Philemon (Part 1)

The Epistle of Paul to Philemon Introduction. 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 dominion. 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 “ 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' imprisonments. (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 dear friends. (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, confer, transmit... (3) Impart: To give a part or share of; to make another a partaker of; to bestow, give, communicate. 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 avowing. (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. 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. (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. We will not impart that which we do not believe we possess nor will we practice it. COL 1:4-11. (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. Philemon 4-17-11 Page 4

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