1. From Paul, a war-prisoner of Jesus Christ to our fellow-worker, Philemon whom we love very much!
Paul is saying he is not really a prisoner of the Romans. Jesus has brought him to this place to do some work for Him. Do you feel that you are in a hard place? Maybe the Lord has brought you there to do something for Him?
Do you sometimes feel as if you are in a prison? Are you willing to see that your problem is not with people but with demonic powers who are trying to make it look like God is against you? See Ephesians 6:12.
2. And to your wife, Apphia, whom we also love, and to Archippus who works in the same ministry as us, and greetings to the church in your house.
See the introduction for details on these names.
3. Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace (charis) is a Greek greeting. Peace [shalom] is a Hebrew greeting. Grace is first because you cannot have peace without having God's grace first.
4. I am always praying for you and thanking God because of you.
Praying for others is an important decision in the Christian life. God is watching the world to see if there are any who care about the things He cares about. (Ezekiel 22:30, 2 Chronicles 16:0)
When we put the needs of others before ourselves through prayer, God rewards us and these prayers provide a covering over us and the ones we pray for. There are no experts in prayer. Make it a habit and God will show you His secret strength and covering which nobody can explain to you, just do it!
5. I have heard about how you have the highest kind of love and trust in the Lord and how you love those He has set apart in the same way.
Maybe Paul was making Philemon curious to know how he could have heard these things? Could it have been from Onesimus?
6. I pray that your close fellowship in God's presence [which comes from trusting Him] may become a source of energy to reveal more knowledge about all the good things that are available for us in Christ Jesus.
The Greek word “energy” here shows that we do not only say we trust God but we use this energy to do something which proves that we trust Him.
7. For we have great joy and comfort because of your love, because the hearts of the set apart ones are refreshed by you, brother.
Philemon might have been thinking, “How could Paul know what I have been doing to help my fellow-Christians?” See also Proverbs 11:25.
8. Because of these things, I am going to be very open with you and could strongly encourage you to do something which is the right thing to do.
See Proverbs 25:15 and Daniel 1:8 for examples of how to appeal kindly to someone instead of demanding that they do what you want.
9. Instead, because of love, I will beg you to do it because I am Paul, the old one. A war-prisoner of Christ.
Notice how Paul is following the Words of Jesus in Matthew 18:15. Jesus said that if we have a problem between us and another Christian we first talk to them alone. One of the biggest problems in the church is when Christians say bad things about each other and they spread these bad words everywhere.
When we do this we are doing the devil's work for him. Titus 2:3 says this in the original language, "do not let your words be like a devil speaking against other people." See also Galatians 6:1 which shows us to be careful when talking to a brother who has done something wrong, because we also can fall.
See Acts 7:58 for some idea of how old Paul was when he wrote this letter.
10. I am begging for my son, “Useful” [Onesimus] who I brought into faith here in the prison.
There are many ideas as to how Onesimus came to Paul. Since Epaphras was leading the ministry in Colossae, it may be that he brought Onesimus with him as he visited Paul.
Runaway slaves were branded in the forehead with the letter “F” which stood for fugitive. Who else in the Bible was marked in the forehead? Our enemy wants to mark us with our old life. He tells us that he will expose us so that everybody will see the stupid things we have done. But Jesus took these marks on His body in our place.
Galatians 3:1 says that Jesus was publically displayed with a sign over his head to make fun of Him. The enemy wants to put fear into us by saying that he will show our sins to everyone. But our sins are covered and the enemy cannot do what he wants to do with us. Romans 4:7
11. He was not useful to you but is now useful to you and me.
Many times, we see that Paul likes to explain what he is saying by using words that can be compared to other words. Paul is showing that there has been a big change in the life of Onesimus. This shows us how we can live up to the meaning of our own name.
12. I am sending him back to you as if I was sending my own heart.
Deuteronomy 23:15 says that if you find a runaway slave you must NOT return him to his owner. Paul was following the Spirit of this law because the original idea was that the slave owner might punish the slave badly. Paul knew that Philemon would not do this.
13. I almost kept him here with me because he is very useful in the ministry.
Maybe Onesimus delivered messages or helped prepare food or served in some way that made life easier for Paul?
14. I wanted to check with you first so that you can decide what you want to do.
Notice how Paul's writing changes as he grows more mature in Christ. In his other letters he is makes sure that everyone knows he is an apostle, knowing more about the Law than any of the Pharisees (Philippians 3:4-5). We also see him arguing with Barnabas (Acts 15:39) and saying that the leaders in Jerusalem were nothing to him (Galatians 2:6). Later, we see that he calls himself a servant, a prisoner, not worthy to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9). Paul has grown in such a way as to humbly ask instead of expecting his own way.
15. Maybe he ran away for a short time so that you can have him back forever?
Roman law allowed a slave to request someone as a go-between in a dispute with his master. Onesimus may have asked Paul to do this for him. Peacemakers help people who need to see what forgiveness looks like. It is important to show this to them so they can see what the life of Christ in us looks like. Matthew 5:9
Who else in the Bible ran away? Were they given a second chance? Adam and Eve, Cain, Jacob, Jonah, the prodigal son. What is the same and what is different about their stories and the life of Onesimus? Have you ever hidden yourself from God?
16. Now he is your brother, not your slave.
See Galatians 3:28, in Christ there is no slave or master, we are all the same. See also Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1.
17. If we are partners in the ministry, treat him as you would treat me.
What Paul is saying is that Philemon needs to forgive Onesimus. Not forgiving means we are carrying people sins on our backs as a burden. When we do this we are punishing them and acting as if we have to carry their sins around our backs because of what they did to us. We must learn how to transfer their sins to Jesus so that He carries them because we cannot. Matthew 7:12, Matthew 25:40
18. If he owes you anything, put that on me.
We are like Onesimus because we are as slaves who ran away from out Master and we have nothing to pay for our penalty. We need someone to pay the penalty for us.
Galatians 6:-2-5 says that there are some things that we can help others to carry. We cannot carry their sins on our back, only the Lord Jesus can do that. Paul is showing a Christ-like spirit by offering to take the place of Onesimus in whatever penalty is owed.
19. I, Paul, am writing this as a legal agreement that I will pay whatever he owes you. I do not need to remind you that you owe me your own life.
Jewish law said that anyone who helps a runaway slave had to pay the owner for the money which was lost. It is not hard to believe that Paul knew this law and was offering to handle this situation legally as well as spiritually.
There was a law that if you return a slave to his master you can get a reward. Paul is saying you do not owe me the reward but you do owe me your life. Paul is saying this because he is the one who brought Philemon to faith in Christ.
20. Let yourself be useful to the Lord in doing this.
When we point a finger at someone else there are fingers pointing back at us. If we think of someone else as “useless” we can ask ourselves how useful have we been to our Lord Jesus so far today?
21. I know you will do even more than I ask.
The spirit of this letter shows that Paul trusted Philemon or he would not have sent Onesimus back to him. Colossians 4:9 shows that Onesimus was part of the group of Christians in Colossae. Church history says that he later became a pastor.
It is not hard to believe that Philemon and Onesimus had a happy reunion when Tychicus delivered this letter.
22. Be ready for me to come and visit. I am trusting that I will be released from prison because of your prayers.
Paul expected to be released. This is proven by the Roman law which said that the accusers in a trial must appear before Caesar within a certain time period. Paul waited under house arrest for at least two years (Acts 28:30) but the Jews never came to Rome and so Paul was released. Early church writers bear witness to this. Later, Paul was arrested again and executed after Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians.
23-24. My fellow-workers Epaphras (my fellow war-prisoner), Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke here agree with this letter and send their greetings!
Acts 27:2 shows us that Aristarchus and Luke were with Paul when he was shipwrecked so it makes sense that they were with Paul in the prison in Rome.
When we see Mark listed here we are reminded that Paul had forgiven him for the misunderstanding in Acts 15:39. Paul has good things to say about Mark in 2 Timothy 4:11.
Demas later left the ministry, maybe because of fear? 2 Timothy 4:10.
25. May the grace of Jesus Christ be released in your spirit! Amen!
Grace is the power to do what we should do. Paul often reminds us of how we are to live by allowing God's Spirit to be released in us as we take our hands off of our situation. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
We are like someone who is drowning. People wave their arms and fight against the water so that helping them is hard until they calm down. Allow God's Spirit to be released in you and you will stop drowning. This means waiting for Him instead of waiting on your own ideas!
Listen - How is this chapter speaking to me?
Whatever you allow to control you (anger, laziness, unforgiveness, bitterness) makes you into a slave. Rom. 6:16, Prov. 19:3
Do you plan to deal with your problems God's way or run away?
Here is how Jesus could have written this letter today:
I am asking You to do something for [ your name] who is my child. I know that ______
was at one time useless to You but has now become very useful to Me.
__________ wasn't walking with you for awhile but is coming back to walk with You forever.
If ________ has done anything wrong, please put it on My account. I know that you will do even more than I ask in the life of __________.
You can pray this prayer:
Father, forgive me for running away when I _____________.
I am taking back the place on the map that I surrendered to Satan. I ask You to put the armor of Your Spirit on me and to protect me from Satan's attacks on my mind, will and emotions.
Please place Your wall of thorns around me and my family to stop Satan from touching us. I plan to live the rest of my days in surrender to what You want in my life and not in what I want.
Please reveal the Scriptures to me. Remind me to pay attention to what You are showing me every day. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen!