Philemon One

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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

prisoner. The letter to Philemon, like that to Ephesus and Colosse, was written during Paul's first Roman imprisonment. Timothy was with him, though not himself a prisoner. See note on Colossians 1:2. All three letters were probably carried by the same messenger, probably Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-8), along with Onesimus (Colossians 4:9; Philemon 10).

Philemon. “Philemon” (meaning “friendly one”) evidently lived in Colosse, though his name is not mentioned in Paul's letter to the Colossians. He was evidently well-to-do, with Onesimus having been his slave, and with the ability to provide lodging for Paul (Philemon 10, 16, 22).

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

Apphia. “Apphia” was a common woman's name. She probably was the wife of Philemon and mother of Archippus. Archippus was also a pastor; however, it is not certain whether he pastored in Laodicea or Colosse or both (Colossians 4:16-17). It is possible he simply pastored a congregation meeting in Philemon's home.

church in thy house. Philemon had a church meeting in his house in Colosse, and so did Nymphas (Colossians 4:15), probably at Laodicea. Perhaps there were others.

Philemon 1:3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and 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.

the communication. The Greek word for “communication” here is koinonia, meaning “fellowship.” The word for “effectual” is energes, meaning “energizing.” Thus true Christian fellowship becomes powerful when it is not mere socializing, but rather a time of thankfulness and sharing. In context here, it might cost Onesimus his freedom, Paul his helper and Philemon his property.

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

bowels of the saints. See note on Philippians 2:1 on this usage of “bowels.” See also Philemon 12 and 20.

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

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.

Paul the aged. Paul could hardly have been older than in his early sixties by this time, but the vicissitudes of his travels and many persecutions may well have aged him prematurely. No doubt he would like to have retained Onesimus as a helper (Philemon 13), but would not do it because of the greater need to maintain a strong testimony of being void of any real or imagined offense to others, especially Philemon (note Acts 24:16).

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

my son Onesimus. Paul called Onesimus “my son” because he had led him to Christ, just as he had Timothy (2 Timothy 1:2), Titus (Titus 1:4), and even Philemon (Philemon 19). Before that, Onesimus had been one of Philemon's servants (actually “bondservant” or “slave”), and had run away, apparently stealing from his master as he did (Philemon 18). As a born-again Christian now, however, Onesimus wished to return to his master and make amends, and Paul encouraged him. Every new Christian, to the extent it is possible, should similarly seek to redress any wrongs of which he had been guilty before his conversion.

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

unprofitable. Onesimus actually means “profitable,” so Paul is making an effective play on words here.

Philemon 1:12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Philemon 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:

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

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?

above a servant. The Scriptures did not condemn slavery as such, but rather taught a new relationship between masters and servants (e.g., Colossians 3:22-4:1; Ephesians 6:5-9), considering both as brothers and fellowservants of Christ. The institution of slavery, therefore, gradually became more of an employer-employee relationship, with its compulsory aspects eventually being displaced altogether.

Philemon 1:17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

partner. Paul thus placed himself on the same plane with both Philemon and Onesimus, that of “partners,” a term implying full fellowship. Here he requests Philemon also to accept Onesimus on that basis.

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

on mine account. Paul, by his own signature, offers to repay anything Onesimus owed Philemon (Philemon 19). This is a striking human application of the divine principles of imputation (Romans 4:4-8), and substitution (2 Corinthians 5:21). Onesimus was unable to pay his debt, just as we are unable to satisfy our own debt of sin against our Maker. Paul, however, was willing to pay the price because of his love for his young convert, just as the Lord Jesus Christ “loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

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 1:20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

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

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

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

Epaphras. Epaphras was evidently from Colosse (Colossians 4:12), but had been serving with Paul, possibly even in prison himself.

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

Marcus. Mark had once left Paul (Acts 13:13), but apparently was now back with him at Rome. Aristarchus was a Macedonian convert from Thessalonica (Acts 27:2) who later worked with Paul.

Demas. Demas and Luke, especially the latter, were often with Paul in his earlier ministries. Demas, however, later defected and went back into the world (2 Timothy 4:10), while Luke, the beloved physician, stayed with Paul to the end (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11). Whether any of these men knew Philemon personally is not certain, but at least they wanted to join Paul in his greetings to him.

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