Philemon was written by Paul (& Timothy), although Paul.
Paul is writing to
Paul is currently imprisoned, which he states at the very beginning, most likely in Rome.
But, Paul, contrary to most of his other letters, writes this letter to Philemon, with the idea that Philemon would share it with the church, of whom he was the elder. (verse 2)
Who is Philemon?
Friend of Paul - beloved
Most likely from the time Paul spent in Ephesus sharing the Gospel. Philemon became a believer at some point here.
Philemon was somewhat wealthy, we think, based on the fact that a church was meeting in his house, and based on the fact that he had at least one slave.....which we’ll get to here in a minute.
Paul opens up his letter here to Philemon with a prayer.
He is raving about Philemon, and the good work that he is doing.
“I hear of your love and of the faith you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (vs 5)
“I have derived much joy and comfort from your love” (vs 7)
“The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (vs 7)
Philemon is doing good work. He’s living for Christ since the point of his salvation. So much so that he has started a church in his house.
So, if you’re Philemon here, you are feeling pretty good about things, and your thinking, well why wouldn’t I share this with the church? This is great!
Notice verse 5 here, where Paul talks about the sharing of your faith. The word sharing here means, “commonality, solidarity, or a shared responsibility.” What Paul is doing here is laying the ground work for what is coming by pointing out that as Christians, they all share the common goal, of living for the sake of Christ. And that common goal should trump everything.
2. The Backstory
Philemon, being somewhat wealthy, did what every single somewhat wealthy man in the Roman empire did, he had a slave or slaves.
Now, we know that to be incorrect....but it’s the truth.
We know this slave to be named Onesimus.
And apparently, according to verse 18, Onesimus had apparently wronged Philemon in some way.
Maybe he stole, cheated him out of something, broke a household rule. Whatever it was, it was a big enough deal for Onesimus to flee.
Onesimus finds his way to Paul, somehow, (probably by God’s sovereignty), and actually becomes a Christian. Verse 10 tells us that.
Paul even refers to Onesimus as his child. So, Onesimus has become part of the family of Christ, he has become a believer.
So, here we have a slave, or bondservant, who still belonged to Philemon, a Christian pastor, who ended up getting saved while fleeing the Christian pastor for some reason when he ran into one of the greatest Christians there ever has been and gave his life to Christ.
Coincidence? I think not!
Now, think through this with me. Philemon paid for Onesimus, so Onesimus belonged to Philemon. We know this isn’t right, we know one man is not to own another man. But culturally during Philemon’s day, this wasn’t wrong. Or it wasn’t viewed as wrong, at least Philemon wasn’t viewing it as wrong.
But Philemon has read Paul’s letter up to this point. Picture this with me. Philemon sitting there, just got praised by Paul, and he reads verse 10, and reads the word “Onesimus”
What kind of feelings do you think Philemon had?
So, whatever you’re feeling, it’s probably not good. This was your property, this was your slave, and he had taken or done something to wrong you.
But Paul is saying he was now a follower of Christ!!!!
In light of that, I want to draw your attention to verses 15-18, because I think these are the greatest verses in this book.
So you are Philemon, and here is what Paul writes to you:
No longer view him as your slave, but as your beloved brother
In other words, view him how you view me. (verse 1)
Receive him as you would receive me
Let go of any anger or resentment, forgive him, and when he arrives, greet him as a brother
Now, here is the best part, because this is a picture of how we are to view each and every relationship among believers that we have:
Charge whatever he did to my account
I will repay it
What does this remind you of? Does this not scream of the redemptive work of Christ?
Do you see what Paul is saying here?
Whatever sins he has committed against you, I will cover
Christ did the same for us
So, what Paul is making clear to Philemon, and to us is this:
We are to live our lives in light of the Gospel that we ourselves have received
We are to reconcile differences among ourselves in light of that very Gospel
We must choose to live at peace with believers
Even those who don’t look like us
Those who don’t “fit into” our social circles
The people who seem weird
Why? Because Christ did the same for us!!!!
You see, at the forefront of all of Paul’s thinking was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the permanent filter from which Paul viewed everything from the point of his conversion.
So Paul expects and encourages Philemon to do the same. And Paul expects and encourages us to do the same.
If we call ourselves believers, we are to live in the shadow of that statement. Everything we do, every relationship we have, should be interwoven with the Gospel.
So, in light of that......
What relationship or relationships do you have right now in which you need to reconcile some differences?
What is your motive for holding onto those issues or past problems?
How can you look at the example of Philemon/Onesimus for the good of your relationship?
Lastly, if we are to live as those who shine the light of Christ, then we must live as those who’s relationships mirror that very thing!