Phm 1:1-3 Paul, a prisoner
of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend
and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow
soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Grace to you and
peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Interesting that the content of this letter is directed to an
individual, Philemon. Yet in fact he indicates that this letter is to
be open to lots of other people. When you write to an individual, write
as if at some point your letter would be read by a wider audience.
Archippus is mentioned also in Col
and some say he was a member of Philemon’s family, probably
his son. There it says of him, "See
to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord."
And as is common to most of Paul's greetings, first on his mind is to
pray grace and peace upon them. We should desire our fellow Christians
to experience the grace of God and the peace that comes from God, based
upon having been reconciled to Him through the cross.
Pray for Active Faith
Phm 1:4-6 I always thank my God as I remember
you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus
and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in
sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every
good thing we have in Christ.
What do other Christians here of your faith and your love for all the
saints? These characteristics were outstanding among the early
Christians. Of the Thessalonians Paul writes, "We continually remember before our God
and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love,
and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1Thess 1:3
and goes on to say, "The Lord’s message rang out from you
not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your faith in God has become known
everywhere." 1Thess 1:8
Likewise of the Ephesians he says, "For
this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and
your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you,
remembering you in my prayers." Eph
and of the Colossians as well (Col 1:3,4
Evangelism should be natural to those of the faith. Paul writes, "It is written: 'I believed; therefore
I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and
therefore speak." 2Cor 4:13
Pray for other Christians that
they may be active in sharing their faith. Understand that actively
sharing your faith not only benefits those who hear, but it also
benefits you. Many of us have had this experience, that sharing our
faith increases our understanding of every good thing we have in
Christ. Or another reading is, I pray "that the sharing of your faith may
become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in
you in Christ Jesus."
Prayer can make evangelism effective.
Encourage others through Love
Phm 1:7 Your love has given me great joy and
encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the
"refreshed" is to give rest. Paul experienced himself in 1Corinthians, "I am glad about the coming of
Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part
they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore
acknowledge such men." 1Cor
How might you give rest to those who labor for the Lord?
Not only will your love bring great joy and encouragement to those whom
you refresh, but also to other Christians who see your example.
Appeal to the Mature
Phm 1:8-10 Therefore, although in Christ I could
be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you
on the basis of love. I then, as Paul— an old man and now also a
prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who
became my son while I was in chains.
Onesimus was a runaway slave owned by Philemon, a Christian and friend
of Paul. Onesimus had runaway to Paul and apparently subsequently
became a Christian with such devotion Paul identified him as his son.
Paul had instructions for Philemon concerning Onesimus. But Paul had a
choice in terms of the manner in which he would communicate his
instructions. For he could communicate it in the form of commands, or
more in terms of advice, relying upon Philemon's love to do the right
thing. For afterall, "Anyone who
does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does
not love his brother." 1John
But often this is a matter of degree, a function of one's
maturity. For just as adults will more often instruct children by way
of commands, but more in terms of advice as they mature, so also in the
But what is also interesting here is that Paul tells Philemon
explicitly of his choice of the manner of his instructions. Sometimes
it's best to tell people that you believe they are mature enough to
wisely accept advice and act upon it. While there is love in obeying
commands, matured love is demonstrated in the context of freedom of
choice. Consider generosity. Under the Law tithing was an obligation.
But that which is an obligation is not an act of generosity. Yet God
wants us to practice generosity and thus has removed regulations so
that we can act upon principle rather than via regulations. This is the
perspective Paul had and as such desired to provide Philemon freedom of
choice that he may act out of love rather than simply out of obligation.
Phm 1:11-13 Formerly he was useless to you, but now
he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him— who is my
very heart— back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that
he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the
Formerly Onesimus, as a non-Christian, was viewed as "useless". For
while non-Christian servants may have some practical usefulness with
regards to material things, such things are vain if they don't include
a spiritual component. For example Paul elsewhere writes, "What I mean, brothers, is that the
time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they
had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as
if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to
keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in
them. For this world in its present form is passing away." 1Cor 7:29-31
But those who have been born of God are to be viewed not only as saved,
but useful. "For we are God’s
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God
prepared in advance for us to do." Eph 2:10
Paul shows his own generosity in his free choice of sending Onesimus
back to Philemon. But realize this didn't simply involve Paul's choice,
but also that of Onesimus. For the Law said, "You
shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his
master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of
your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him." Deut 23:15,16
This verse reveals a misconception that many through the years have
had concerning what the Bible condones concerning slavery. Slavery
under the law was much more one's personal choice than many today
Furthermore Paul also writes concerning Christian slaves, "Were you a slave when you were
called? Don't let it trouble you-- although if you can gain your
freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the
Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he
was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become
slaves of men." 1Cor 7:21-23
Phm 1:14-16 But I did not want to do anything
without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and
not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little
while was that you might have him back for good— no longer as a slave,
but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but
even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
As I mentioned, Christians should not be largely driven by a sense of
legal obligations, but rather to be driven by the Spirit, doing what is
right naturally, spontaneously, rather than having a sense of being
forced to do so. "With this in
mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of
his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of
yours and every act prompted by your faith." 2Th 1:11
Notice Paul's view of God's sovereignty in this matter. "He was separated"
rather than active. For while Onesimus no doubt took action in leaving,
yet God was behind it, Onesimus even being a non-Christian at the time.
For God can move non-Christians to action, whether it be kings (Pr 21:1
), or slaves. Paul speaks of
the circumstances into which one is born, "He determined the times set for them
and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men
would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is
not far from each one of us."Acts 17:26,27
And as with Onesimus, so also with the rest of us, as Paul writes in Gal 4:3-7 "When we were children, we were in
slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the
time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,
to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of
sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into
our hearts, the Spirit who calls out,
<'Abba>, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son;
and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."
Taking on Other's Debt
Phm 1:17-19 So if you consider me a partner,
welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or
owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my
own hand. I will pay it back— not to mention that you owe me your very
One is reminded of the parable of the good
in which the good samaritan not only saved the man,
but also said to the innkeeper, ‘Look after him, and when I return, I
will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Or as it
says in Mt 25:40 "Whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
And by grace what we
owed was reckoned to Jesus who paid our debt. This is the lesson Paul
learned, and this is the example he set.
Also that phrase "you owe me your very self."
reminds us of how
grateful and indebted we should be not only to Christ, but also to
those who led us to Christ. One is reminded of the parable of the
who, after being forgiven a great personal
debt, refuses to forgive his fellow servant of a minor debt.
Though realize how difficult culturally it would have been to welcome
this former runaway slave as a son. The culture of the Kingdom is often
at odds with the culture of the world, especially with regards to
Confident of Your Obedience
Phm 1:20,21 I do wish, brother, that I may
have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do
even more than I ask.
Realize that while Paul explicitly didn't intend for his request to be
taken as an order, yet a request from someone of his authority should
involve some compliance. In verse 8 Paul noted he had the authority to
order Philemon what to do. But in verse 14 he noted that he wanted
Philemon to feel free to take his own initiative in the matter, to be
spontaneous and not forced to do so.
I think this is important because it largely reflects upon how Christ
exercises his Lordship over mature Christians, and likewise sets a
precedent for our relationship as Christians over one another. If
He's confident of our obedience, then the Lord doesn't force us, but
rather allows us to be spontaneous. There are those Christians who need
to be told what to do. And such to varying degrees. But the mature are
spontaneous and take their own initiative. For there's an obedience
that comes from faith (Rom 1:5
), an obedience which is natural
and not forced. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to
my voice; I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27
the nature of sheep and that's the nature of those born-again.
Furthermore the mature don't simply do what they are asked. Rather they
characteristically do more than they are asked,
"doing the will of God from your heart." Eph 6:6
Consider how you might do more than you're asked.
Phm 1:23-25 And one thing more: Prepare a guest
room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your
prayers. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you
greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow
workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
The Christian life and ministry is not intended to be exercised in
isolation but in concert with a fellowship of believers. Implied in
such a concept is the necessity of practicing hospitality. If you're
going to live the Christian life, yes you are going to have to spend
some personal time with other Christians which may even involve opening
your home to them, as intrusive as they may seem. Indeed such should
not be done reluctantly but enthusiastically.
If you're buying a house, do so with hospitality in mind. If you have
the resources have extra space available to accomodate potential
fellowship. And by extension, when making decisions, if you can, allow
for extra resources and extra time to allow fellowship and ministry.
Some simply fill up their schedule and assign their resources just in
order to excuse themselves from ministry and fellowship. Though,
granted this takes more sacrifice from some more than others. But
people always seem to find the time and resources for the things which
are important for them.