Preparing the Way of the Lord



Paul writes to Philemon to reconcile Onesimus with Philemon

Philemon had heard Paul and had apparently told his servant Onesimus about Paul. Onesimus was so impressed with Paul’s teachings through Philemon’s reports that he had thoughtlessly ran off to find Paul without informing his master.

This epistle is an example of seeking to reconcile brethren who have been offended by one another.

Paul sent Onesimus back to Colossae with Tychicus who was delivering an Epistle from Paul to the Colossians.

Colossians 4:7 All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: 4:8 Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; 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.

Paul writing from Rome was imprisoned for preaching Christ; this does not mean that Paul was calling himself a prisoner held by Christ; he was the prisoner of the Romans having appealed to Caesar because of the false accusations made about him.

Philemon 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, 1:2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: 1:3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul begins by referring to the deep conversion of Philemon, so as to remind Philemon of his need to forgive others.

1:4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, 1:5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; 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. 1:7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

Paul says that he could command Philemon, but he thinks it much more appropriate that he beseech him in regards to this matter.

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

Paul explains that Philemon’s servant had left him to seek out Paul and was now converted in the faith; and that Onesimus who was unprofitable to Philemon by leaving his master without seeking his consent; was now very profitable in the faith.

Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as he would accept Paul himself.

1:10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: 1:11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: 1:12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Paul praises Onesimus for his service to Paul, but sends him back so as to allow Philemon to decide himself what is to be done.

1:13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 1:14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

Paul tells Philemon that if he considers himself in the faith, he will forgive Onesimus and accept him as a brother in the faith.

1:15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 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? 1:17 If thou count me therefore a partner [if you are my brother in the same faith], receive him as myself.

1:18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 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.

Paul declares his confidence in the conversion and love of Philemon.

1:20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. 1:21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

Paul indicates that he is coming to Colosse

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

1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

1:25 The grace [mercy, forgiveness] of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.


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  1. James–

    The book of Philemon is rich in meaning.

    First of all Onesimus was more than a “servant” because that is equivalent to our modern term employee”. Onesimus was a “doulos” or bond slave. (verse 16) This usually meant that the duolos had incurred a debt that he couldn’t pay and as a result the creditor was able to sell him into servitude to a master whose investment reduced the doulos to property owned by the master. (It s also used to describe the status of a Christians to their Savior–Matt 10:24). Onesimus had become an unprofitable servant to Philemon. (vs. 11) In such cases it was not unusual for the dissatisfied master to sell such a one into hard bondage digging in mines or loading and unloading ships. (Matt 18:31-35) On top of all this, Onesimus had stolen some of Philemon’s property. (vs. 18) .

    Philemon was not just a believer, he was an elder who opened his house for meetings of the congregation. Philemon’s outstanding example and service to believers was well known among believers. (vs. 4-7) He was a true brother in the faith and Paul recognized this fact. vs. 20)
    Paul had authority over Philemon just as Philemon had authority over Onesimus. (verses 13, 14, 20-21)

    So Onesimus, on the run from Philemon, finds himself in jail with Paul, and through Paul’s teaching ends up becoming a believer. (verses 9,10) Further, Onesimus shown his value as a servant to Paul to such a degree, that Paul would like to keep him, but only if Philemon will allow it. (verse 13-17).

    Lessons for all of us–
    Like Onesimus, all of us are sinners. to one degree or another unprofitable servants in debt to our Master. (Rom 3:23,6:23) Like Onesimus we must all go to our Master and seek His forgiveness.

    Like Philemon, sooner or later we will all suffer some loss due to the sins of others. Whether it is a job, a career, a spouse, children, extended families, or reputations such loses hurt and forgiveness can be very difficult. (Matt 18:21-35)

    Like Paul, any one of us may find ourselves in the position of mediating some dispute between offended and offending parties among the ekklesia. In such cases, it is important to acknowledge both sides’ issues and appeal to their to their conscience as well as to mind them that we all have a master above and that as we forgive we shall be forgiven. (Luke 6:37, Luke 17:3-4)

    Tim McCaulley
    Jacksonville FL

    Tim, I am indebted to you for the additional light you have provided to this book. James

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