Paul writes a letter to Philemon, his beloved brother and fellow worker, on behalf of Onesimus – a deserter, thief and formerly worthless slave, but now Philemon’s brother in Christ. with much tact and tenderness, Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus back with the same gentleness with which he would receive Paul himself. Any debt Onesimus owes, Paul promises to make good. Knowing Philemon, Paul is confident that brotherly love and forgiveness will carry the day.
Verse 1 – Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer,
Verse 2 – to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Paul wrote this letter in A.D. 60, while in Rome under house arrest. Onesimus was a domestic slave belonging to Philemon, a wealthy man and a member of the church in Colosse. Onesimus had made his way to Rome where he had met Paul and no doubt had become a believer.
Verse 3 – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 4 – I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers,
Verse 5 – hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,
Verse 6 – that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
Either Onesimus or another had brought news to Paul, that Philemon was a Christian and had opened his house for gatherings.
Verse 7 – For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.
Verse 8 – Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting,
Verse 9 – yet for loves sake I rather appeal to you – being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ –
Verse 10 – I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains,
Verse 11 – who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.
A master had the right to kill a runaway slave, so Onesimus feared for his life. But now Onesimus was a believer in Christ and was more than just a possession.
Verse 12 – I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart,
Verse 13 – whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel.
Verse 14 – But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.
Verse 15 – For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever,
Verse 16 – no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord!
If Philemon accepted Onesimus back as a Christian brother instead of a slave or hired servant, this would certainly prove to Paul and others that Philemon was truly transformed into a believer in Jesus Christ.
Verse 17 – If then you count me as partner, receive him as you would me.
Verse 18 – But if he has wronged you or owes you anything, put that on my account.
Paul assumed the debt and the wrong to himself. He was willing to put himself in the place of Onesimus, to bear the consequences, and to have Onesimus treated as if he had not done it.
Now, let me ask you this: Just how far will you be willing to go to see a fellow Christian get back on their feet again? Would you be willing to give them a place to live at no cost? Are we not to follow Paul’s example as believers?
Verse 19 – I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.
Meaning: Paul had led Philemon, to Christ. Because Paul was Philemon’s spiritual father, he was hoping that Philemon would feel a debt of gratitude that he would repay by accepting Onesimus with a spirit of forgiveness.
Verse 20 – Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.
Verse 21 – Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Verse 22 – But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.
Paul was released from prison soon after writing this letter, but the Bible doesn’t say whether he returned to Colosse or not.
Verse 23 – Epahras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you,
Verse 24 – as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.
Verse 25 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. amen.
The love of Christ changed the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. Christ can change relationships if both parties are filled with the forgiveness and love that Christ offers!