Philemon (Part 4)
The Epistle of Paul to Philemon
1. The letter to Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s epistles and along with the epistles to Timothy and
Titus, it is written primarily to a single person.
2. The occasion of the epistle was this: Philemon, a Christian brother from the city of Colosse, had a
servant (v. 16) named Onesimus, who, having apparently purloined some of his master’s goods,
ran away and ended up in Rome.
A. Servant: A person of either sex who is in the service of a master or mistress; one who is
under obligation to work for the benefit of a superior, and to obey his (or her) commands.
(1) The Greek word (doulos) which is translated as servant in v. 16 means a slave or
bondman (according to Strong and Thayer).
(2) The same word is also translated as servant in 1CO 7:21-22 where it is juxtaposed
with being a freeman.
(3) Freeman: a. One who is personally free; one who is not a slave or serf. b. In later
use often, one who is politically free; one not a subject of a tyrannical or usurped
B. While in Rome, he providentially encountered Paul, who was a prisoner for the gospel, and
he was converted by Paul to the truth.
C. After his conversion, he ministered to Paul in his bonds and they became close friends.
D. Even though useful and dear to Paul, being another man’s servant, Paul would not, without
Philemon’s consent, detain Onesimus, but sends him back to his master with this letter in
which he earnestly sues for his pardon and kind reception as both a servant and a brother in
the faith. COL 4:9.
3. Even though this is not one of Paul’s doctrinal epistles, as preserved by God and included in His
word, it “...is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in
righteousness” (2TI 3:16).
A. It manifests the goodness and mercy of God to a poor sinner, saving him by His grace and
providentially effecting his conversion. ISA 65:1.
B. It displays the effects of God’s grace manifested in an unprofitable servant who ran from
serving his master but who became a profitable, willing, and affectionate servant to Paul,
who converted him, and also to God.
C. The letter shows the tender compassion and concern of Paul for this poor servant, who
being now reconciled to God, was also now the object of his earnest labors to reconcile
him to his master.
D. There is comfort and instruction for Christians not to lose hope concerning those that
depart from them without evident marks of grace or obedience to the truth, for God allows
some to depart for a season that they should be received forever. v. 15.
E. There is here a parallel to the mediation and intercession of Christ for sinners, who like
Onesimus, have rebelled against the service of God until Christ finds them, and by His
grace works a change in them, and mediates and intercedes with the Father for them, that
they may be received into His favor, and have their past offenses mercifully forgiven.
The Preface. vs. 1-7.
1. vs. 1-2. Paul was a prisoner in Rome at the time of the writing of this letter.
A. It is not generally a thing of honor to be a prisoner, but in the case of Paul, he was a
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 1prisoner of Jesus Christ for the faith, and for preaching the gospel of Christ.
EPH 6:19-20; 2TI 1:9.
B. There is no shame in suffering affliction for Christ (1PE 4:16), and God greatly used Paul
as a prisoner. PHIL 1:12-14, 20, 29.
(1) Some of the most powerful and enduring writings have come from believers'
(2) Consider the influence of Paul's epistles written in Roman imprisonment or John
Bunyan's epic “Pilgrim's Progress” written in the Bedford gaol.
C. The intent of Paul’s letter is to move Philemon to receive Onesimus with kindness and
pardon. A petition from Paul (who was also the minister that converted Philemon) as one
suffering for Christ and His gospel would be graciously received and regarded by a fellow
believer. v. 9.
D. Paul also includes Timothy, a fellow minister and (“our”) brother in the petition made to
Philemon concerning Onesimus, which would add more weight to his request.
E. The letter is principally addressed to Philemon whom Paul addresses as “...our dearly
beloved and fellow-labourer.”
(1) Paul expresses their great affection for Philemon, calling him our dearly beloved.
(2) This indicates that Timothy and Philemon were personally acquainted and also
(3) Philemon was a good man to have the affection of these two men of God. TIT 1:8.
(4) Philemon is also addressed as their fellow-labourer, which may indicate that he was
a fellow minister, but is also a term used of those that helped and ministered greatly
to other saints. ROM 16:12; 1CO 15:58; 16:15-16; PHIL 4:3.
F. Paul also addresses Apphia, Archippus and the church in Philemon’s house.
(1) “Our beloved Apphia”, as Paul addresses her, is a Christian woman who may have
been Philemon’s wife. She was also a dear friend of Paul and Timothy.
(2) Archippus was definitely a fellow minister with Paul and Timothy as stated in
COL 4:17 and because of the title fellow-soldier, which is a term used exclusively
of ministers. PHIL 2:25; 2TI 2:3-4.
(3) Apparently they had either a small church or a large house and Archippus may have
been the pastor. House churches were not uncommon.
ROM 16:5; 1CO 16:19; COL 4:15.
(4) Since there was a church in Philemon’s house, it is reasonable to assume that
Onesimus had contact with the truth before he ran away.
2. v. 3. Paul’s chief wish for them is that God’s grace and peace might be with them.
A. This was the token in every epistle that Paul wrote. 2TH 3:17-18.
(1) Paul sought the very best things for his brethren, which were not earthly blessings,
but rather God’s all-sufficient grace and peace, which are given to us through Jesus
Christ. 1CO 15:10; 2CO 12:9; PHIL 4:13; JOH 1:16.
a. Grace is that which empowers our lives after it saves us.
b. Grace is also our sufficiency in the absence of power. 2CO 12:9.
(2) Peace from God and our Lord Jesus Christ is the quietness and mental calmness
we can experience in our minds and hearts, whatever the conflicts and tribulation
going on around us.
JOH 14:27; 16:33; 2TH 3:16; PHIL 4:6-7; ROM 15:13; ISA 26:3.
(3) With an abundance of God’s grace and peace, we can cope with any situation God
allows into our lives. Paul is a great example.
B. Spiritual well-being was of utmost concern to the apostles for their children and brethren
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 2and their greatest joy was to find them spiritually prospering and walking in the truth.
3JO 1:1-4, 14; 2JO 1:1-4 c/w PHIL 1:7.
3. vs. 4-7. Paul thanks God, not Philemon, for the evidences of God’s grace seen in him which he
further enumerates and also states that he specifically and frequently prays for him.
A. What ever we as Christians do that is considered good in the eyes of God is because God
saved us and gave us the ability to work out that which He worked in us.
PHIL 2:12-13; EPH 2:10; 1CO 15:10.
B. We ought to thank God for His grace and mercy manifested in us and in our brethren.
1CO 1:3-6; PHIL 1:3-6; COL 1:3-4.
C. We ought always to lift each other to God in our prayers. JAM 5:16.
(1) One of the greatest and most beneficial things we can do for each other is to pray
for one another.
(2) Paul fervently practiced for his brethren that which he also sought from them for
himself. ROM 15:30; 2CO 1:11; 1TH 5:17 c/w PHM 1:22.
D. Paul thanked God hearing of Philemon’s love and faith which he had toward the Lord
Jesus and toward all saints. v. 5.
(1) Paul thanked God for Philemon’s faith and love because true faith and love are gifts
of God’s Holy Spirit. GAL 5:22.
(2) Faith and love are first directed towards God and then towards our brethren.
1JO 4:7-11, 19-21; 3:23.
(3) Love towards God is connected to loving the children of God. 1JO 5:1.
(4) Love towards our Lord Jesus and our brethren is practiced by obeying Jesus/God.
JOH 14:15; 1JO 5:3; 2JO 1:5-6.
(5) Faith toward the Lord Jesus and love toward our brethren are together evidences
of our eternal salvation and of Philemon’s. 1JO 5:1; 3:14.
E. Paul not only thanked God for Philemon’s faith and love but prayed that the
communication of his faith might become effectual by the acknowledging of every good
thing which was in him in Christ Jesus. v. 6.
(1) Communication: The action of communicating or imparting.
(2) Communicate: To give to another as a partaker; to give a share of; to impart,
(3) Impart: To give a part or share of; to make another a partaker of; to bestow, give,
a. The Greek word (koinonia) which is here translated as communication is
translated as communicate in HEB 13:16, contribution in ROM 15:26, and
distribution in 2CO 9:13.
b. Mind that subjection to the gospel of Christ leads to a distribution of that
faith in helping others.
(4) Effectual: That produces its intended effect, or adequately answers its purpose.
(5) Acknowledging: Recognizing or admitting as true or valid; owning, confessing, or
(6) Paul is praying that the imparting of his faith, both the knowledge of it and its fruit,
might produce its intended effect and fulfill its purpose by his recognizing and
owning every good thing which was in him as he was in Christ.
(7) The good things that were in him in Christ would be the fruit of the Spirit of
Christ and those things that pertain to those chosen in Christ.
ROM 7:18 c/w GAL 5:22-23; EPH 5:9; COL 3:12-14.
(8) The communication of one’s faith would include practicing and imparting the good
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 3things that are in us in Christ to others, and particularly our brethren.
3JO 1:5; GAL 6:9-10.
(9) For the communication of our faith to have its intended effect, we must recognize
and own every good thing that is in us in Christ.
a. We will not impart that which we do not believe we possess nor will we
practice it. COL 1:4-11; 3:12-14.
b. For the communication of our faith to be effectual, we must acknowledge
EVERY good thing that is in us in Christ. We are not to be selective in
those good things of the inward man. 2PE 1:5-8 c/w JOH 15:2.
(10) There is also a sense in which our faith has an intended effect when others
acknowledge the good things which are in us in Christ. MAT 5:16; 1PE 2:12.
(11) The acknowledging of every good thing in Philemon and the communicating of
them would include receiving Onesimus with love, mercy, and forgiveness, even as
Christ received Philemon. ROM 15:7.
F. Paul and Timothy had great joy and consolation in Philemon’s love toward the saints
because the bowels of the saints were refreshed by him. v. 7.
(1) Bowels: Considered as the seat of the tender and sympathetic emotions, hence:
Pity, compassion, feeling, 'heart.' 4. The interior of anything; heart, center.
(2) Consolation: The action of consoling, cheering, or comforting; the state of being
consoled; alleviation of sorrow or mental distress.
(3) Console: To comfort in mental distress or depression; to alleviate the sorrow of
(any one); ‘to free from the sense of misery.'
(4) Refresh: To make (one) feel fresher than before; to impart fresh vigour to (a
person, the spirits or mind, the eyes, etc.) when fatigued or exhausted; to reanimate;
reinvigorate physically, mentally, or spiritually; to provide with refreshment.
(5) Refresh is the same word translated rest in MAT 11:28.
a. Refreshment and rest are gospel correspondents one of the other.
ISA 28:11-12 c/w ICO 14:21.
b. Christ and His gospel provide the “...oil of joy for mourning, the garment of
praise for the spirit of heaviness...” (ISA 61:1-3).
c. “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it
glad” (PRO 12:25).
i. How good a word to the sorrowing sinner is the reminder that
“...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...” (1TI 1:15)
and we can “...come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may
obtain mercy...” (HEB 4:16).
ii. How good a word to the troubled saint is the reminder that Jesus
said “...be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (JOH 16:33)
or “...the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”
d. Believers have enough in Christ to disqualify murmurings and
complainings. PHIL 2:13-14 ct/w JUDE 1:16.
e. Philemon's faith and conversation (manner of living) were a positive force
in the church at his house. This was his demonstration of his love toward
the Lord Jesus and the saints. v. 5.
(6) Paul and Timothy publicly acknowledge and praise their brother Philemon for his
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 4great love shown to the saints in his refreshing of them.
a. It is not wrong nor is it flattery to acknowledge and praise a brother or a
sister for their exemplary Christian behavior.
3JO 1:3-6; ROM 16:1-2; 1CO 16:15-18; 2TI 1:16-18.
b. When saints minister one to another, whether it be physically, mentally, or
spiritually, it is refreshing and strengthening.
PHIL 2:1-2; GAL 6:2; ACT 27:3; 24:23; 20:34-35.
i. Minister: To serve, wait at table; to attend to the comfort or wants
of another; to render aid or tendance.
ii. In this case, Paul first praises Philemon for his love in refreshing the
bowels of the saints, and later in his letter asks for some refreshing
himself. v. 20.
iii. The manifestation of the good things that are in us in Christ and acts
of Christian charity are also refreshing for those who teach the
saints. 2CO 7:4-7, 13-16; PHIL 2:1-2; 3JO 1:3.
The Request. vs. 8-21.
1. vs. 8-9. Paul begins his request of Philemon by entreating him rather than enjoining him, coming
from the position of love and affection rather than authority.
A. Paul connects his request to his praise and acknowledgement of Philemon’s faith and love
as manifested in his ministering to the saints by the word “wherefore.”
(1) Wherefore is a conjunctive adverb termed an illative (introducing or stating
(2) Conjunctive adverbs are transition words that define the relationship between
(3) Wherefore: Introducing a clause expressing a consequence or inference from what
has just been stated: On which account; for which reason; which being the case;
(4) The reason Paul was requesting a favor of Philemon and the reason he was
beseeching him (v. 10) rather than enjoining him, was because of the godly
character of this man and his reputation for ministering to others.
a. Enjoin: To prescribe authoritatively and with emphasis (an action, a course
of conduct, state of feeling, etc.).
b. Beseech: To supplicate, entreat, implore (a person).
B. Paul could have used his authority as an apostle and elder to order him to comply with his
purpose in writing him the letter, yet Paul would rather make an appeal out of love than
demand what he considered proper and fitting. 1CO 12:28; 2CO 10:8 c/w 2CO 13:2, 10.
(1) Both approaches would have the same result, but willing compliance is always to
be preferred over force, even though Paul had the authority to order Philemon to do
the proper thing. In this case, Paul gave the power to make the right decision to
Philemon. v. 14.
a. Convenient: Suitable to the conditions or circumstances; befitting the case;
appropriate, proper, due.
b. This is a sound pattern for everyday life: as those under authority show
themselves mature in their fidelity and discernment, give them room to
exercise their own good judgment appropriate to a given circumstance.
c. A virtually guaranteed way of breeding frustration, resentment and rebellion
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 5in children is to order their every motion throughout the entire time they are
under your roof.
(2) The apostles often used a more gentle approach in their ministry as apostles and
elders. 1TH 2:5-12; 1CO 4:14-21; 2CO 2:8-9; 6:1; EPH 4:1; 1PE 2:11.
(3) Yet Paul also enjoined or commanded in certain instances.
2TH 3:6, 10-12; 1TH 4:11.
(4) In the preaching of the gospel, there is seen both a commanding with authority and
a beseeching appeal for love’s sake.
ACT 17:30-31; 1TI 4:11; 2CO 5:14-15, 18-21.
(5) Ministers of God should use godly wisdom and discretion in the exercise of their
authority, and whenever possible, beseech others and make an appeal out of love
to move them to do that which is proper. 1JO 4:7-11.
(6) Saints in general are to recognize that there is a need for discernment in how
someone else is approached. JUDE 1:22-23.
a. God may speak to His people thunderously from Mt. Sinai (HEB 12:19) or
in a still, small voice. 1KI 19:12.
b. The godly will recognize that even the “tough” approach which is on target
is a kindness. PSA 141:5; PRO 27:5-6.
C. Paul gives additional force to his position by beseeching Philemon as Paul the aged and as
a prisoner of Jesus Christ. v. 9.
(1) This would be a strong emotional appeal to a godly compassionate person, asking
him to help out a poor aged prisoner and bring comfort to him in his bonds as he
suffers for Jesus Christ.
(2) Age is also something that should be respected among Christians.
LEV 19:32; JOB 32:4 ct/w ISA 3:5; 1TI 5:1-2; 1PE 5:5.
(3) The aged should be cautious to not trade too heavily on their seniority.
PRO 16:31; ECC 4:13; PSA 119:100.
2. vs. 10-11. The issue and subject of Paul’s beseeching is Onesimus, formerly an unprofitable
servant to Philemon, but now profitable to both Paul and Philemon and now also Paul’s son.
A. Paul beseeches Philemon for his son Onesimus, whom he had begotten in his bonds. Paul
is beseeching for someone that he considers close family to himself.
B. This begetting is not regeneration but rather conversion.
(1) The new birth is a begetting, but it is accomplished solely by the work of God.
1JO 5:18; EPH 2:1, 4-5; JOH 5:25; 3:5-8.
a. Sinners are passive in regeneration.
b. The Holy Spirit calls regeneration a new birth and a quickening from death
in order to emphasize the sinner's passivity here.
c. This begetting fits a person for conversion.
(2) Conversion is also a begetting but it is accomplished by teaching and follows
repentance and faith. PSA 19:7; 51:13; ISA 6:10; ACT 3:19; LUK 22:32.
a. Regeneration or the new birth precedes faith. JOH 5:24; 1JO 5:1.
b. Sinners are active in conversion.
MAT 13:15; 18:3; JAM 5:19-20; ACT 3:19.
(3) To beget is to generate which includes the idea of producing a being similar to the
parent or parents.
(4) Conversion is to turn in position or direction. It means to turn in mind, feelings or
conduct into another state; change from what is regarded as falsehood or error to
what is regarded as true.
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 6C. Onesimus had become a believer in the gospel through the ministry of Paul and had turned
from his rebellious unprofitable ways to obey and follow Christ.
(1) He was begotten by Paul through conversion and became a follower of his ways,
which also made him a follower of Christ. 1CO 4:14-17 c/w 1CO 11:1.
(2) Before he was converted and became a believer and follower of Paul and of Christ,
he was born again by God’s grace.
a. He was begotten by God in regeneration to become a son of God; then he
was begotten by Paul in conversion to become an obedient son of God.
b. God's begetting of Onesimus was his calling unto eternal life according to
election; Paul's begetting of Onesimus was how his calling and election was
made sure. 2PE 1:10.
D. Onesimus had run away from a Christian master, being unconverted, yet being an elect
child of God, he was not out of the reach of God. JOH 6:37-39; 17:2-3; EPH 1:4.
E. It is likely that he came in contact with Paul and the gospel in his master’s house prior
to running away, but at that time the word preached did not profit him not being mixed
with faith. HEB 4:2.
(1) When he encountered Paul and heard the gospel in Rome, the spiritual gift of faith
was manifested in him since the word preached did profit him.
a. He became a follower of Christ and a dearly beloved son and brother to
b. Thus, for Onesimus, life and immortality was brought to light through the
gospel. 2TI 1:9-10.
(2) We all as sinners, in time past were unprofitable, until the grace of God changed us
as it did Onesimus and we were converted.
v. 11 c/w ROM 3:12; EPH 2:1-5; TIT 3:3-7.
(3) Philemon had been there also. v. 19.
(4) One who remains in the state of an unprofitable servant is under condemnation.
(5) Thank God for His grace if it can be said of you, “In time past was ... unprofitable,
but now profitable ...” Paul had a time past also. GAL 1:13-16, 23-24.
(6) Unconverted and unregenerate sinners are not considered profitable by God. They
are equated in Scripture with such things as briars and thorns, chaff, tares, stubble,
dross, reprobate silver, clouds without water, wells without water, whited
sepulchres, blind guides, vipers, vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, etc.
EZE 2:6; MAT 3:12; 13:38; 23:16, 27, 33; JER 6:30; PSA 119:119; ROM 9:22;
JUDE 1:12; 2PE 2:17.
(7) Profitable: Yielding profit or advantage; beneficial, useful, serviceable, valuable.
(8) A profitable servant is one that takes what God has given him and uses it for the
service of God and God’s people.
MAT 25:14-46 c/w EPH 2:10; TIT 3:8; 2TI 2:20-21.
a. The same word translated profitable in v. 11 is translated meet (for use) in
b. The grace of God is the only thing that makes men profitable. The
utilization of God’s grace serving Him, living godly, and ministering to
others makes us profitable. 1TI 6:11-12, 17-18; ACT 9:36.
(9) Onesimus had been unprofitable to Philemon as a servant, but after God’s grace
had changed him, he became beneficial, useful and valuable to his master.
Interestingly, the name Onesimus means profitable and useful. He would now be
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 7living up to his name.
(10) Note that even though Onesimus had wronged his master, ran away from him, and
lived as though his life were his own, Paul does not address this matter according to
what his past conduct deserved, but from his present condition of usefulness and
service, and seeks mercy and forgiveness for him from Philemon whom he had
a. This is how God treats us. PSA 103:8-13 c/w PSA 51:4.
b. This is how we are called to treat our brethren. EPH 4:32.
(11) That which has been made profitable should remain profitable. PSA 92:13-15.
a. Unprofitable = good for nothing. JER 13:7-10.
b. That which is good for nothing is cast out. MAT 5:13.
c. Paul's personal concern is instructive. 1CO 9:27.
3. vs. 12-14. Paul sent Onesimus from Rome to Philemon with this letter, even though He would
have preferred to retain him with himself because of his usefulness and friendship, but he would
not presume to do so without his master, whom he had wronged, being agreeable.
A. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with the letter.
(1) Obviously Onesimus was repentant and willing to return and face his master.
(2) It would be both a frightening and humbling experience to go back to a master you
had left, and had probably stolen from, and seek for mercy and forgiveness.
a. Imagine his thoughts as he traveled from Rome back to face his master.
b. Imagine him standing there as Philemon confronts him and as he is reading
c. Doing what is right can be difficult and humbling, and because of this many
avoid doing what is right and correcting the wrongs that they have done.
d. Real Christianity requires humility, and those that practice it find that it has
great rewards. LUK 14:11; 18:13-14; JAM 4:6, 10; 1PE 5:5-6; COL 3:12
c/w DEU 8:2-3; 2CH 7:14; ISA 57:15.
B. Paul asks him to “...receive him, that is, mine own bowels” (v. 12). He is urging
Philemon from the strong affection that he had to Onesimus.
(1) Paul had mentioned their spiritual relation before (v. 10), now he signifies how
dear Onesimus is to him personally.
(2) The bowels are the seat of the tender and sympathetic emotions and feelings. When
Paul equates Onesimus with his own bowels, he is expressing that he had the most
strong affections and tender regard for his “son” and that whatever happened to him
would also strongly affect the apostle’s innermost being or heart. c/w JER 4:19.
(3) “I love him as I do myself, and have sent him back to thee for this end, that thou
shouldst receive him; do it therefore for my sake, receive him as one thus dear to
me.” (Matthew Henry)
(4) “Even good men may sometimes need great earnestness and entreaty to lay aside
their passions, let go their resentments, and forgive those who have injured and
offended them. Some have thought it to look this way, when Paul is so pathetic and
earnest, mustering up so many pleas and arguments to gain what he requests.
Philemon, a Phrygian, might perhaps be naturally of a rough and difficult temper,
and thence need no little pains in touching all the springs that might move him to
forgiveness and reconciliation; but rather we should be like God, who is slow to
anger, ready to forgive, and abundant in pardons.” (Matthew Henry)
(5) Paul asks him to receive Onesimus back into his service and into his affections and
a little later in the letter as a brother beloved. v. 16.
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 8C. Paul next points out the inconvenience to himself and his own self-denial in sending
Onesimus back when he had proven to be so useful to Paul in his bonds. Yet he would not
presume upon Philemon’s willingness to let Onesimus continue to minister to Him without
it being specifically granted by his master. vs. 13-14.
(1) Paul knew that Philemon would have a heart to minister to Him in his bonds if he
was there, or would have willingly supplied one of his servants to do so.
a. Onesimus was a servant of Philemon ministering to Paul in Philemon’s
place, but he had an issue that needed to be settled between himself and his
master that took precedence over Paul’s desires.
b. Charity “...seeketh not her own...” (1CO 13:5) and we do well when we set
aside our own interests for the sake of principle or the welfare of others.
(2) Paul also shows here the strict regard that he had for doing what was just and
equitable. He would not presume to use another man’s servant without his consent,
nor take advantage of another man’s property, whatever power he might have as an
apostle, even if he thought the person might be agreeable. 1PE 5:3.
(3) Without Philemon’s willing agreement to forgive his servant and free him to
minister to Paul, Paul would not allow himself to benefit or profit.
a. Benefit: A thing well done; a good or noble deed. 2. A kind deed, a
kindness; a favor, gift.
b. Necessity: What is necessarily required; necessaries.
c. Necessarily: By force of necessity; unavoidably.
(4) Paul did not want the kindness or goodness of Onesimus’ ministering to him at
Philemon’s expense to look like a forced thing but as a voluntary action on his part.
a. This would avoid any appearance of evil or impropriety. 1TH 5:22.
b. This also reinforces the biblical principal that good deeds and giving
benefits to others should be done willingly and not grudgingly or of
necessity. 1CH 29:17; 2CO 8:11-12; 9:7.
4. vs. 15-16. Paul now presents a positive slant on the departure of Onesimus by suggesting that
God’s overruling providence was involved so that Philemon might receive him forever as a
changed person and as a brother in the Lord.
A. This is focusing on the good that can come out of a bad situation or experience.
PSA 119:71; PHIL 4:8.
B. Even the way Paul phrases the statement has a softening effect on Onesimus’ crime of
running away from his master.
(1) God can take our losses and turn them into gains or that which might be considered
a negative or bad thing and turn it into good, whether it is done unto us or by us.
GEN 45:5-8, 50:20.
(2) Yet it is stated in such a way as not to be an encouragement for others to sin
so that good might come out of it. ROM 3:8.
a. He is just acknowledging the hand of God changing a bad situation into
something good in His own time and way.
b. Onesimus had been an unprofitable servant. Now he was returning as a
profitable servant and brother. The end result, and change for good leads
Paul to describe the events as a departure for a season rather than as a
criminal running away.
c. The good end of the matter makes it a reason to rejoice and view it in a
positive light rather than negatively and in anger.
JAM 1:2-3; ROM 5:3-5.
Philemon 4-17-11 Page 9(3) There is a measure of comfort in this verse for parents of rebellious and/or
unconverted children that were a grief and trial unto them, and who leave home
having rejected their parents’ principles and faith. LUK 15:11-32; PSA 68:18.
a. There have been many instances of parents continuing to pray for their
rebellious children’s conversion and return whose prayers have been
b. Wise parents will heed PRO 22:6 and claim it as a comfort and hope if not
C. Onesimus was returning a changed man and would now be a good servant, but much more
than that, for Philemon also would be receiving another beloved brother in the flesh and in
the Lord. v. 16.
(1) Onesimus’ call by grace had not dissolved the civil relationship between him and
his master; it had just added something to it that was higher and greater.
(2) He was still required to be a servant, however he was to be a servant of God as he
served his master in the flesh. 1TI 6:2; EPH 6:5-6; COL 3:22.
a. “Christianity does not annul nor confound the respective civil duties, but
strengthens the obligations to them, and directs to a more right discharge
of them.” (Matthew Henry)
b. Mind that Paul calls Onesimus Philemon's beloved brother in the flesh.
i. It is not inconceivable that there was a natural family relationship
between Onesimus and Philemon.
ii. Jacob was an obliged servant to his Uncle Laban. GEN 29:11-20.
iii. Israel had a law which governed servitude of “brethren.”
(3) He was a special brother beloved to Paul in that he converted him and was being
ministered unto by him, but Philemon would be gaining one of his own countrymen
back as a beloved faithful brother rather than as an unprofitable and rebellious
servant. COL 4:9.
(4) Being brethren in Christ is a special and exalted relationship that outlasts any
earthly relationship, for it is an eternal relationship. 1TH 4:13-18; ROM 8:17.
(5) Onesimus would cease being Philemon’s servant but never his beloved brother in
5. vs. 17-19. Paul now asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as himself and to charge him for
whatever he might reckon he was owed from Onesimus because of his actions and desertion.
A. “If thou count me therefore a partner...” (v. 17).
(1) Partner: One who has a share or part with another or others; one who is associated
with another or others in the enjoyment or possession of anything; a partaker,
(2) Paul had already identified Philemon as a fellow-laborer, a dearly beloved brother,
a man of like precious faith and love, a sharer of the grace of God and one with him
in Christ. That would qualify him as a partner of Paul. c/w 2CO 8:23.
(3) If so...He then asks him to receive him as himself, as a partner in the faith and of
the grace of God rather than as a runaway servant.
B. But there remains the issue of the wrongs done and any monies owed by his leaving. Paul,
when asking for Onesimus to be received as himself, also then personally assumes any
liabilities that might be owed to Philemon by Onesimus.
(1) This is fair in the context of Christianity. Is this not what Christ has done for us?