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Bible Commentaries

Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures
Philemon 1

 

 

Verses 1-3

Salutation - Philemon 1:1-3 is called the salutation, which introductory greeting is found in all thirteen of Paul's New Testament epistles. Paul wrote his salutations as a signature of authenticity ( 2 Thessalonians 3:17) just like we place our signature today at the end of a letter. He may have written entire epistles as indicated in Philemon 1:19. However, there are indications in six of his epistles that Paul used an amanuensis to write most of his letters (see Romans 16:22, 1 Corinthians 16:21, Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 1:19).

2 Thessalonians 3:17, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write."

Paul opens his epistle to Philemon by greeting him, his wife and associate or son ( Philemon 1:1-2). He then prays his typical blessing of God's grace and peace upon them ( Philemon 1:3).

Philemon 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,

Philemon 1:1 — Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ - Word Study on "prisoner" - Strong and BDAG say the Greek word "prisoner" ( δεσμιος) (G 1198) means, "in bonds, a prisoner." Note other uses of this same Greek word.

Ephesians 3:1, "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,"

Ephesians 4:1, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,"

Philemon 1:9, "Yet for love"s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ."

Comments - Paul's Various Forms of Address- To those churches and individuals in which Paul displayed his apostleship over them in order to give correction and doctrine, he introduces himself as "an apostle of Jesus Christ" ( Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:1, Titus 1:1). To the Philippians , Paul describes himself as a "servant." This is because within the context of this epistle Paul will give examples of himself ( Philippians 1:12-25), of Jesus Christ ( Philippians 2:1-11), of Timothy ( Philippians 2:19-24), and of Epaphroditus ( Philippians 2:25-30), as servants who laid aside their own wills and in order that to fulfill the will of those in authority over them. For this is the message and theme of Paul's epistle to the Philippians. To Philemon , Paul declares himself as a "prisoner of Jesus Christ," because his message to Philemon was about a slave, or prisoner, who was serving Philemon. In his two letters to the church of Thessalonica Paul defers the use of a title in order to equate himself as co-workers with Silas and Timothy. This is because he emphasizes their need to labour together until Jesus returns.

Comments - Paul the Prisoner- Paul wrote this epistle in order to set free a prisoner in the flesh, knowing that he himself was a prisoner of Jesus Christ in the spiritual sense, who could not be set free from his calling. Thus, he introduces himself to Philemon as a prisoner in order for his recipient better understand his plea to release a slave named Onesimus.

Philemon 1:1 — "unto Philemon our dearly beloved" - Word Study on "Philemon" - Strong says the Greek name φιλήμων (G 5371) means, "friendly." Thayer says it means, "one who kisses." Zodhiates says it means, "affectionate." Strong says this name is derived from φίλημα (G 5370), which means, "a kiss" (Strong, BDAG).

Comments- The Apostolic Constitutions, a collection of ecclesiastical law that is believed to have been compiled during the latter half of the fourth century, gives us a list of the earliest bishops of the New Testament churches. This ancient document states that a man by the name of " Philemon ," who had a servant by the name of Onesimus, became the bishop of the church at Colossae. There is little doubt that this is referring to the same individual, since the names of Archippus and Onesimus, which also occur in the epistle to Philemon , are referred to in the same passage.

"Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these…Of Laodicea in Phrygia, Archippus. Of Colossae, Philemon. Of Borea in Macedonia, Onesimus, once the servant of Philemon." (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 746) (ANF 7)

Philemon 1:1 — "and fellowlabourer" - Comments- Paul uses the words "fellowprisoners," "fellowlabourers," and "fellowhelpers" in a number of his epistles. These words go deeper in meaning than just describing their personal relationships with Paul. It also describes their spiritual relationship with him in the sense that they were partners and partakers of Paul's sufferings as well as his heavenly rewards. In other words, these words describe people would receive the same rewards in heaven that Paul would receive because they stood with him during these difficult times.

Philemon 1:1Comments- In his opening greeting to Philemon , Paul does not refer to his office of an apostle because he is writing a personal letter to a friend. Within this letter, Paul will refer to his authority over the churches, but he will ask Philemon in love to follow through with his request. Paul realizes that his apostolic authority will not have near the influence on Philemon as his personal friendship with him when presenting his request. Paul opens his epistle introducing himself as a slave of Christ Jesus so as to let Philemon hear the chains of slavery ring in his ears, and thus, touch his heart. Philemon must first see his own dear friend, Paul the apostle, bound in slavery, in order to sympathize with him and better understand God's view on this issue. Philemon could not avoid being touched by this opening verse from Paul, the very man who set him free in Christ from the bondages of sin.

Philemon 1:2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:

Philemon 1:2 — "And to our beloved Apphia" - Word Study on "Apphia" - Apphia ( ἀπφία) (G 682) is a feminine Greek name that is mentioned nowhere else in the Scriptures. Adam Clarke says this name is derived from the Greek word απφα, which according to Suidas was used as "the affectionate address of a brother or a sister, or the diminutive of a brother and sister, used to express kindness and affection." 66] Thayer says the name means, "fruitful." It is generally believed that she was the wife of Philemon , since this feminine name immediately follows his.

66] Adam Clarke, Philemon , in Adam Clarke"s Commentary, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc, 1996), in P.C. Study Bible, v 31 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc, 1993-2000), notes on Philemon 1:1; Suidae Lexicon Graece et Latin, tom prioris, pars prior (A-E), eds. Thomam Gaisfordum and Godofredus Bernhardy (Halis et Brunsvigae: Sumptibus Schwetschkiorum, 1853), Colossians 681.

Philemon 1:2 — "and Archippus" - Word Study on "Archippus" - The name "Archippus" literally means, "the master of the horse" (Thayer), or, "the chief groom" (PTW). He may have been the son of Philemon.

Comments- The Apostolic Constitutions, a collection of ecclesiastical law that is believed to have been compiled during the latter half of the fourth century, gives us a list of the earliest bishops. This ancient document states that there was a man by the name of "Archippus" who became the bishop of the church at Laodicea in Phrygia. There is little doubt that this is referring to the same individual, since the names of Philemon and Onesimus are referred to in the same passage.

"Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these…Of Laodicea in Phrygia, Archippus. Of Colossae, Philemon. Of Borea in Macedonia, Onesimus, once the servant of Philemon." (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 746) (ANF 7)

In Colossians 4:17, Archippus had received a ministry in the Lord, and he was told to fulfill it.

Colossians 4:17, "And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it."

This verse in Colossians implies that Archippus, as a "fellowsoldier" was involved in some form of Christian service and sacrifice. Thus, many scholars believe that he was left in charge of the church at Colossi in the absence of Epaphras who was visiting Paul during his Roman imprisonment.

Philemon 1:2 — "and to the church in thy house" - Word Study on "thy" - The verb "thy" is singular and is commonly believed to refer to Philemon. However, this could grammatically be allowed to refer to ministry of Archippus, which is mentioned in Colossians 4:17.

Colossians 4:17, "And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it."

Comments (1) The Church in Philemon's House- Many scholars believe that Paul's statement, "and to the church in thy house" is a reference to the meeting place for the believers in Colossae. It was Philemon's house that appears to be big enough to host this congregation. In fact, the common meeting places for the early churches were in the homes of those members who were wealthy or able to accommodate them. Thus, at Colossi the congregation met in the house of Philemon ( Philemon 1:2). At Ephesus the congregation initially met in the school of Tyrannus ( Acts 19:9) before later meeting in the house of Aquila and Prisca ( 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5). At Corinth the church met initially in the house of Justus ( Acts 18:7), and later in the house of Gaius, as the congregation grew in number ( Romans 16:23). At Laodicea one congregation met in the house of Nympha ( Colossians 4:15). In Philippi the early believers probably met in the house of Lydia ( Acts 16:15). In Thessalonica the first converts probably met in the house of Jason ( Acts 17:5). This was the way Jesus Christ commanded His disciples in Matthew 10:11-13 to find a place of rest during their travels, by staying in the homes of those who received their message.

Matthew 10:11-13, "And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you."

Comments (2) Recipients- Goodspeed notes that because this epistle is also addressed to the church that meets in the house of Philemon as secondary recipients ( Philemon 1:2), it suggest that this is an issue that will be made as a congregation, rather than as an individual. 67] Certainly, Philemon would not respond to Paul's request without taking into consideration the views of the church members. The weight of Paul's plea reminds Philemon of his inferior position under Paul's apostolic authority in this matter. Thus, in a sense, this is a congregational letter where Paul gives instructions to them under apostolic authority.

67] Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1937), 115.

Philemon 1:3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:3Comments (The Pauline Greeting) - J. Vernon McGee says the word "grace" in Paul's greetings was a formal greeting used in Greek letters of his day, while the word "peace" was the customary Jewish greeting. 68] More specifically, John Grassmick says the Greek word χαίρειν was a common greeting in classical Greek epistles, so that χάρις was a "word play" that Paul began to use in conjunction with the Hebrew greeting "peace." 69] Thus, Paul would be addressing both Greeks and Jews. However, Paul uses these same two words in his epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon , which weakens the idea that Paul intended to make such a distinction between two ethnic groups when using "grace" and "peace." Perhaps this greeting became customary for Paul and lost its distinctive elements. A different view is proposed by James Denny, who explains the relationship of these two words as a cause and effect. He says that grace is God's unmerited favor upon mankind, and the peace is the result of receiving His grace and forgiveness of sins. 70] In a similar statement, Charles Simeon says the phrase "‘grace and peace' comprehended all the blessings of the Gospel." 71]

68] J. Vernon McGee, The Epistle to the Romans , in Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub, 1998), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 21c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2000-2004), comments on Romans 1:1.

69] John D. Grassmick, "Epistolary Genre," in Interpreting the New Testament Text, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006), 232.

70] James Denney, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, in The Expositor's Bible, eds. William R. Nicoll and Oscar L. Joseph (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, n.d.), 15-16.

71] Charles Simeon, 2 Peter , in Horae Homileticae, vol 20: James to Jude (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), 285.

Comments (The Pauline Blessing) - In a similar way that the early apostles were instructed by Jesus to let their peace come upon the home of their host ( Matthew 10:13), so did Paul the apostle open every one of his thirteen New Testament epistles with a blessing of God's peace and grace upon his readers. Matthew 10:13 shows that you can bless a house by speaking God"s peace upon it.

Matthew 10:13, "And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you."

This practice of speaking blessings upon God's children may have its roots in the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27, where God instructed Moses to have the priests speak a blessing upon the children of Israel. We see in Ruth 2:4 that this blessing became a part of the Jewish culture when greeting people. Boaz blessed his workers in the field and his reapers replied with a blessing.

Ruth 2:4, "And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee."

We also see this practiced by the king in 2 Samuel 15:20 where David says, "mercy and truth be with thee."

2 Samuel 15:20, "Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee."

Thus, this word of blessing was a part of the Hebrew and Jewish culture. This provides us the background as to why Paul was speaking a blessing upon Timothy, especially that God would grant him more of His grace and abiding peace that he would have otherwise not known. In faith, we too, can receive this same blessing into our lives. Paul actually pronounces and invokes a blessing of divine grace and peace upon his readers with these words, "Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord." I do not believe this blessing is unconditional, but rather conditional. In other words, it is based upon the response of his hearers. The more they obey these divine truths laid forth in this epistle, the more God's grace and peace is multiplied in their lives. We recall how the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, with six tribes standing upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people and six tribes upon Mount Ebal to curse the disobedient ( Deuteronomy 27:11-26). Thus, the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28:1-68 were placed upon the land. All who obeyed the Law received these blessings, and all who disobeyed received this list of curses. In the same way Paul invokes a blessing into the body of Christ for all who will hearken unto the divine truths of this epistle. We see this obligation of the recipients in the translation by Beck of 2 Peter 1:2, "As you know God and our Lord Jesus, may you enjoy more and more of His love and peace."

Comments (The Use of the Word ‘Mercy' in Pauling Greetings) - Regarding the word "mercy" in Pauline greetings, it is interesting to note that this word is only used by Paul in his introductions to the Pastoral Epistles ( 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4), while the word is lacking in the introductions to his other epistles ( Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:3). One suggestion as to why Paul blessed these leaders with mercy and not the congregations is because this is one quality that every pastor must exhibit in order to work with people. We find in Romans 12:6-8 that mercy is a gift. Thus, Paul may have been blessing Timothy and Titus with mercy so that they would have it to minister to others.


Verses 1-7

Introduction - The introduction contains the address ( Philemon 1:1-2), the customary blessing ( Philemon 1:3), and a prayer of thanksgiving ( Philemon 1:4-7).

Outline - Here is a propose outline:

1. Salutation — Philemon 1:1-3

2. Paul's Prayer of Thanksgiving — Philemon 1:4-7


Verses 4-7

Paul's Prayer of Thanksgiving - In Philemon 1:4-7 Paul expresses a pray of thanksgiving for Philemon's love and service to all of the saints. He prays that Philemon's expression of obedience to Paul in receiving Onesimus back as a brother in Christ would affect other believers who were dealing with the issue of slavery. In other words, Philemon was to set the example of how the Church is to deal with legalized slavery by treating them with love as brothers in Christ, and not with cruelty as purchased property.

A Description of the Office of a Pastor - We find in Philemon 1:4-7 an amazingly simple description of the office and ministry of a pastor, who is to shepherd the sheep with love and compassion. Paul tells him in this passage that his walk of faith serves as an example for others to learn how to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

Philemon 1:5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

Philemon 1:6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

Philemon 1:6"That the communication of thy faith" - Word Study on "effectual" - Strong says the Greek word "effectual" ( ἐνεργής) (G 1756) means, "active, operative." BDAG says it means, "effective, active, powerful."

Word Study on "acknowledging" - Strong says the Greek word "acknowledging" ( ἐπίγνωσις) (G 1922) means, "recognition, full discernment, acknowledgement." BDAG says it means, "knowledge, recognition." Note other uses of this Greek word:

Ephesians 1:17, "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:"

Ephesians 4:13, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect Prayer of Manasseh , unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:"

Colossians 1:10, "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;"

Colossians 3:10, "And have put on the new Prayer of Manasseh , which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:"

Philippians 1:9, "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;"

2 Peter 1:2-3, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:"

Also,

2 Corinthians 7:1, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."

Comments- Thayer translates this phrase, "participating" in the faith. BDAG translates this phrase, "that your participation in the faith may be made known through your deeds" (see BDAG κοινωνία 4).

Philemon 1:6Comments - In Philemon 1:6 we read Paul's prayer to them. He thanks God and prays the words of this verse. Paul is basically praying that Philemon's expression of faith and love in regards to his acceptance of Onesimus as a brother in Christ would affect other believers who were dealing with the issue of slavery. In other words, Philemon was to set the example of how the Church is to deal with legalized slavery by treating them with love as brothers in Christ, and not with cruelty as purchased property.

Scripture References- Note:

Philippians 4:6, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."

1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

Philemon 1:7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

Philemon 1:7Comments - The reason that Philemon was able to bring refreshment to the souls of his fellow saints as mentioned in Philemon 1:7 is because he walked in love with them as Paul first mentioned in Philemon 1:4.


Verses 8-21

Paul's Plea for Onesimus - In Philemon 1:8-21, which is the body of this epistle, Paul gives a plea for Philemon to receive Onesimus back in the spirit of Christ. He wisely bases his plea, not on his power and authority to command Philemon , but rather, in a spirit of love and gentleness he exhorts him ( Philemon 1:8-9). Paul refers to Onesimus initially, not as a slave, but as a servant of Christ and now a brother in the Lord ( Philemon 1:10). This gives Onesimus the qualification of being profitable to both the author and the recipient ( Philemon 1:11). Paul then offers him back to Philemon in a gesture of submission to the master's will, while making him aware of his value to Paul ( Philemon 1:12-14). After presenting Onesimus as a valuable asset ( Philemon 1:10-14), Paul then leans on divine providence as a basis for receiving him as a brother in the Lord ( Philemon 1:15-16). Paul then uses his close relationship with Philemon as a basis for receiving Onesimus in a spirit of Christian love ( Philemon 1:17-20). He seems to be attempting to make Philemon aware of the spiritual benefits of receiving Onesimus back that would make up for any material losses caused by his departure. Paul closes his plea on a positive note of affirmation that Philemon would consider his plea ( Philemon 1:21) just has he preceded his plea on a positive note of thanksgiving ( Philemon 1:4-7).

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Exhortation of Love — Philemon 1:8-9

2. The Basis of Paul's Plea — Philemon 1:10-20

Based On His Value — Philemon 1:10-14

Based On Divine Providence — Philemon 1:15-16

Based On Their Close Relationship — Philemon 1:17-20

3. Affirmation of Love — Philemon 1:21

Philemon 1:8-9Exhortation of Love- He wisely bases his plea, not on his power and authority to command Philemon , but rather, upon a spirit of love and gentleness by which Paul exhorts him ( Philemon 1:8-9).

Paul Bases His Plea on a Spirit of Willingness, and not Compulsion- Why does Paul say, "I beseech you" so many times in his epistles? Perhaps he uses this phrase because loves them dearly. Philemon 1:9 says, "for love"s sake I rather beseech thee." He says this because he wants them to serve Christ willingly, and not "grudgingly, or of necessity" ( 2 Corinthians 9:7).

2 Corinthians 9:7, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver."

They have a reward for serving Christ willingly, but a stewardship or responsibility though it be against their will.

1 Corinthians 9:17, "For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me."

He beseeches them so that their Christian deeds would not be by compulsion, but of their own free will.

Philemon 1:14, "But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly."

Peter tells the bishops to oversee the flock, not from compulsion (by force), but willingly oversee the flock.

1 Peter 5:2, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;"

For example, when a father teachers a child, he had much rather see his child obey willingly rather than to obey just because he is made to do Song of Solomon , although sometimes commandments are necessary to a child.

If Paul would have forced Philemon into a decision, he may have obtained freedom for Onesimus, but he would have brought Philemon into religious bondage.

Philemon 1:8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,

Philemon 1:8Word Study on "to enjoin" - Webster says the English word "enjoin" means, "to order, to charge."

Philemon 1:8"that which is convenient" - Comments- Paraphrasing, "what is proper, or one's duty to do."


Verses 10-14

Paul Bases His Plea on the Value of Onesimus as an Asset to Both of Them - The first reason is based upon the value that Onesimus has become to both of them ( Philemon 1:10-14). Paul refers to Onesimus initially, not as a slave, but as a servant of Christ and now a brother in the Lord ( Philemon 1:10). This gives Onesimus the qualification of being profitable to both the author and the recipient ( Philemon 1:11). Paul then offers him back to Philemon in a gesture of submission to the master's will, while making him aware of his value to Paul ( Philemon 1:12-14).

Philemon 1:10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Philemon 1:10 — "Onesimus" - Word Study on "Onesimus" - Strong says the Greek name όνησιμος (G 3682) means literally, "profitable," and it comes from the Greek word ( όνησις) (G 3685), which means, "to gratify, to derive pleasure or advantage from."

Comment- Paul is using a play on words, or synonyms, in calling Onesimus first, "unprofitable ( άχρηστον)," then, "profitable ( εύχρηστον)."

Philemon 1:11, "Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:"

Philemon 1:10Comments - The Apostolic Constitutions state that Philemon did free his slave Onesimus.

"We do not permit servants to be ordained into the clergy without their masters" consent; for this would grieve those that owned them. For such a practice would occasion the subversion of families. But if at any time a servant appears worthy to be ordained into an high office, such as our Onesimus appeared to be, and if his master allows of it, and gives him his freedom, and dismisses him from his house, let him be ordained." (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: The Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostle, 74782) (ANF 7)

The writings of the early church fathers mention Onesimus as the bishop of Ephesus.

"I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop." (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 1)

"And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth." (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 6)

The Apostolic Constitutions, a collection of ecclesiastical law that is believed to have been compiled during the latter half of the fourth century, gives us a list of the earliest bishops. This ancient document states that there was a man by the name of "Onesimus" who became the bishop of the church at Borea in Macedonia. There is little doubt that this is referring to the same individual, since the names of Archippus and Philemon , which also occur in the epistle to Philemon , are referred to in the same passage.

"Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these…Of Laodicea in Phrygia, Archippus. Of Colossae, Philemon. Of Borea in Macedonia, Onesimus, once the servant of Philemon." (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 746) (ANF 7)

In addition, the name of Onesimus occurs in the epistle to the Colossians and refers to him as a resident of that city.

Colossians 4:9, "With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here."

Philemon 1:12Comments- The bowels are a reference to Paul's own deepest affections and heart of love. No matter how mature in the Lord and how famous in Christian circles Paul encountered, his heart was to love even the "least of these my brethren."

Philemon 1:14Comments- Paul wants Philemon to receive his servant back willing, and not out of compulsion. This is why Paul exhorts him to do Song of Solomon , rather than commanding him so. Paul uses a similar expression in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he asks the church at Corinth to give cheerfully, and not out of compulsion.

2 Corinthians 9:7, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver."


Verses 10-20

The Basis for the Plea- Paul then presents his plea while presenting three reasons to Philemon for receiving him back.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Based on His Value — Philemon 1:10-14

2. Based on Divine Providence — Philemon 1:15-16

3. Based on Their Close Relationship — Philemon 1:17-20


Verse 15-16

Paul Bases His Plea on Divine Providence- After presenting Onesimus as a valuable asset ( Philemon 1:10-14), Paul then leans on divine providence as a basis for receiving back his runaway slave as a brother in the Lord ( Philemon 1:15-16). In Philemon 1:15-16 Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus possibly departed for a season in order that the outcome would be to receive him forever. Here Paul appeals to divine providence. It is important to note that Paul was not making this up, but rather, he was looking deeper and wider into this issue than most people can see. The longer we serve the Lord, the more we see God's hand in our lives as divine providence. Paul knew very well how God oversees the smallest areas of our lives.

Philemon 1:15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

Philemon 1:16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

Philemon 1:16"both in the flesh, and in the Lord" - Comments- Note 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. When we are saved, we are still in the flesh, but are new creatures in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17, "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."


Verses 17-20

Paul Bases His Plea on His Close Relationship with Philemon - Paul then uses his close relationship with Philemon as a basis for receiving Onesimus in a spirit of Christian love ( Philemon 1:17-20). He seems to be attempting to make Philemon aware of the spiritual benefits of receiving Onesimus back that would make up for any material losses caused by his departure.

Philemon 1:19 — "I Paul have written it with mine own hand" - Comments- Paul wrote his salutations as a signature of authenticity ( 2 Thessalonians 3:17) just like we place our signature today at the end of a document. He may have written entire epistles as indicated in Philemon 1:19. However, there are indications in six of his epistles that Paul used an amanuensis to write most of his letters.

Romans 16:22, "I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord."

1 Corinthians 16:21, "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand."

Galatians 6:11, "Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand."

Colossians 4:18, "The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen."

2 Thessalonians 3:17, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write."

Philemon 1:19, "I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides."

Philemon 1:19Comments- Paul reminds Philemon of his own conversion so that he will remember how God had mercy upon him in hopes that Philemon would take it upon himself to share this same mercy on Onesimus and see the inconsistency of his act of enslavement over him.

Philemon 1:17-19Comments - Paul's Efforts to Reconcile Onesimus with Philemon - Philemon 1:17-19 shows that Paul was sending back Onesimus to make things right with his master, who he has apparently wronged. We can only speculate as to how Onesimus may have wronged him. Perhaps he took some money or other items secretly in order to pay his travel expenses to Rome. Paul was willing to pay his debt, but he first reminded Philemon that he owed Paul a greater spiritual debt for bringing him to Christ.

In this passage of Scripture Paul gives Philemon two charges, each one anticipating the objectives of the former. Paul first tells Philemon to receive Onesimus. If Philemon had an objection because of his slave's wrongdoing, Paul follows with a charge to put any wrongdoing on his own account. Paul then reminds Philemon of a person debt, putting Philemon in a position where no was not a reasonable response.


Verse 21

Paul's Affirmation of Love- Paul closes his plea on a positive note of affirmation that Philemon would consider his plea ( Philemon 1:21) just has he preceded his plea on a positive note of thanksgiving ( Philemon 1:4-7).

Philemon 1:21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.


Verses 22-25

The Conclusion - The conclusion contains a comment on Paul's intend to visit Philemon , a list of Paul's co-workers sending greetings, and a benediction.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Final Greetings — Philemon 1:22-24

2. Benediction — Philemon 1:25

Philemon 1:22-24 — Final Greetings - Paul closes his epistle with a comment on his intent to visit Philemon soon ( Philemon 1:22), and he sends greetings from his co-workers to those in Colossi ( Philemon 1:23-24).

Philemon 1:22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

Philemon 1:22Comments - Paul uses the second person plural in Philemon 1:22 to tell him that he was coming to see all of those who were a part of this house church ( Philemon 1:2). In other words, Paul was not just coming to see Philemon , but he also wanted to see how this congregation had responded to Philemon's decision to free his slave Onesimus.

We know that Paul intended on traveling on to Spain after his trip to Rome ( Romans 15:24).

Romans 15:24, "Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company."

However, we read in his Prison Epistles, which were written approximately four years later, how Paul made the decision to immediately return to Asia after his Roman imprisonment and strengthen the churches there. Note Paul's second reference in the Prison Epistles of his plans to visit Asia.

Philippians 2:24, "But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly."

The reason for Paul's change of plans may be that it had been reported to Paul about the heresies that were attacking the Colossian church and perhaps other nearby churches in Asia.

Philemon 1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;

Philemon 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

Philemon 1:24 — "my fellowlabourers" - Comments- Eusebius (A.D 260 to 340) tells us that Paul is referring here to many of those whom he has listed in several of his epistles, giving them an eternal memorial by calling their names in his writings.

"But the number and the names of those among them that became true and zealous followers of the apostles, and were judged worthy to tend the churches rounded by them, it is not easy to tell, except those mentioned in the writings of Paul. For he had innumerable fellow-laborers, or "fellow-soldiers," as he called them, and most of them were honored by him with an imperishable memorial, for he gave enduring testimony concerning them in his own epistles." (Ecclesiastical History 343-4)

We can find the names of several of his fellowlabourers, then, by simply looking in his epistles. See a long list of names in Romans 16.

Philemon 1:23-24Comments- Greetings from Paul's Co-Workers - Philemon 1:23-24 contains greetings from five of Paul's co-workers. Although the KJV is a little difficult to read in this passage, the ASV makes the Greek text more understandable by reading, "Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, saluteth thee; and so do Mark , Aristarchus, Demas, Luke , my fellow-workers."

We find these same five names of Epaphras, Mark , Aristarchus, Demas and Luke in the closing greetings of the epistle to the Colossians ( Colossians 4:10-14). However, we find a sixth name, Justus, in the Colossian letter that is not given here in Philemon 1:23-24.

Philemon 1:23-24Comments - Paul's Fellowlabourers - Paul uses the words "fellowprisoners," "fellowlabourers," and "fellowhelpers" in a number of his epistles. These words go deeper in meaning than just describing their personal relationships with Paul. It also describes their spiritual relationship with him in the sense that as they were partners and partakers of Paul's labours and sufferings, they will also be partakers of his heavenly rewards. In other words, these words describe people would receive the same rewards in heaven that Paul would receive because they stood with him during these difficult times.

Philemon 1:25 — Benediction- Paul ends his letter with a benediction prayer to all of his recipients. The phrase "your spirit" is a plural pronoun referring to all of those listed in his opening greeting.

Philemon 1:25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Philemon 1:25 — "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" - Comments- In a similar way that the early apostles were instructed by Jesus to let their peace come upon the home of their host ( Matthew 10:13), so did Paul the apostle open every one of his thirteen New Testament epistles with a blessing of God's peace and grace upon his readers. Matthew 10:13 shows that you can bless a house by speaking God"s peace upon it.

Matthew 10:13, "And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you."

This practice of speaking blessings upon God's children may have its roots in the Priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27, where God instructed Moses to have the priests speak a blessing upon the children of Israel. Now Paul closes his epistle to Philemon by restating the blessing that he opened his epistle with in Philemon 1:3.

Philemon 1:25 — "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" - Comments- In Philemon 1:25 Paul basically commends them into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, in much the same way that he did in the book of Acts. We find this statement at the end of all of Paul's epistles.

Acts 14:23, "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed."

Acts 20:32, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."

Philemon 1:25 — "Amen" - Comments- In the Textus Receptus the word "Amen" is attached to the end of all thirteen of Paul's epistles, as well as to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark , and to the General Epistles of Hebrews , 1, 2 Peter , 1, 2 John , and to the book of Revelation. However, because "Amen" is not supported in more ancient manuscripts many scholars believe that this word is a later liturgical addition. For example, these Pauline benedictions could have been used by the early churches with the added "Amen."

 


Copyright Statement
These files are copyrighted by the author, Gary Everett. Used by Permission.
No distribution beyond personal use without permission.

Bibliography Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Philemon 1:4". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghe/philemon-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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