated like pieces of merchandise to buy and sell. A familiar proverb was “So many slaves, just so many enemies!” The average slave sold for 500 denarii (one denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer), while the educated and skilled slaves were priced as high as 50,000 denarii. A master could free a slave, or a slave could buy his freedom if he could raise the money ().
Educated and skilled slaves were priced as high as 50,000 denarii.
But some slaves were acquired through conquest and others were born into it.
The average slave was not as well off as the well educated and skilled slaves … as most lived at the whims of their owners.
A master could free a slave, or a slave could buy his freedom if he could raise the money ().
If a slave ran away, the master would register the name and description with the officials, and the slave would be on the “wanted” list.
Any free citizen who found a runaway slave could assume custody and even intercede with the owner.
The slave was not automatically returned to the owner, nor was he automatically sentenced to death.
While it is true that some masters were cruel, many of them were reasonable.
If not motivated by a sense of morality, they were motivated by the potential loss.
While Christianity posed no immediate threat to this accepted institution, Christ brought a new perception of human beings and a new relationship between master and slave which ultimately led to emancipation.
while Christianity posed no immediate threat to this accepted institution, Christ brought a new perception of human beings and a new relationship between master and slave which ultimately led to emancipation.
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As Paul interceded for Onesimus, he presented five strong appeals. He began with Philemon’s reputation as a man who brought blessing to others. The word wherefore in carries the meaning of “accordingly.” Since Philemon was a “refreshing” believer, Paul wanted to give him an opportunity to refresh the apostle’s heart! Philemon had been a great blessing to many saints, and now he could be a blessing to one of his own slaves who had just been saved!
Let’s break this section down.
As Paul interceded for Onesimus, he presented five strong appeals. He began with Philemon’s reputation as a man who brought blessing to others. The word wherefore in carries the meaning of “accordingly.” Since Philemon was a “refreshing” believer, Paul wanted to give him an opportunity to refresh the apostle’s heart! Philemon had been a great blessing to many saints, and now he could be a blessing to one of his own slaves who had just been saved!
The name Philemon means “affectionate” or “one who is kind.”
He began with Philemon’s reputation as a man who brought blessing to others. The word wherefore in Philemon 8 carries the meaning of “accordingly.” Since Philemon was a “refreshing” believer, Paul wanted to give him an opportunity to refresh the apostle’s heart! Philemon had been a great blessing to many saints, and now he could be a blessing to one of his own slaves who had just been saved!
Since Philemon enjoyed being refreshing to other believers, Paul wanted to give him an opportunity to refresh his own old heart.
Philemon had been a great blessing to many saints, and now he could be a blessing to one of his own slaves who had just been saved!
Who could turn down the request of a suffering saint like Paul.
He was perhaps sixty years old at this time, but that was a good age for men in that day.
Onesimus was no longer “just a slave.”
He was now Paul’s son in the faith and Philemon’s brother in Christ.
Remember what we read earlier in Galatians:
This does not mean that his conversion reversed Onesimus’ legal position as a slave.
It DID mean that Onesimus had a new standing before God and before God’s people.
In Jesus Christ, there is “neither bond nor free” (). This does not mean that his conversion altered Onesimus’ legal position as a slave, or that it canceled his debt to the law or to his master. However, it did mean that Onesimus had a new standing before God and before God’s people, and Philemon had to take this into consideration.
Philemon had to take this into consideration.
Paul’s next appeal we see in verse 11 … and that was that Onesimus was valuable to Paul in his ministry in Rome.
The name Onesimus means “profitable or helpful,” and Philemon means “one who is kind.”
If the slave was expected to live up to his name, then what about the master?
In verse 12, Paul says, “I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart.”
Paul is so attached to Onesimus that all this feels like he is losing part of himself.
The expression ‘my heart’ is the same as is used in verse 7, and speaks of the affections and emotions Paul is experiencing as he writes.
He truly loved Onesimus.
Paul is so attached to Onesimus that all this feels like he is losing part of himself. The expression ‘my heart’ is the same as is used in verse 7, and speaks of the affections and emotions Paul is experiencing as he writes. ‘Whom I wished to keep with me’ (v. 13): Onesimus was very helpful to Paul and was 100 per cent committed to Christ. Paul regarded Onesimus as sent by Philemon to help him in Philemon’s place.
In verse 13, Paul says that he wished to keep Onesimus with him.
He was very helpful to Paul and was 100% committed to Christ.
Even though Philemon had not sent Onesimus, Paul regarded him as sent to help him in Philemon’s place.
In fact, Paul continues this idea with verse 15 … God is in control of even the most difficult experiences of life.
He left a rebellious slave and came back a brother.
Perhaps you know an Onesimus … perhaps you were an Onesimus.
Paul was not dogmatic (“perhaps”) as he made this telling point: as Christians, we must believe that God is in control of even the most difficult experiences of life. God permitted Onesimus to go to Rome that he might meet Paul and become a believer. (Certainly Philemon and his family had witnessed to the slave and prayed for him.) Onesimus departed so he could come back. He was gone a short time so that he and his master might be together forever. He left for Rome a slave, but he would return to Colossae a brother. How gracious God was to rule and overrule in these affairs!
The fifth appeal relates to the providence of God (). Paul was not dogmatic (“perhaps”) as he made this telling point: as Christians, we must believe that God is in control of even the most difficult experiences of life. God permitted Onesimus to go to Rome that he might meet Paul and become a believer. (Certainly Philemon and his family had witnessed to the slave and prayed for him.) Onesimus departed so he could come back. He was gone a short time so that he and his master might be together forever. He left for Rome a slave, but he would return to Colossae a brother. How gracious God was to rule and overrule in these affairs!
How gracious God was to intervene in your life … and you may be the Paul to another Onesimus and lead them to Christ.
As you review these five appeals, you can see how Paul tenderly convinced his friend Philemon that he should receive his disobedient slave and forgive him. But it would not be easy for Philemon to do this. If he was too easy on Onesimus, it might influence other slaves to “become Christians” and want to influence their masters. However, if he was too hard on the man, it might affect Philemon’s testimony and ministry in Colossae.
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At this point, Paul offered the perfect solution.
It was a costly solution as far as the apostle was concerned, but he was willing to pay the price.
It’s related to koinonia meaning fellowship or communion.
The word translated “partner” is koinonia, which means “to have in common.” It is translated “communication” in , which means “fellowship.” Paul volunteered to become a “business partner” with Philemon and help him solve the problem with Onesimus. He made two suggestions: “Receive him as myself,” and “Put that [whatever he stole from you] on my account.”
Paul equated Onesimus as being an extension of Philemon.
Thus it was as if Philemon partnered with him in ministry.
How would Onesimus receive Paul?
Of course he would receive him with warmth, gladness and generosity.
Paul is hinting at forgiveness on the basis of friendship and the partnership they share in Christ.
Likewise, Philemon and Onesimus are brothers beloved in Christ.
Paul volunteered to become a “business partner” with Philemon and help him solve the problem with Onesimus.
He made two suggestions: “Receive him as myself,” and “Put that [whatever he stole from you] on my account.”
This is to me an illustration of what Jesus Christ has done for us as believers. God’s people are so identified with Jesus Christ that God receives them as He receives His Son! We are “accepted in the Beloved” () and clothed in His righteousness (). We certainly cannot approach God with any merit of our own, but God must receive us when we come to Him “in Jesus Christ.” The word receive in means “to receive into one’s family circle.” Imagine a slave entering his master’s family! But imagine a guilty sinner entering God’s family!
We are “accepted in the Beloved” according to and clothed in His righteousness as tells us.
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By no way and no means can we approach God through any merit of our own.
But God must receive us when we come to Him “in Jesus Christ.”
Imagine that … a slave being accepted into his master’s family as a member.
Imagine a rebellious, thieving, run-away slave being accepted into his master’s family as a member.
That’s one man receiving another man.
But what about the Living, Holy, and Righteous Lord God receiving a guilty sinner into His family!
But imagine a guilty sinner entering God’s family!
That can only be done by grace based on the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
romans 5:
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He says in verse 19, “Put it on my account—I will repay it!”
The language in sounds like a legal promissory note of that time.
This was Paul’s assurance to his friend that the debt would be paid.
tells us that God SO loved the world.
But it takes more than love to solve the problem; love must pay a price.
God does not save us by His love.
Yes, He loves the whole world, but the whole world is not saved.
God saves sinners by His grace ().
Grace is love that pays a price.
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By the law we are condemned but by grace we are saved.
God could not be unfaithful to His own Law.
So He paid the debt for us!
This is what is called “The Doctrine of Imputation.”
To impute something means “To put it on account.”
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, my sins were put to His account.
That is negative imputation.
And because my sins were on His account, He paid the penalty that I was due.
Then, when I trusted Him as my Savior, His righteousness was put on my account.
That is positive imputation.
And now God accepts me in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:26-27
However, we must keep in mind that there is a difference between being accepted in Christ and acceptable to Christ. Anyone who trusts Jesus Christ for salvation is accepted in Him (). But the believer must strive with God’s help to be acceptable to the Lord in his daily life (; ; ; , niv). The Father wants to look at those who are in His Son and say of them as He said of Jesus, “I am well pleased!”
suggests that it was Paul who led Philemon to faith in Christ.
Paul used this special relationship to encourage his friend to receive Onesimus. Philemon and Onesimus were not only spiritual brothers in the Lord, but they had the same “spiritual father”—Paul! (see and )
There’s no way to say for sure … but it kind of reads that way.
And I don’t know about you, but I feel like we are left with another question … Why did Paul not condemn slavery?
For that matter, why did he not come right out and condemn slavery?
This letter certainly would have been a great place to do it.
Really, Paul could have done that in several of his letters.
But instead he instructed the proper behavior of Christians slaves toward their masters and Christian masters toward their slaves.
Paul did not “condemn” slavery in this letter or in any of his letters, though he often had a word of admonition for slaves and their masters (; ; ; ).
Slavery in that day was overwhelmingly institutionalized and any opposition to it would have been crushed.
In fact, he encouraged Christian slaves to obtain their freedom if they could ().
The message of the Gospel would have been become confused with a social program or political movement.
One of the best explanations was given by Alexander Maclaren in his commentary on Colossians in The Expositor’s Bible (Eerdmans, 1940; vol. VI, p. 301):
Had early Christians begun an open crusade against slavery, they would have been crushed by the opposition, and the message of the Gospel would have become confused with a social and political program.
First, the message of Christianity is primarily to individuals, and only secondarily to society. It leaves the units whom it has influenced to influence the mass. Second, it acts on spiritual and moral sentiment, and only afterwards and consequently on deeds or institutions. Third, it hates violence, and trusts wholly to enlightened conscience. So it meddles directly with no political or social arrangements, but lays down principles which will profoundly affect these, and leaves them to soak into the general mind.
Of course, the end result of Christianity over years as it spread could only be the abolishment of institutionalized slavery.
And the wheels of change got moving because of Christianity.
Had early Christians begun an open crusade against slavery, they would have been crushed by the opposition, and the message of the Gospel would have become confused with a social and political program.
But
Today, the message of the Gospel gets turned into
But believers then didn’t have the democratic processes that we have today.
Think of how difficult it was for people to overcome slavery in England and America, and those two nations had general education and the Christian religion to help prepare the way.
So they really had no political power to bring about change.
Of course, the end result of Christianity could only be the abolishment of slavery.
Think also of the struggles in the modern Civil Rights movement even within the church.
Instead, the change had to come from within, even though it took centuries for slavery to end.
Christians are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (), and their spiritual influence must be felt in society to the glory of God.
That being said ... it sounds to me like Paul was making this suggestion to Philemon … perhaps he should go the extra mile and set his brother in Christ free.
God used Joseph in Egypt, Esther and Nehemiah in Persia, and Daniel in Babylon; and throughout church history, there have been believers in political offices who have faithfully served the Lord. But Christians in the Roman Empire could not work through local democratic political structures as we can today, so they really had no political power to bring about change. The change had to come from within, even though it took centuries for slavery to end.
And we should recognize that Christianity did begin to have affects on slavery as early as the reign of Constantine.
Official freeing of slaves became common.
And laws were passed offering more protection to slaves and making it easier for them to become free.
He fully expected to be released and to visit Philemon and Apphia in Colossae (“you” in is plural). Even this fact would encourage Philemon to follow Paul’s instructions, for he certainly would not want to be ashamed when he met the apostle face-to-face.
And I don’t think Paul was using this as a warning that Philemon better heed his words.
Rather he was looking forward to seeing Philemon and reuniting with Onesimus.
Of course, certainly Philemon would have felt ashamed in the presence of Paul if he had ignored this letter.
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As we have seen, Epaphras was probably the pastor of the church; and he had gone to Rome to assist Paul. Whether he was a “voluntary prisoner” for Paul’s sake, or whether he had actually been arrested by the Romans, we do not know. We must commend him for his dedication to Christ and to Paul.
Epaphras here was probably Epaphroditus, the pastor of the church of Colossae.
He had gone to Rome to assist Paul.
It may be that he was imprisoned while there.
But it’s more likely that he was a “voluntary prisoner” remaining in captivity with Paul to better serve him.
We must commend him for his dedication to Christ and to Paul.
We must commend him for his dedication to Christ and to Paul.
John Mark was with Paul.
He simply refers to him as Mark here, but we know from that this was John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.
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Whereas John Mark had previously failed in ministry, Paul had forgiven Mark and became grateful for his faithful ministry.
By the time of 2 Timothy, he was asking for Mark to again be brought to him.
We know from that Aristarchus was from Thessalonica and accompanied Paul to Jerusalem and then to Rome.
Demas is mentioned three times in Paul’s letters:
“Demas … my fellow worker” as we see here in verse 24.
He is simply “Demas” in .
And then, when Paul was imprisoned for the final time Paul wrote, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” in 2 Timothy.
Whereas John Mark failed but was restored … Demas seemed to be doing well but then he fell.
Demas seemed to be doing well but then he fell.
Luke, was the “beloved physician” who accompanied Paul, ministered to him, and eventually wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.
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After all, it is the grace of Jesus Christ that makes our salvation possible.
And Paul mirrors that in this letter, saying of Onesimus to Philemon, “receive him as myself” in verse 17.
And “Put it to my account” in verse 19.
Prayer: Lord, help us to heed the counsel of your Word as we have received it this morning. Create in us faithful witnesses to one another and to unbelievers. Help us to be nurturing and caring … forgiving and gracious toward one another. May our lives be such that we can say to others, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." Help us to, like Paul and Philemon be ministers of Your Gospel so that those who are running from You would repent and be received into Your family by grace.
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