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Bible Commentaries
Philemon 1

The Bible Study New TestamentBible Study NT

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Verse 1


From Paid, a prisoner. He is a prisoner at Rome as he writes this, but living in his own house (Acts 28:16 and note). Our brother Timothy. This shows us that Timothy was at Rome with Paul. Philemon. This man must have lived in Colossae. Paul had brought him to Christ (Philemon 1:19), but this may have taken place at Ephesus (Johnson thinks so). They were friends and fellow workers in the gospel. Probably Paul intends to point to the fact that all Christians, even slaves and masters, are fellow workers.

Verse 2


And the church. House-churches were common in the first century, but they also met in the temple (Acts 2:46), and in other buildings (Acts 19:9-10). Apphia. She may have been Philemon’s wife. “Sister” may, like “brother” Timothy, point to one who takes an active role in the gospel. Compare Romans 16:12. Archippus. Some think he was Philemon’s son. “Fellow soldier” shows he was a minister in the gospel (evangelist). He is mentioned in Colossians 4:17. Meyer points to the tact of Paul in those associated with Philemon in the house, but not going beyond the limits of the house.

Verse 3


Give you grace and peace. This is Paul’s usual word of greeting. In Jewish theology, one main purpose of the Messiah was to bring grace and peace (see Luke 2:14).

Verse 4


Every time I pray. Here he begins to speak directly to Philemon. Paul made it a habit to pray for God’s people.

Verse 5


For I hear of your love. Note Paul puts Philemon’s love ahead of his faith.

Verse 6


Our fellowship with you. Bengelius thinks this means Philemon partaking of faith in common with other Christians. A deeper understanding. See Philippians 1:9-11 and notes.

Verse 7


Your love. By this Paul must mean Philemon’s active Christian life. Paul speaks about the moment of jubilation he experienced when he heard the good news about Philemon and the messianic community at Colossae (probably brought by Epaphras, Colossians 1:7-8).

Verse 8


I could be bold enough. Since he has heard so much about the love which Philemon has, he has confidence in what he would do, to just go ahead and order him to accept Onesimus. This would be his right as an apostle.

Verse 9


But love compels me. “Yet love compels me not to use my authority, but to make a request instead. I have the right to order you, but I will not do this.” [The TEV follows Lightfoot in reading PRESBEUTES = ambassador.]

Verse 10


Who is my own son in Christ. It is possible that Epaphras met Onesimus in Rome, and brought him to Paul. However, it was Paul who won him to Christ and became his spiritual father.

Verse 11


At one time. Onesimus may have been a troublemaker in the past. The Expositor’s Greek Testament says: “As applied to Onesimus the reference must be to something wrong done by him; the fear of being punished for this was presumably his reason for running away from his master.” But now. The “old” Onesimus no longer exists (2 Corinthians 5:17 : Romans 6:6-7). He will serve Philemon as a good slave now!

Verse 12


I am sending him. This means: “Onesimus wants to come back to you now, and I am sending him.” And with bun goes my heart. This shows the close friendship between Paul and Onesimus. To be cruel to him would be cruel to Paul as well.

Verse 13


To keep him here. “I am the ambassador of Christ. Since I know you would help me if you were here, Onesimus your slave could help me in your place. And I would like to keep him here, since he has already been so much help to me.”

Verse 14


However. Paul could have kept Onesimus and Philemon would surely have pardoned him. But this might not have been the ethical way to do it. Paul sends him back to Philemon, so that it is clearly his free will when he takes Onesimus back into his family.

Verse 15


It may be. “I know it made you unhappy when your slave ran away, but think about this. This may be God’s providence at work. He will now be your slave for life.” [Some see a reference to Deuteronomy 15:16-17 in this.]

Verse 16


He is not Just a slave. Here is the vital difference in the slave – master relationship!!! This slave is now a brother in Christ to his master. How much he means to me! To prevent any possibility of Philemon being offended because Paul is telling him his slave is his brother, Paul mentions the Christian love which also binds him to this slave as a brother.

Verse 17


Welcome him back. Christian love means: “to treat others as God has treated you.” Paul says to treat this slave just as if he were Paul himself.

Verse 18


Charge it to my account. Some think this implies Onesimus had robbed Philemon, but this is not necessarily so. It was enough of a crime to run away.

Verse 19


I, Paul, will pay you back. This is Paul’s promissory-note guaranteeing repayment. These are not empty words! This is a legal form! Roman law would enforce this, if Philemon put in the claim. You owe your very life to me. Paul had led him out of the guilt and power of sin, into the safety of Christ! Yet Paul will not make this an obligation to force him to take back his slave.

Verse 20


Please do me this favor. By cheerfully doing what I ask.

Verse 21


I am sure. “As I write this letter, I am sure you will do even more than I ask.” Some see in this a hint of the authority which Paul actually had (compare Acts 13:8-12). Some also see in this a hint that Philemon would give Onesimus his freedom.

Verse 22


At the same time. All the Letters written during the first imprisonment show that Paul expected to be set free from his confinement. [Contrast this with 2 Timothy 4:6.]

Verse 23


Epaphras. See notes on Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12. He was also in prison with Paul. SUNAICHMALOTOS means “a prisoner of war.” But Paul may only mean that Epaphras was with him in his imprisonment.

Verse 24


My fellow workers. These are also in Rome with him. Mark. See the introduction to the Gospel of Mark. Aristarchus. See Acts 27:2. Demas. See note on Colossians 4:14. Lake. See introduction to the Gospel of Luke.

Verse 25


With you all. Paul’s benediction is to all mentioned in this Letter including all who make up the church in Philemon’s house. See Philemon 1:2-3.

Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Philemon 1". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/philemon-1.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
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