Part 1 of 2
Commentaries, Sermons, Illustrations, Devotionals
Updated March 30, 2015
C H Spurgeon wrote that Bengel's NT commentary "is the Scholar's delight! Bengel condensed more matter into a line than can be extracted from pages of other writers."
F W Farrar writes that Bengel's "Gnomon is a mine of priceless gems. It contains sentence after sentence exquisitely terse and finished, and throbbing with spiritual light. Few writers have so admirably succeeded in expressing in a few words the inmost purpose of each of the Epistles. A generation crowded with writers whose theology abounded in mutual anathemas is yet redeemed from the charge of sterility which has produced such a theologian as Bengel. His work must continue to have its value so long as men can recognise the richest fruits of a noble intellect, a pure spirit, and a blameless life. "Lord Jesus, unto Thee I live, unto Thee I suffer, unto Thee I die; Thine I am, living or dying." These words were repeated to him in his last moments, and on hearing them he pointed with his right hand to his heart, and fell asleep in peace." (Amen!) (History of Interpretation: Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1885).
John Wesley said of Bengel "I know of no commentator on the Bible equal to Bengel" and referred to him as "The great light of the Christian world."
Cambridge Greek Testament
Philemon Introduction and Outline
College Press Commentary
|Grace and Prayer – Philemon 1:1-7
Repentance – Philemon 1:8-16
A Friend – Philemon 1:17-25
Expositor's Bible Commentary
Jamieson, Fausset, Brown
|Philemon Commentary - Abridged Version|
A C Gaebelein
L M Grant
F B Hole
Holman Christian Standard Bible
|H A Ironside
Commentary on Philemon
Rosscup - A good practical discussion of the book, with Ironside’s usual illustrative richness. (Commentaries for Biblical Expositors: An annotated bibliography of selected works)
Commentary on Philemon
|Paul E. Kretzmann
Commentary on Philemon
The Popular Commentary
|John Peter Lange
Commentary on Philemon
J B Lightfoot
Rosscup - Many regard (his) commentary (on Colossians) as the best older work on the Greek text… As earlier stated, this work is excellent on Colossians and is also helpful on Philemon in the Greek text. (Commentaries for Biblical Expositors: An annotated bibliography of selected works)
Philemon 1:1-3 Commentary
Philemon 1:4-7 Commentary
Philemon 1:8-11 Commentary
Philemon 1:12-17 Commentary
Philemon 1:18- 25 Commentary
|Philemon 1:1-3 A Living Lesson on Forgiveness
Philemon 1:4-7 The Characteristics of One Who Forgives
Philemon 1:8-18 The Actions of One Who Forgives
Philemon 1:19-25 The Motives of One Who Forgives
|Philemon 1:1-3 The Epistle to Philemon
Philemon 1:4-7 I Thank My God Always
Philemon 1:8-11 Wherefore, Though I Have All Boldness
Philemon 1:12-14 Whom I Have Sent Back to Thee
Philemon 1:15-19 For Perhaps He was Therefore Parted
Philemon 1:20-25 Yea, Brother, Let Me Have Joy of Thee in the Lord
Henry Mahan's Commentary
J Vernon McGee
|F B Meyer
Commentary on Philemon
Commentary on Philemon
Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
|Millennium Study Bible Notes
Commentary on Philemon
Outline & References
Notes on the Text
|Philemon 6 - That the fellowship of thy faith may become effectual.
That was the burden of Paul's prayer for Philemon; and in sending Onesimus back to him, he was creating a new opportunity for his realization of that very thing. Philemon had faith, as Paul had already said; and it was a double faith, "toward the Lord Jesus, and toward air the saints." That faith necessarily placed him in the realm of fellowship, and that was also two-sided: fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and fellowship with all the saints. Such was his faith, his conviction, that to which he had yielded himself. Such was his fellowship, his vital relationship, the good thing which was in him. Paul's prayer for him was that it might be effectual; that is, effective. Faith and fellowship are at once made valuable and vindicated as they are active. While a number of names are found in this letter, three stand out prominently, those of Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. They share a common faith; they are members of one fellowship. The circumstances were such as to give the fellowship of their faith an opportunity for action; that is, to become effectual. It was so in the case of Paul, as he sent Onesimus back to his master, even though he would have been serviceable to himself in his prison. It was so in the case of Onesimus, in that he went back to the master whom he had wronged in running away from him. The letter was written that it might be so in the case of Philemon as he received Onesimus, "no longer as a servant … but a brother beloved."
|Introduction - Authenticity, etc
Chief Persons in the Epistle
Slavery and the Attitude of Christianity Towards It
Argument of Philemon
Commentary on Philemon
Wells of Living Water Commentary
|Net Bible Notes
Commentary on Philemon
|Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Commentary on Philemon
Commentary on Philemon
Commentary on Philemon
|Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Commentary on Philemon
Commentary on Philemon
|James Quiggle Commentary
Commentary on Philemon
|Randall Radic Commentary
Commentary on Philemon
Reformation Study Bible
|A T Robertson
Word Pictures in the New Testament
Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
|Sermon Bible Commentary
|Sermons on Philemon
Philemon Sermons by Verse
|Philemon 1:1 Commentary
Philemon 1:2 Commentary
Philemon 1:3 Commentary
Philemon 1:4 Commentary
Philemon 1:5 Commentary
Philemon 1:6 Commentary
Philemon 1:7 Commentary
Philemon 1:8 Commentary
Philemon 1:9 Commentary
Philemon 1:10 Commentary
Philemon 1:11 Commentary
Philemon 1:12 Commentary
Philemon 1:13 Commentary
Philemon 1:14 Commentary
Philemon 1:15 Commentary
Philemon 1:16 Commentary
Philemon 1:17 Commentary
Philemon 1:18 Commentary
Philemon 1:19 Commentary
Philemon 1:20 Commentary
Philemon 1:21 Commentary
Philemon 1:22 Commentary
Philemon 1:23 Commentary
Philemon 1:24 Commentary
Philemon 1:25 Commentary
Commentary on Philemon
Sermons on Philemon
|Philemon 1:7 Benevolence Encouraged
Philemon 1:10, 11 The Efficacy of the Gospel (Scroll down)
C H Spurgeon
Outline & References
Notes on the Text
Commentary on Philemon
|Philemon Commentary - Word Studies in the New Testament
Rosscup comments on Vincent's ICC work - Obtain this work for a detailed examination of the Greek text with good word studies. (Commentaries for Biblical Expositors: An annotated bibliography of selected works)
Commentary on Philemon
|Our Daily Bread
Excellent Illustrations on Philemon
Radio Bible Class
Updated September 7, 2014
Philemon - Relationship Under Repair - Are you easy to get along with? Do you have a good relationship with your spouse or your friends? Then you probably aren't guilty of the following behaviors:
These kinds of behavior will wreck relationships and hinder the healing of past hurts.
For a good example of the way to strengthen relationships, read the apostle Paul's short letter to Philemon, a wealthy resident of Colosse. The subject is Onesimus, Philemon's slave, who had stolen from him and fled to Rome. There Onesimus met Paul, who led him to a saving knowledge of Jesus. The letter is Paul's kind, compassionate appeal to Philemon to accept Onesimus back--now as a brother. It's a great example of love in action.
Although Onesimus deserved Philemon's punishment, Paul called him a "son" (Philemon 1:10) and a "beloved brother" (Philemon 16). He said he would repay what Onesimus had stolen.
Paul knew how to restore a relationship. Do we? -- J D Brannon (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
God of grace and God of goodness,
Forgiveness is the glue that repairs broken relationships.
Philemon - A New Flax Shirt
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . --Galatians 6:2
Jesus endured the pain of the cross on our behalf. When we bear one another's burdens, we follow His example and fulfill His will for our lives (Gal. 6:2; 1John 3:16). Are you willing to wear someone's new flax shirt today? --H W Robinson (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Bearing people's heavy burdens,
Shouldering their pain and grief,
Shows the love of Christ to others,
Bringing them His sure relief. --Sper
Christ bears our burdens
[You] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. —Colossians 3:10
For almost 100 years, a huge piece of flawed Carrara marble lay in the courtyard of a cathedral in Florence, Italy. Then, in 1501, a young sculptor was asked to do something with it. He measured the block and noted its imperfections. In his mind, he envisioned a young shepherd boy.
For 3 years, he chiseled and shaped the marble skillfully. Finally, when the 18-foot towering figure of David was unveiled, his student exclaimed to Michelangelo, “Master, it lacks only one thing—speech!”
Onesimus was like that flawed marble. He was an unfaithful servant when he fled from his master Philemon. But while on the run he came to know the Master Sculptor. As a changed man, he served God faithfully and was invaluable to Paul’s ministry. When Paul sent him back to Philemon, he commended him as one “who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me” (Philemon 1:11). He asked Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother (Philemon 1:16).
Paul knew what it meant to be given another chance after past wrongs (Acts 9:26, 27, 28). He knew personally the transformation God can accomplish. Now he saw it in the life of Onesimus. The Lord can chisel His image on our flawed lives and make us beautiful and useful too. — Albert Lee
Christ takes each sin, each pain, each loss,
Paul, The Aged
By Dennis Fisher
Being such a one as Paul, the aged, … I appeal to you for my son Onesimus. —Philemon 1:9-10
Celebrating my 60th birthday really changed my perspective on life— I used to think people in their sixties were “old.” Then I started counting the number of productive years I might have left and set the number at 10. I went along with this dead-end kind of thinking until I remembered a very productive co-worker who was 85. So I sought him out to ask what life after 60 was like. He told me of some of the wonderful ministry opportunities the Lord had given him over the last 25 years.
The apostle Paul, referring to himself as “aged” in Philemon 1:9, really resonates with my own sense of aging: “Being such a one as Paul, the aged, … I appeal to you for my son Onesimus” (vv.9-10). Paul was asking Philemon to take back his runaway servant Onesimus. Some scholars believe Paul was in his late forties or early fifties when he wrote this—certainly not a senior citizen by today’s standards. But life expectancy in those days was much shorter. Yet despite awareness of his mature years, Paul went on to serve the Lord for several more years.
While we may experience physical or other kinds of limitations, what really matters is that we continue doing what we can for the Lord until He calls us Home.
Think not your work of no account Although it may be small; The Lord marks well your faithfulness When you give Him your all. —D. De Haan
God can use you at any age—if you are willing.
Freedom At Alcatraz
By Mart De Haan
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains. —Philemon 1:10
A tour of the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay left me with some unforgettable images. As our tour boat pulled into the dock, I could see why this now-closed maximum-security federal prison was once known as “The Rock.”
Later, inside the legendary Big House, I stared at shafts of light coming through heavily barred windows. Then I saw row after row of cagelike cells that housed well-known inmates such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”
But another image made a deeper impression. Stepping into an empty cell, I saw the name “Jesus” scrawled on a wall. In another, a Bible lay on a shelf. Together they quietly spoke of the greatest of all freedoms.
Paul knew such liberty while waiting to be executed. Regarding himself as a “prisoner of Christ,” he used his incarceration to help other inmates discover what it means to be an eternally forgiven, dearly loved member of God’s family (Philem. 1:10).
Barred windows and doors represent one kind of confinement. Physical paralysis, inescapable poverty, and prolonged unemployment are others. Perhaps you endure another. None are to be desired—yet who would trade “imprisonment” with Christ for life “on the outside” without Him?
My heart and soul imprisoned lay,
Not knowing Christ the Lord;
But since the day He set me free,
We live in one accord. —Hess
To be under Christ’s control is to have true freedom.
By Julie Ackerman Link
In everything give thanks. —1 Thessalonians 5:18
Details make a difference. Ask the man from Germany who planned to visit his fiancée for Christmas but ended up in snowy Sidney, Montana, instead of sunny Sydney, Australia.
Prepositions in our language seem like insignificant details, but they can make a big difference. The words “in” and “for” are an example.
The apostle Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18). That doesn’t mean we have to be thankful for everything. We need not be thankful for the bad choices someone makes, but we can be thankful in the circumstances because the Lord can use the resulting difficulties for good.
The letter to Philemon illustrates this idea. Paul was imprisoned with Onesimus, a runaway slave. He certainly didn’t have to give thanks for his bad situation. Yet his letter is full of gratitude because he knew that God was using it for good. Onesimus had become something more than a slave; he was now a beloved brother in the Lord (v.16).
Knowing that God can use all things for good is more than enough reason to give thanks in everything. Giving thanks in difficult circumstances is a small detail that makes a big difference.
Father, thank You that in every trial, challenge, and difficulty, You are behind the scenes working things out for our good. Help us to see Your hand in everything. Amen.
God has not promised to keep us from life’s storms, but He will keep us through them.
One Heart At A Time
By Dennis Fisher
… no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother. —Philemon 1:16
Quaker John Woolman was an itinerant preacher who waged his own personal campaign to end slavery in colonial America. Woolman met with slave-holders to speak of the injustice of holding other human beings as property. Although Woolman did not eradicate slavery completely, he did persuade many masters to free their slaves. His success was due to individual, personal persuasion.
The book of Philemon contains a similar one-on-one appeal. Onesimus was a runaway slave who had escaped from his Christian master Philemon. Onesimus had come to faith through Paul’s ministry, and now Paul was sending him back to Philemon with these words: “Perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother” (vv.15-16). Although we don’t know if Onesimus was set free from slavery, his new faith in Jesus had changed his relationship with his Christian master. He was now also a brother in Christ. Paul was influencing his world one heart at a time.
By the transforming power of the gospel, people and situations can change. Like Woolman and like Paul, let’s seek to influence our world one heart at a time.
If I can help some wounded heart, If I can by my love impart Some blessing that will help more now— Lord, just show me how. —Brandt
The kindest thing you can do for another is to show him the truth.
If he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. —Philemon 1:18
As a young boy I watched my dad write checks and wished that I could do it. What I didn't realize was that there had to be money in an account to back them up.
The apostle Paul never wrote a check, but he did have an account good enough to pay an unusual debt if necessary. He referred to this in his letter to Philemon, a wealthy Christian whose slave Onesimus had run away and may have stolen some money from his master.
In the providence of God, Onesimus met Paul in Rome and became a follower of Christ. They agreed that it was right for him to return to his master. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon (the letter that bears his name), asking him to receive Onesimus as a brother, and assuring him that he himself would pay any debt Onesimus owed.
That's a picture of what happens in salvation. As sinners, we owed an enormous debt, but Jesus took care of it for us. Because of His sinless life, He has a limitless resource of righteousness. And by dying in our place, He paid the penalty for our sin. Now we can draw on this payment by faith. As Martin Luther said, "We are all His Onesimi." If we put our trust in Christ as our Savior, our sins are put to His account and we are free for all eternity. Praise God! —Dennis De Haan (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Rejoice, rejoice, the debt is paid!
Christ paid a debt He didn't owe
|Philemon 1:12 My very heart. -- This fragment of ancient letter-writing gives us a model of the way in which our commonest or most prosaic dealings, and our letters, even on business matters, may breathe the spirit of Christ. It also illustrates the relation in which we stand to Jesus Christ. What Onesimus was to Paul and Philemon combined, that we are to our Lord.
What was Onesimus to Paul? — His child, whom he had begotten in his bonds. He had probably been discovered by some of his companions in the purlieus of Rome, where criminals concealed themselves from justice, and abandoned characters gave vent to the wildest passions. Or, having heard that the apostle, whom he had so often met in his master’s house, was residing in his own hired house in Rome, the runaway slave had found him out, when in the extremity of hunger. In either case he had now become dear as the apostle’s heart; had learnt to minister to him in his bonds; had proved more than a servant — a brother beloved. O Thou who hast redeemed us from our sins, may we be all this to Thee!
What was Onesimus to Philemon? — He had been unprofitable; and we have been. He was sent back; and we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. He had been a servant, henceforth he should be a beloved brother; and we are no longer servants, but friends. He had grievously wronged his master; but his sin had been forgiven, and so covered by over-abounding grace, that it would bring him into a position of greater privilege and blessing than ever before. In this man’s sin and restoration we see ourselves. Where our sin abounded, grace has much more abounded, through the tender pity of Him who had put our defalcations to his own account.
Philemon - Warren Wiersbe - Two statements in Paul’s letter to Philemon remind us of what Jesus did for us. “Receive him [Onesimus] as you would me” (Philemon 1:17) reminds us that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). “Put that on my account” (Philemon 1:18) reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our redemption (Ro 4:1-8; 2Co 5:21). (With the word Bible commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson)
Philemon 1:10 - C H Spurgeon - There are two passages in the Epistles which, when put together, have often amazed me. Paul compares himself both to a father and to a mother in the matter of the new birth: he says of one convert, “Whom I have begotten in my bonds” (Philemon 1:10), and of a whole church he says, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). This is going very far, much further than modern orthodoxy would permit the most useful servant to venture. Yet it is language sanctioned, even dictated by the Spirit of God Himself, and therefore it is not to be criticized. Such mysterious power does God infuse into the instrumentality which He ordains that we are called “laborers together with God” (1Corinthians 3:9). This is at once the source of our responsibility and the ground of our hope. (from The Soul Winner)
Philemon 1:1-3 By the year 2000, Jenny Thompson had won more Olympic gold medals than any other American woman. She had won ten medals in the previous three Olympics and eight of them had been gold medals. Despite her skill, Thompson could not have won any of these medals on her own. Why? The reason is simple. She had competed in each of these events as part of a team. Her victories were the result of a group effort.
This is also true of the Christian life. Paul’s letter to Philemon, like so many of his other letters, begins by mentioning several of his co-laborers in ministry. Philemon was probably wealthy. He was at least enough well off to afford slaves. He lived in Colossae and his home was used as a meeting place for the church there. Paul had led Philemon to the Lord and now refers to him as his “dear friend” and as a “fellow worker.” Apphia, whose name meant something like “darling” or “sweetheart,” was probably Philemon’s wife. She is described by Paul as a “sister” in the Lord. Archippus may also have been a member of Philemon’s family, perhaps his son. It’s possible that he was one of the leaders of the church that met in Philemon’s home. The apostle calls Archippus a “fellow soldier.”
Paul also addressed this letter to the entire church that met in Philemon’s home. This is interesting in view of the personal nature of the request that occasioned the letter. Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave owned by Philemon, asking him to accept Onesimus back into his household as a brother in Christ. Paul also mentions Timothy in the introduction to this letter and refers to him simply as “our brother.”
Can you name at least three other “team members” who contribute to your effectiveness in serving Christ? Success in ministry is a group effort.
Love and Labor
He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. Colossians 4:9
Nelson Mandela oversaw the reintegration of South Africa after a brutal period of apartheid. His most powerful negotiating tools? Love and forgiveness, two things he practiced in his own life as much as he prescribed them for the nation. For example, on the twentieth anniversary of his release from prison, Mandela invited one of his former jailers to a celebratory dinner. Speaking about the relationship that developed between the two men, Mandela said it “reinforced my belief in the essential humanity of even those who had kept me behind bars.”
In Philemon Paul demonstrates his own knack for negotiation, with love and forgiveness forming the active core of his argument. The book of Philemon, the shortest letter written by Paul, is to Philemon about the matter of the escaped slave Onesimus. As author Bill Heatley explains, Onesimus escaped, became a Christian himself, and then became an assistant to Paul. Under Roman law, Philemon had the right to punish Onesimus severely. But as an apostle of the LORD, Paul had the right to command Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother. Instead of resorting to a hierarchy of rights, Paul calls for love, forgiveness, and mutuality. He requested that Philemon forgive Onesimus and forego any punishment, while at the same time asking Onesimus to return voluntarily to Philemon.
Mandela remembered the “essential humanity” of his captors, but Paul adds to this kinship in Christ. He asked Philemon and Onesimus to treat each other as brothers rather than as slave and master. Here we see a three-way application of the principle of mutuality among Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Each of them owed something to the others. Each of them had a claim over the others. Paul wanted to have all the debts and claims relinquished in favor of a mutual respect and service.
Apply the Word
Philemon could not have failed to notice Paul’s statement that he would be following up with him (v. 21). But Paul managed the communication in an artful way that provides a model for resolving issues in the workplace. For more insight into cultivating a loving posture in the workplace, read The Gift of Work: Spiritual Disciplines for the Workplace by Bill Heatley.
Philemon 1:4-5 Even though his father had died several decades earlier, every time Samuel Thornton spoke of him, he gave the impression he had just had a conversation with him. In fact, the memory of his father was so vivid that Samuel often referred to him in the present tense, as if he were still alive. What was most apparent, however, was the pleasure it gave Samuel to remember his father’s life. A missionary to India and then to Japan, his father had been a godly example to his family. Each story brought to Samuel’s mind the valuable spiritual lessons he had learned from his father while growing up.
Paul felt similarly about Philemon. Every time Paul remembered Philemon, he rejoiced. This was true of others also. Paul told the Roman believers that he remembered them constantly in prayer (Ro 1:9). He wrote to the Ephesian church, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:16). He gave thanks to God every time he remembered the Philippian believers (Phil. 1:3). He assured the Thessalonians: “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).
For Paul, remembering and praying were synonymous. The memory of those he loved immediately prompted him to pray for them (2Tim. 1:3). Paul also asked others to remember him (1Cor. 11:2). He asked the Colossians to “remember” his chains (Col. 4:18). He reminded the Thessalonians of his example of effort, endurance of hardship, and diligent work during his time of ministry among them (1Th. 2:9). He expected the churches to remember his teaching (2Thess. 2:5, 8).
Missionaries often use prayer cards with photographs to remind their supporters to pray for them. Why not use the snapshots and school photographs that friends and family members give you as a similar reminder? Use a bulletin board or refrigerator door to create a “wall of remembrance.” The pictures and keepsakes you post there will remind you of needs for which you can pray. Or you can simply praise God for the lives of those represented there.
Philemon 1:6-7 D. L. Moody once said: “If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent. After all, there are comparatively few people in the world who have great talents.” Yet “average” ability may be one of the things that keeps Christians from sharing their faith. Many are intimidated by the thought that they are ordinary people given the extraordinary task of showing the love of Christ to others.
The good news is that we don’t have to be super heroes or have all the answers in order to share our faith effectively with others. In fact, Paul prayed that Philemon would be active in sharing his faith, so that he would have a greater understanding of all that was his in Christ. In Philemon’s case, however, “sharing” involved more than simply stating the facts of the gospel. It’s possible that the sharing Paul had in mind consisted of acts of hospitality or financial generosity that were prompted by Philemon’s faith in Christ.
In Philemon 1:7 Paul praises Philemon for being an encouragement by “refreshing” the hearts of the saints. Philemon had used his resources to provide relief for other believers, perhaps by opening his home to them as they traveled from one city to another. Some commentators suggest that the “sharing” mentioned in verse 7 might even refer to the faith Philemon had in common with the rest of the church. If this is the sense, then Paul’s prayer would be that Philemon would grow in his understanding of the mutual treasure of faith that was his along with other believers.
How can you share your faith today? It may be by telling someone else the good news of Jesus Christ. Or, God may give you an opportunity to provide momentary relief to someone else. Don’t be discouraged if you feel as if you are just an “average” Christian with little to offer. Most of those who have had extraordinary ministries have been ordinary people who allowed our extraordinary God to use them. All who are active in sharing their faith learn more about the faith that they share.
Philemon 1:8-9 During the Civil War a woman sent Abraham Lincoln a letter asking for his autograph. She also requested that he include a sentiment with the autograph, perhaps hoping for something like “Best Wishes” or “Your Faithful Servant.” Lincoln was annoyed by the selfish nature of her request and wrote back: “Dear Madam: When you ask from a stranger that which is of interest only to yourself, always enclose a stamp. There’s your sentiment, and here’s my autograph. A. Lincoln.”
Paul wrote to Philemon also to ask him for a favor, but the apostle’s request was not prompted by self-interest. Paul’s motivation was his concern for Onesimus and for the church. Onesimus had come to faith in Christ while Paul was in prison. It’s possible that Onesimus was himself a prisoner at the time. As a fellow Christian, this would have been reason enough for Philemon to rejoice. But the language Paul uses in describing Onesimus’ conversion is designed to remind Philemon of other things he and his former slave had in common. They both had Paul as their spiritual father. Now Paul was asking for a favor.
Yet Paul did not want Philemon to forgive Onesimus merely out of obligation. It’s true that as Philemon’s spiritual father and as an apostle, Paul had spiritual authority. “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do.” But Paul wanted Philemon to comply with his request willingly, not under compulsion: “I appeal to you on the basis of love.” Still, the apostle did make it clear that Philemon was also obligated to do what Paul asked.
Philips Brooks said,
What do you have on your agenda today that might qualify as a duty? Do you plan to fulfill it out of a sense of grudging obligation or will you be motivated by your love for Christ and gratitude for all that He has done in your life? Choose at least one task on your “to do” list and consider how being motivated by gratitude will change the way you approach it.
A network television show asks: “What Would You Do?” The show contrives difficult situations and uses hidden cameras to see how people will react. For example, a mother loudly criticizes her overweight daughter (both portrayed by actors) in a crowded restaurant. Many of the patrons are bothered, but most simply shake their heads in disgust. A few, however, do respond. One man chose to confront the mother. When asked why, he responded, “I had to do the right thing.”
In this letter to Philemon, Paul appeals to his colleague to do the right thing in a difficult situation. He is writing to Philemon about Onesimus, who was Philemon’s former slave. Some extra–biblical accounts explain that the slave had robbed Philemon and fled to Rome. There, the slave came in contact with Paul, and Onesimus’s life was forever changed by the gospel.
Onesimus, Paul agrees, was formerly “useless” to Philemon (v. 11). Much has changed, however. Paul not only appeals to Philemon’s forgiving side, but also now describes the former slave as a “son” and as “useful” (vv. 10–11). Even more radically, he states in verse 12 that Onesimus “is my very heart.”
Once a rebellious slave, Onesimus was changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul appeals to Philemon to accept this change and to take his servant back based on two motivations. First of course, is that both Paul and Philemon themselves are prisoners of God and bound by love (vv. 8–9). They are taken captive by the will of Christ.
The second reason is that Philemon and Onesimus now share a bond in Christ. Paul appeals to Philemon for this favor and wants him to do it of his own accord and not because he felt forced to do it. He wants Philemon to make the choice himself, do not only do the right thing, but to go beyond what is expected because of his love for Paul and his love for Christ.
Note that this is not a small request. Philemon was asked to forgive someone who had wronged him, to welcome him back with honor, and to work alongside him for the sake of the gospel of Christ.
Apply the Word - In this spirit of “lavish love,” consider taking an extra step of love toward someone today. Pray for someone in your church who has hurt you, and also send them an encouraging note. Offer to help in a ministry like the nursery or grounds crew that has a need, even if it isn’t your favorite. Cook or take out the trash so that your spouse or family member doesn’t have to. These actions please God when motivated by love.
Philemon 1:10-11 When he was young, Dan wasn’t expected to become interested in the Bible, let alone become the pastor of a church. Widely known as the “town drunk,” Dan had a reputation for hard fighting and heavy drinking. Then a local pastor began to pray for Dan and patiently share the gospel with him. When Dan trusted Christ, his life began to change. In time, he felt God calling him to prepare for the ministry. He left the small town where he had grown up and attended a Bible college. When the pastor who had led him to Christ felt called to the mission field, Dan returned to his hometown and replaced him as the church’s minister.
Charles Spurgeon once declared,
This was certainly true of the apostle Paul. Prior to trusting in Christ, he was a persecutor of Christians.
The same was true of Onesimus. In Greek the name Onesimus literally meant “useful.” In an ironic play on words, Paul admits that formerly Onesimus had been “useless” to Philemon. In fact, Paul uses one more word play here. The word translated “useless” is similar to the Greek word Christless. When Onesimus was Christless, he was useless. Once he came to know Christ, his life was changed, and he became useful, both to Philemon and to the Lord Jesus.
Have you become more useful to God and to others since you trusted in Jesus Christ? Has anyone expressed surprise at the change in your life? Think about these questions. Ironically, those who have experienced such a change can sometimes be the most skeptical about the possibility of God’s grace impacting others in the same way. Think of one such “hopeless case” that you know. Pray that by God’s grace they will come to know Christ, become His useful servant, and show God’s love to others.
Philemon 1:12-14 Hobbits, the fictional inhabitants of Middle Earth created by J. R. R. Tolkien, are fond of giving gifts. Instead of receiving gifts on their birthday, they give gifts to other Hobbits. “Actually in Hobbiton and Bywater every day in the year was somebody’s birthday,” the author explains in The Fellowship of the Ring, “so that every hobbit in those parts had a fair chance of at least one present at least once a week.” As they were required to give so many gifts, some Hobbits recycled them. What was received from one Hobbit was passed on to another on one’s birthday. For Hobbits, this habit of gift giving “was not a bad system.” We, however, might get offended if we knew that someone had given us a “recycled gift.”
Paul had a similar concern about the request that he was about to make of Philemon. Onesimus had become so useful to Paul in his ministry that he would have liked to keep him with him. However, he did not feel that he could do so without Philemon’s permission. He decided, instead, to send Onesimus back with his letter and let Philemon decide what must be done.
God is also concerned about the gifts that we give to Him. He commands us to offer ourselves to Him but wants us to do so willingly. We should see the command to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice as “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). Those who serve as leaders in the church are to do so because they are “willing” (1Peter 5:2). This is also to be true of those who offer their finances to God (2Cor. 9:7). How would you rate your willingness to serve Christ today on a scale of 1 to 10, if 1 is grudging and 10 is eager and willing?
Philemon 1:15-16 One of the most destructive results of slavery has been its tendency to dehumanize its victims. Slaves had monetary value in the eyes of those who bought and sold them, but their value as human beings was diminished. They were viewed as objects and often treated as such. Although some masters treated their slaves with respect (as Philemon seems to have done), others were abusive (1Peter 2:18).
The New Testament did not condemn the practice of slavery outright, but its principles undermined the values that made slavery acceptable. Its assertion that in Christ there is no such thing as slave or free and that every believer is a brother or sister in Christ sowed the seeds that would eventually lead to the abolition of slavery.
Paul wanted Philemon to appreciate Onesimus’ true value. As a believer Onesimus was “no longer a slave.” Even though society may have regarded him as such, in God’s eyes he was a free man (1Cor. 7:22). The believer who was not a slave had no right to look down on the Christian slave because the free man was Christ’s servant. Those who owned slaves were to recognize that they also had a master in heaven (Col. 4:1). At the same time, a new position in Christ did not give Christian slaves the right to be disrespectful. Slaves were to obey their masters with a sincere heart, out of reverence for the Lord (Col. 3:22).
We do not own slaves, but we do sometimes undervalue those around us. Although sin and character flaws may have rendered some “unprofitable servants,” these same people were so valuable that Christ shed His blood for them. Perhaps God brought these “difficult” people into your life for you to share the love of Christ with them. They have inherent value as people created in the image of God. Ask God for an opportunity to tell them about Christ, so that they can find their true worth in Him.
Philemon 1:17-21 A woman who had a long-standing grudge against her sister was describing her plan for revenge. “I’ve kept a list of every mean thing she has ever done to me,” the woman explained. “I keep it in my safe deposit box with instructions that it be given to my sister when I die.” When someone suggested that she was being bitter, the woman denied it. “I’m not bitter,” she declared. “I just want her to know what she has done.”
Although we may not be as careful about keeping accounts of what others have done to us, most of us do keep a mental list of the offenses we have suffered. Although we know we should forgive, it’s not always easy. We know that the offenses we have suffered are real and we are reluctant to let others “get away with murder.”
The feeling that a debt is owed when others hurt us is real. True biblical forgiveness is not saying that the offense another has committed is “nothing.” There must be an accurate reckoning of the offense in order to give true forgiveness. Unlock the mental safety deposit box where you keep the accounts of all your offenses. Look at the ledger and honestly calculate the debt. Now compare that to the price paid by Christ to forgive you. Shouldn’t you show the same kind of mercy to others as Christ has shown you?
Philemon 1:22 On one of James Hudson Taylor’s journeys, the sailing ship in which the pioneer missionary to China was traveling passed dangerously close to a reef. The ship’s anxious captain kept hoping for a favorable evening wind to carry them away from certain disaster. When no wind came, the captain said, “Well, we have done everything that can be done. We can only await the result.” “No,” Taylor replied, “there is one thing we have not done yet.” “What is that?” the captain asked. “Four of us on board are Christians,” Taylor continued. “Let us each retire to his own cabin, and in agreed prayer ask the Lord to give us immediately a breeze. He can as easily send it now as at sunset.”
After a brief time of prayer, Taylor felt so sure that God would grant his request that he could pray no longer. He went up on deck and asked the first officer to let down the mainsail. An unbeliever, the first officer refused and scornfully said, “What would be the good of that?” “We have been asking God for a wind,” Taylor declared. “It is coming immediately and we are so near the reef that there is not a moment to lose!” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Taylor saw the uppermost sail of the ship begin to stir, moved by a fresh breeze. They lowered the mainsail and within minutes the ship was steering toward safety.
Paul had the same confidence that God would answer his prayers for release from prison. He was so certain, in fact, that he asked Philemon to prepare a guestroom for him. Was this presumptuous? Not in view of the passages of Scripture that urge us to expect answers to our prayers. Jesus taught His disciples to pray with the assurance that God knew what they needed before they asked Him (Matt. 6:8). Jesus also taught His disciples to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1).
Examine your prayer list today. How many of your requests do you expect God to answer? Are there reasonable steps you should be taking to prepare for His answer? Remember, however, that God always reserves the right to answer our prayers in His own time and way. An answer of “No” or “Wait” is still an answer. When asked about delayed answer to prayer, Hudson Taylor explained, “If we are kept waiting, the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial.”
Philemon 1:23-25 Jill Briscoe tells of the time she sat at a table with three attractive young women and felt very insecure. “I felt fat, forty, and somewhat futile,” she writes. Then she sensed the Lord speaking to her. “Why do you think everyone is so tense?” In a flash, she understood the reason for the unease she had sensed between the women as well as her own insecurity. “Competition,” she replied to the Lord. “I distinctly heard his next words,” Briscoe writes, “ 'Jill, you’ll never be competition.’ For the first time I thanked God for my ordinary good looks. I could be a big sister to women, a friendly mother, an aunt. I could relax, knowing I would never threaten anyone. God had made me just right for my ministry of teaching women, and that was all that mattered.”
Briscoe’s experience is not unusual. Many Christians, both men and women, feel as if they are in competition with one another. We silently compare our jobs, children, homes, and even our spouses. Worse yet is the competitive spirit one often senses in churches. How happy are we when the church down the street begins to gain more members than our own? Such success is more likely to generate an attitude of jealousy rather than an occasion for rejoicing. If there’s a competition between us, we need to remind ourselves of our heavenly Master who looks at us all as fellow workers.
As you pray for your church and its ministries this week, why not also consider praying for the “competition”? Think of another Bible-believing church or Christian ministry and ask God to bless their efforts. Also ask God to make you sensitive to any areas of your life where you may be competing with others. We don’t always need to be the best. Indeed, the basic principle of life in the body of Christ is found in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
INTRODUCTION TO PHILEMON
VII. UNIQUE CHARACTER
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer…”
The salutation comprises the first three verses.
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus,
Thirteen books in the New Testament begin with the name “Paul”. None of his books begin with “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” except this one. Philemon is the only epistle where Paul portrays himself as a “prisoner.” He currently sits in prison in the city of Rome. Paul refers to his imprisonment six times (Philemon 1:1,9,10,13,22,23). Philemon is the fourth prison epistle.
Paul adds to “prisoner” the phrase “of Christ Jesus”. The intrepid Paul is primarily a prisoner of Christ and not the Roman government or Caesar. Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon from this imprisonment. The Romans incarcerated him but Jesus Christ had captured his soul. Jesus Christ, under His sovereign plan, put Paul in prison (Ep. 3:1; 4:1; 6:19,20; Php 1:13; Col 4:3).
Ep 4:1 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called…”
Paul sees no need to call attention to his apostleship due to the very personal nature of this epistle. Neither does Paul use the term “servant” or “slave” lest Philemon misunderstand his purpose in writing (the freeing of the slave Onesimus); he assumes the place of a petitioner.
Paul always says the very minimum about himself. He does not try to impress people with himself. We invariably try to impress others with our spirituality, our maturity, our training or our effort. Jesus Christ is the One with whom we should be impressed.
PRINCIPLE: All situations in our lives come by divine design.
APPLICATION: There is no circumstance that comes into our lives that is not of the Lord’s doing. We either have human viewpoint or divine viewpoint on life. Divine viewpoint allows us to look at our circumstances from God’s viewpoint. Any illness, handicap, affliction or tragedy cannot come upon us without God’s will. All of it is for our ultimate good and His glory.
Anyone who is “of Jesus Christ” waves their rights and relinquishes their freedom to Jesus Christ as Lord. He dictates where we go and when we get there. Disciples require discipline.
and Timothy our brother
Timothy is not a writer of the book of Philemon but a companion of Paul. Timothy was with Paul on his third missionary journey in Ephesus (Ac 19:1ff) so he was acquainted with people in Colosse where Philemon lived. Paul mentioned Timothy in five other salutations (2 Co, Ph, Co, 1 and 2 Th). He was with Paul during most of his stay in Ephesus when Paul became acquainted with Philemon. By designating Timothy as “brother”, Paul reminds us that we are in the fraternity of the Father. Paul and Timothy were well nigh inseparable. There was a significant difference in their age but they were close companions. Paul calls himself “the aged” in verse nine. Paul wrote two books of the Bible to Timothy (1 & 2nd Timothy).
Timothy was Paul’s troubleshooter along with Titus. Paul could not be everywhere so he sent these two sterling men to address certain problems in the church. Timothy was the vest-pocket edition of the apostle Paul. Paul taught him everything he knew.
PRINCIPLE: Labor in a common cause binds people together.
APPLICATION: There are certain people that we can trust with delicate information. We know this because we know them. They will not garble the message or distort the truth. They will not add to the truth nor will they subtract from the truth.
Php 2:19 “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me.”
1Co 16:10 “Now if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do.”
To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer
This is the only occurrence of the name Philemon in Scripture. Philemon was the object of this little letter. He was a convert of Paul (Philemon 19; Acts 19:10). He was the master of the fugitive slave Onesimus (Col 4:9; Philemon 10). Onesimus stole from this wealthy slave owner. Onesimus later came to trust Christ through Paul and became a great help to Paul in ministry.
Philemon was Paul’s “beloved friend and fellow laborer.” Philemon was a beloved one, a dear friend. Paul viewed Philemon as someone close to him. They probably cultivated their friendship in Ephesus where Paul stayed for three years.
1Co 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
Php 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”
Fellow laborer means that Philemon participated with Paul in the ministry of Christ at Ephesus. “Fellow laborer” occurs 13 times, 12 times in Philemon and once in 3rd John 8. Paul claims no right to order Philemon to release Onesimus but appeals to Philemon as a “friend” and “fellow laborer.”
Philemon was a Christian businessman whose home was always open. He labored with Paul in Ephesus and later he opened his home for the cause of Christ in Colosse.
PRINCIPLE: A good leader values good workers.
APPLICATION: As Paul appreciated good men and women so should we, especially those who labor in the gospel and the Word. This is an indication of a good spiritual leader.
Those who labor with us in the truth of the Word are fellow-soldiers. We endure conflict together; we stand alert against the enemy together; we remind each other of our spiritual weapons; we take responsibility for one another.
Paul was some soul winner. He led the wealthy Philemon to Christ and he
led the salve Onesimus to Christ.
All of us can do something for the Savior. We may not have a public gift but we can serve the Lord. There is room for everyone in the service of the King. We cannot sit on our hands and say, “There is nothing for me to do in the ministry.” God will use all of us if we are willing.
Ac 15:38 “But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.”
1Co 3:9 “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”
2Co 6:1 “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
2Ti 2:15 “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
to the beloved Apphia,
Apphia was the wife of Philemon (v. 1). Wives had the responsibility for slaves and thus Apphia had an interest in Onesimus’ situation. The wife, according to the custom of the times, had responsibility for the slaves in the household. She may have had responsibility over Onesimus.
PRINCIPLE: Good partnership in marriage is essential for successful ministry.
APPLICATION: If a person is married, success in ministry comes from good partnership. If a marriage is mighty grim, the focus is on conflict. If there is harmony in the marriage, there is a heart for others.
Pastors, whose wives are not behind their ministry, have a tough row to hoe. The pastor whose wife stands with him through difficulties and troubles receives a great blessing indeed. If you are considering ministry as a full time occupation, be very careful in your choice of a mate. It will make all the difference in your effectiveness for Christ. She will be criticized from every angle so she must be able to take disapproval and disparagement. If she cannot take criticism, her husband will not last in ministry.
Archippus our fellow soldier,
Archippus was Philemon’s son or possibly the pastor of the congregation or both. He was a “fellow soldier” with Paul. A “fellow soldier” is someone who undergoes brutal battle in campaigns for the cause of Christ with someone else. Archippus was a trooper in the cause of Christ.
Php 2:25 “Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need…”
Archippus is mentioned twice in the Bible: 1) here, and 2) Colossians 4:17 where Paul challenges Archippus to be true to his ministry. He ministered at Laodicea and Colosse both of which were in the Lycus valley.
PRINCIPLE: Success in ministry requires unswerving commitment to one’s calling.
APPLICATION: Successful ministry takes unswerving staunchness to one’s calling. Paul had this attitude.
Acts 20:24 “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul challenged Timothy to “make full proof” of his ministry.
2Ti 4:5 “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
If God leads you to do ministry, do not settle for the Presidency of the United States nor the Prime Minister of Canada. Keep unswerving loyalty to God’s calling upon your life. Don’t settle for anything less.
Unswerving ministry means that there will be many battles. Ministry always involves hardships. It is not easy being a missionary or pastor. At times you will lay wounded on the spiritual battlefield but a good soldier of Jesus will keep fighting until he draws his last breath. Ministry is blessed and gratifying but not easy or glamorous.
2Ti 2:1 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”
and to the church in your house
Churches met in homes until A.D. 200. There were no church buildings until the third century. This church met in Philemon’s house, not Archippus’ house. Paul wanted the letter to Philemon to be read in the local church. This is an epistle to the local church as well as to Philemon. The design of this epistle was to teach the principle of forgiveness.
Ro 16:3 “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.”
1Co 16:19 “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.”
There was another house church in Colosse that met at the house of Nymphas. Some people in Colosse preferred to meet in Philemon’s house and others preferred to meet in Nymphas’ house. There is room for individuality and difference in the family of God.
Col 4:15 “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.”
PRINCIPLE: It is imperative that every believer attach himself to the local church for encouragement, edification and service.
APPLICATION: The word “church” occurs 114 times in the New Testament and is used upwards of 100 times for the local church. A local church is a geographically identifiable organized group of believers with local leadership. Local church members are baptized and identified with Jesus Christ in their local church. Every true Christian must belong to a local church.
Acts 12:5 “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
1Co 1:1 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 To the church of God which is at Corinth…”
1Co 16:1 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia…”
2Co 8:1 “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia…”
We all need the local church for encouragement, support and service. Are you an active part of the local church?
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This verse expresses the usual, customary greeting from Paul. However, greetings in the New Testament are far from convention. They are a hope for the readers.
Grace to you - “Grace” is what God does for the believer because of Christ. Grace is the source of our resources in Christ.
2Co 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”
PRINCIPLE: Grace is our resource for life based on provision in Christ.
APPLICATION: A Christian can no more operate in the Christian life apart from grace and peace than he can run his car without gas and oil. Grace is God’s favor and goodwill that He bestows on us because of Christ. We do not earn or deserve this favor. God is not only the Giver but He also is the Gift. Grace is personified in the person of Christ.
Titus 2:11 ”For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…”
Jn 1:16 “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
2Co 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
2Co 12:9 “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
1Pe 5:10 “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
God gives grace to those who say, “I cannot make it on my own. I’m going to sink. Please help me.” God gives grace to the humble. God’s grace enables us to maintain our spiritual equilibrium. The proud have blind spots whereby they do not recognize their spiritual deficiencies. Those who operate on grace look to God’s mercy and grace for help during their times of failings.
“Peace” is the result of grace. It is the product of grace. There is no peace apart from grace whether in initial salvation or in progressive sanctification.
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
The source of grace is God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace have a double source. Paul puts Jesus Christ on a par with the Father. If Jesus Christ were anything less than God, this statement could not be true.
PRINCIPLE: The believer at peace is the believer who understands God’s sovereign care over his life.
APPLICATION: Peace is the right relation with God that comes from grace. Grace always precedes peace.
Every Christian has peace with God but very few have the peace of God. If we recognize God’s sovereign working in our lives, we will experience the peace of God. We will not fret and fuss about our circumstances. God’s peace will fortify us against carking, corroding anxiety.
Is 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.”
Ro 14:17 “…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Ro 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Php 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Anxiety will immobilize us. We will be afraid to take aggressive steps for the Lord. We must realize that nothing can touch us unless the Lord puts His initials on it. If He initials it, then it is His program for our lives. It will work out for His glory. His program for us differs from every other believer. He has a plan for each of us. If we accept this, we will have internal tranquility in the midst of external turbulence.
Ep 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
The believer who operates in the peace of God can sit down on the inside. He knows that the sovereign God runs interference for everything that comes into his life. This gives us confidence and courage to do the work of God.
I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers…”
The first three verses comprise the introduction to Philemon and verse four begins the body of the epistle.
I thank my God,
All of Paul’s epistles begin with a thanksgiving except one where it is conspicuous by its absence -- Galatians contains no thanksgiving. He did not give thanks for the Galatians because of their serious doctrinal error.
Co 4:2 “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving…”
God was personal to Paul so he uses the term “my,” “my God.” He had a God he could call his own.
Ps 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want [lack].”
Ps 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”
making mention of you always in my prayers
Paul talked to God about Philemon on his knees. He does not simply offer a prayer or two for Philemon but he “always” prays for him. Philemon was in Paul’s regular prayers.
1 Sa 12:23 “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.”
Ps 55:17 “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.”
Ac 6:4 “…but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Ro 12:12 “…rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…”
Ep 6:18 “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…”
Philemon was on Paul’s prayer list. Paul bathed his leaders in prayer. The word “mention” implies intercession. The occasion for intercession is in Paul’s practice of his regular prayer life.
PRINCIPLE: Continual thanksgiving and intercession is God’s standard for every believer.
APPLICATION: Extend your prayer for other people. It is advisable to have a written prayer list. We need to bring the situations and circumstances of others before God in intercessory prayer. Thanksgiving should always be part of intercessory prayer.
Ja 5:16 “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
Every Christian should have stated times for prayer but he should also have an attitude of prayer. He should keep the receiver off the hook.
1Th 5:17 “…pray without ceasing…” We must make time for prayer to have a dynamic spiritual life. We will never have perfect conditions for prayer so we have to learn to pray under unfavorable conditions.
…hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints…”
hearing of your love and faith
Paul now gives the reason he thanked God for Philemon in the previous verse. He continually was “hearing” [present tense] of Philemon’s character. Philemon developed a capacity of character that coupled “love and faith” together. He was a man of great spiritual caliber. Philemon was a man who loved and trusted the Lord Jesus and loved fellow Christians.
Ep 1:15 “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…”
Col 1:3 “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints…”
1Th 1:2 “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father…”
2Th 1:3 “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other…”
Paul appeals to Philemon’s character in forgiving the runaway slave Onesimus for his crimes, “Philemon, your genuine faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for Him gives you the capacity to forgive. You were forgiven so you now have the capacity to forgive. Forgive Onesimus for what he did.”
The “love” here is the love of self-sacrifice. This love does not come from emotions but from the will that has its source in humility. It says in effect, “I will sacrifice my pride to love you. I will do what it takes to meet your need.” This is a love that transcends emotion and does what it does out of a higher principle.
which you have toward the Lord Jesus
The words “you have” are present tense – “You continue to have unswerving love and faith toward the Lord Jesus. Your character revolves around the Lord Jesus.”
PRINCIPLE: Christians have the capacity to forgive because they have been forgiven.
APPLICATION: Love and faith go hand-in-hand. They are closely knit. As our faith in Christ develops so our love toward Him will strengthen. Do you love the Lord more this year than last? We know Him better so we should love Him more. Jesus proves Himself faithful in any and every situation. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Pr 18:24).
Ps 116:1 “I love the Lord, because He has heard My voice and my supplications.”
Jn 21:15 “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’”
1Pe 1:8 “…whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…”
It is important to develop the capacity or caliber to forgive others of wrongs they do against us. We develop this capacity because we first receive forgiveness from the Lord.
Ga 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
1Th 4:9 “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another…”
Forgiveness produces forgiveness. This is part of the new nature in Christ. Failure to forgive violates our essential relationship to Christ.
Ep 4:32 “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
Col 3:13 “…bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
and toward all the saints
Philemon cared about other believers. Paul is sending the renegade Onesimus back to his master Philemon with the letter to Philemon. Paul could trust Philemon in dealing fairly with Onesimus. Philemon cared more than for his “four and no more.” Onesimus was a brother in the faith so Paul had confidence that Philemon would deal fairly with Onesimus. Onesimus needed Philemon’s forgiveness.
Philemon loved “all” the saints. Philemon will have his love for “all” challenged when Paul asks him to forgive Onesimus who did him wrong. This will be an acid test of his love for “all.”
PRINCIPLE: God wants us to love all the saints, not most.
APPLICATION: Biblical love is more than sentiment. It loves in good time and it loves in difficult times. The acid test of whether we love others is loving them in difficult times.
Jn 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jn 15:17 “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
Ro 13:8 “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law”
1Co 13:1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal… 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1Pe 4:8 “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
You will have come to a great milestone in your spiritual life when you “cover” a believer’s sin rather than expose him. When we hear of a Christian speaking despairingly of another believer, we know automatically that he does not love his brother in Christ. None of us is in possession of all the facts. But even if we possess the facts, it makes no difference whether we are right or wrong in our criticism; we love them by not exposing them. Our criticism may be justified but our communication of it is not justified.
To love some of the saints is relatively simple but to love all is more difficult. We are naturally attracted to some people on a human level. Some are more compatible, friendlier or more personal but the criterion at hand is that God wants us to love all the saints whatever their human assets or liabilities.
Uncritical love is an indication that we are a genuine believer. We develop confidence that we are a Christians this way.
1 Jn 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.”