Philemon 21-25

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
(Philemon vv. 21-25 NIV)

As we wrap up our walk through the Apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon, we see Paul writing as a friend to a friend about the situation regarding Onesimus, a runaway slave.  Onesimus had stolen some money and run away from Colossae to Rome.  In Rome, Onesimus met Paul, who led Onesimus to the Lord.  On finding out the details of Onesimus’ life, Paul knew he had to send Onesimus back to Philemon.

Paul had the authority to write to Philemon and tell him the right thing to do; Paul also knew that Philemon was a godly man, and was a blessing to both the believers who met in his home as well as Paul himself.  So Paul avoided a heavy-handed approach and opted to appeal to Philemon on the basis of love and forgiveness.

As we step into today’s text, we see Paul wrapping up his appeal to Philemon’s godly character.  In verse 21, Paul says he knows that Philemon will obey the Lord and do the right thing with Onesimus – to love, to forgive, to restore, just as Christ did for Philemon (and you and me).

When Paul said that Philemon would do more than what he had asked him to do, what did that mean?  Was Paul suggesting that Philemon emancipate Onesimus, granting him freedom from slavery?  We don’t know – and neither Scripture nor history tells the rest of Onesimus’ story.  It could be that Philemon welcomed back Onesimus as a brother in Christ as well as a servant (v. 16).  It could be that Philemon sent Onesimus out as a missionary, an ambassador of Christ.

Whatever the case, Paul was confident that Philemon would make a decision that honored the Lord.  Eastern Orthodox church tradition says that Onesimus held fast to his faith and ultimately died a martyr’s death for his faith in Christ.

In verse 22, Paul asks Philemon to prepare a room for him to come visit.  Some scholars suggest that Paul was issuing a subtle warning to Philemon – “do the right thing, and I am coming to check up on you to make sure you did.”

To me, that contradicts Paul’s loving approach in the rest of the letter. Yes, Paul did use that approach with the Corinthians and other churches that were way out of line and needed correction.  It seems more likely that Paul was saying, “My dear brother Philemon, I long to come visit you again face-to-face.  I know you are praying the same thing.  Please prepare a guest room for me in anticipation of the Lord removing these chains of imprisonment so I can come see you again.”  Love, friendship, and face-to-face fellowship was the motivation, not authority and accountability.

Finally, Paul sends the greetings of those with him (v. 23) and ends the letter with a blessing on Philemon.  Paul is asking the Lord to guide and direct Philemon in his decisions and choices in all of life, including the matter of Onesimus.  Paul knew that the enemy would be working overtime to convince Philemon to not forgive or to forgive but not restore Onesimus to fellowship in Christ.  Philemon would need God’s wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make God-honoring decisions.

What a great letter and story of love and redemption!  Again, we don’t know how the story ends; we can only surmise that Philemon consulted the Lord in his decisions and chose to forgive and restore Onesimus.

What a great example for us!  May we reflect God’s glory by forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us by giving his life for us.

We can’t say we fully love others unless we are willing to fully forgive them as Christ did for us.

How can we do anything less?


Philemon 8-20

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 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. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 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 fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
(Philemon vv. 8-20 NIV)

Looping back to the prior sections of Paul’s letter to Philemon, we heard Paul’s thankfulness for Philemon and his family and their friendship.  We also heard Paul express his gratitude for Philemon’s love for the Lord and for God’s people.  Philemon provided the place where the house church met.  Philemon had a pastor’s heart and cared deeply for the believers that gathered in his home.  Paul told Philemon that the people who met in his home were blessed, and Paul was blessed because the people were blessed.

In today’s text, Paul addresses the issue of Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus.  Paul begins gently, appealing to Philemon’s grace and forgiveness as Philemon decides what to do with Onesimus.  Paul says that he, as an apostle has every right to command what Philemon should do, but chooses to appeal to Philemon out of love and friendship.

In verse 11, Paul uses a play on words to appeal to Philemon.  The name “Onesimus” means “useful”; Paul says that as a runaway slave, Onesimus had become “useless” to Philemon, but now was “useful” to both Paul and Philemon.  So what redeemed Onesimus?  What made him useful again?  The change was spiritual, not physical.  Somehow the Lord had arranged the meeting of Paul and Onesimus, and Paul had led Onesimus to the Lord.

Paul saw the value of Onesimus’ changed life.   Although Paul would have preferred to keep him in Rome as his helper, he knew the right thing was to send Onesimus back to his rightful owner Philemon.  Paul did not want to overstep his relationship with Philemon and demand or claim his right to have Onesimus help him.  Instead, Paul humbled himself and did the right thing by sending him back.

Paul tells Philemon that while he may have temporarily lost a slave, he is now gaining back both a slave and a brother in Christ.   Onesimus’ value has increased eternally!

Notice that Paul neither approved nor condemned slavery – it was a part of the culture in Paul’s day.  What Paul did do, however, was proclaim the infinite value of a person in the eyes of God.  In Paul’s day, a slave that was considered a “property” rather than a “person”.  But Paul saw through the cultural definition of a slave to God’s definition of a person and their creation in His likeness and their value as such.

Paul is asking Philemon to love Onesimus as a person.  And the first step in that fractured relationship is for Philemon to forgive Onesimus.  Paul does not specifically tell Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but that is what is implied here.

Paul is also asking Philemon to take the next step beyond forgiveness – to restore Onesimus to service.  Philemon could easily sell Onesimus to the slave market to make up for his losses.  Instead, Paul asks Philemon to bring his back into his home.  Paul even offers to help make up the financial loss that Onesimus caused Philemon.  We don’t know how long Onesimus had been gone; Paul likely knew the details and offered to make up the difference financially.

Paul closes this section by asking Philemon to receive Onesimus as if he were receiving Paul himself.  Paul says that if Philemon will accept Onesimus as he would accept Paul, this act of love, forgiveness, and restoration would refresh Paul’s heart in Christ.

Forgiveness is often so hard, isn’t it?   But it’s what God calls us to do and shows us by example.

And when we forgive, to restore a relationship with someone and make restitution is a whole different level of commitment and love.

Lord, help us to love unconditionally as You love us.  Thank You for Paul’s example of doing the right thing, and for reflecting Your character and love in his letter to Philemon.

Help us to learn this lesson of forgiveness well, and to practice it in our daily lives.


Philemon 4-7

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
(Philemon vv. 4-7 NIV)

Last time we began our journey through the letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon, a brother in Christ located in Colossae.

What a blessing to see Paul address Philemon as a dear friend and co-worker for Christ.  Paul did not use his authority as an apostle to introduce himself; he wrote as one close friend to another.

After his introduction in verses 1-3, Paul now turns to a short section of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for Philemon.  In verse 4, Paul says that whenever he prays for Philemon, he always starts by thanking God for him.

Do you have a friend like Philemon, where you begin your prayer by thanking God for the way that person lives his or her life for the Lord?  What characteristics about that friend bring you joy when you remember them and pray for them?

Paul noticed something in Philemon’s life that led him to praise the Lord.  Verse 5 holds the answer – Philemon’s love for God’s people and his love for Jesus.   Hmmm… sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ “greatest commandment” and the “second greatest commandment” to love the Lord and to love other people, doesn’t it (Matthew 22:34-40)?

Remember that Paul was locked up in Rome – he did not see these godly attributes in Philemon’s life first-hand; he heard about Philemon’s character and love for the Lord and God’s people through the witness of others.

When Paul prayed for Philemon, Paul said he thanked God for Philemon.  So what was Paul’s prayer for Philemon?  Verse 6 says that Paul prayed that Philemon’s partnership in the faith would be beneficial to help Philemon grow spiritually.

In verse 7, Paul closes out his thankfulness by saying that Philemon’s love for God’s people refreshed the people Philemon was ministering to and brought great joy and encouragement to Paul.

If you’re a bit cynical, Paul’s comments here might sound like a lot of rainbows, butterflies, and pixie dust.  Is Paul inflating Philemon’s ego, only to deflate it with the issue of Onesimus?  Or is Paul using exaggerated, effusive speech and being insincere about his comments toward Philemon in order to get something from him?

No, it seems that Paul is quite sincere in his words.  So why does Paul use such kind words with Philemon?   I believe one of the reasons is that Paul sees and hears of godly character traits in Philemon’s life, and it thrills Paul’s heart to hear of such a great example for so many.

Another reason I believe Paul uses these kind words is that Paul knows that Philemon is a kind and generous person that also knows how to forgive.  If Philemon knows how to love the Lord and to love God’s people, he also knows how to forgive himself and others.  And Philemon’s understanding of forgiveness is not just head knowledge – it’s heart practice lived out in real life before many who have witnessed this godly man’s actions as well as his words.

Lord, help us to live our lives in such a way that others give You glory for Your work in and through us.

Lord, we often fall short in the area of love for You and for others.  This shortfall includes forgiveness, for if we won’t forgive others, we have not loved completely.  You loved us so much that You forgave us of all our sins, and gave Your life as a ransom for ours.

Help us love unconditionally, following Your example as You loved us and continue to love us.

Lord, help us to remember that love is a verb (an action to be lived out), not a noun (a feeling or a thing).  Thank You for your example of loving well.


Philemon 1-3

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philemon vv. 1-7 NIV)

As we begin our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, let’s take a look at the introduction (vv. 1-3) first.

In verse 1, Paul clearly identifies himself as the author of the letter.   This was the style in ancient letters – the writer would identify himself or herself immediately.

From history, we know that Paul founded the church at Colossae.  While Philemon was not mentioned specifically anywhere else in Scriptures, scholars believe that Paul personally led Philemon to the Lord during his time in Colossae.

How do you react when you get a personal letter from someone who has had such a major impact on your life?  Imagine being Philemon’s place for a moment, and how you would respond to receiving a letter from the “Paul” (your spiritual mentor) in your life.

Notice how Paul identifies himself – as a prisoner of Jesus Christ.  From the outside, it would appear that Paul was a prisoner of Rome.  But Paul’s body, soul, and spirit were captivated by Jesus Christ long before he became a prisoner of the Roman government.  Paul is not looking for sympathy – he is simply letting Philemon know what’s going on in his life.  This was likely no surprise to Philemon.

Also, I think it’s important to observe how Paul does not identify himself.  With most of Paul’s other letters, he identifies himself and his God-given authority as “an apostle of Jesus Christ”.  In this letter, however, Paul has no need to establish his authority with Philemon – this is a letter to a friend.

Paul also notes that Timothy, his young helper and minister of the Gospel is with him.  We know that Paul sent Timothy out to various churches to minister and teach; at this point in time, Timothy is back with Paul.

Paul then addresses the recipient of the letter – Philemon.  Notice how Paul addresses him – as a “dear friend and fellow worker”.  Coming from Paul, this is a huge compliment and vote of confidence.  In reading this greeting alone, Philemon likely had an extra spring in his step and incredible joy in his heart from Paul’s words.

In verse 2, Paul addresses two other people and gives them his greeting.  Scholars believe that Apphia was Philemon’s wife, and Archippus was their son who lived in Philemon’s house and was a part of Philemon’s house church.  No matter what Apphia’s and Archippus’ familial relationship may have been to Philemon, Paul addressed them from the spiritual context as workers in the house church that Philemon hosted.

Of these three (Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus), only Archipppus was mentioned elsewhere in Scriptures.  In Colossians 4:17, Paul encourages Archippus to finish the ministry that the Lord had given him – an encouragement to stay committed to Christ and His calling, no matter the difficulties or pain or hardship.

Paul also sent his greetings to the house church as well.  We don’t know if Paul knew any of the house church attendees or not.  But regardless, Paul knew that if they were fellow worshippers and followers of Jesus Christ and under the care of Philemon and his family, they were in good hands and Paul wanted to encourage them also.

Paul concludes his introduction and greeting with a blessing of grace and peace.  God’s Grace is the means of our salvation, and Peace is the result of receiving God’s grace.

And where do Grace and Peace come from?  None other than God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whom has discipled you along your walk with the Lord?  And who have you discipled that you see growing in their spiritual journey?

Take some time to write three notes:

  1. A letter of thankfulness to your spiritual mentor for investing in you and your walk with the Lord.
  2. A letter of blessing and encouragement to those you have had the privilege of walking alongside in their faith journey.
  3. A letter of praise and worship or prayer to the Lord for His grace, peace, and leading in your life.


Introduction to Philemon

Today we begin our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, the one-chapter New Testament book tucked neatly between Titus and Hebrews.

We know that this book was written by the Apostle Paul, as he identifies himself at the very beginning of the letter.

We also know that Paul wrote this letter from prison, as he clearly states in verse 1.  Scholars guess that Paul wrote this letter along with the other so-called “prison epistles” (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians) around 60 – 62 AD.

The primary theme of the book is forgiveness, although Paul never directly uses the word (at least not in the NIV translation we are studying).

We know that Philemon was a house church leader in Colossae.  We also know that Paul had a major influence in Philemon’s spiritual life and growth as a follower of Christ.

The subject of the letter is Philemon’s slave Onesimus, who had stolen some money from Philemon and run away to Rome.  Paul’s letter does not state why Onesimus ran away; history tells us that runaway slaves were common in the day.

Again, the text does not give us the details, but somehow Onesimus meets Paul and Paul leads him to the Lord.  When Paul learns Onesimus’ story and finds out his master is Philemon, Paul is faced with a dilemma and knows what he must do – send Onesimus back to Philemon.

Here’s the link to Paul’s letter to Philemon – a mere 25 verses that you can familiarize yourself with before we begin our study in subsequent days.

As you read Paul’s letter to a dear friend, may you see God’s grace and forgiveness received and given to others.