a. Prison epistle – written in
i. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians
b. Date: around 60, with Ephesians. Mark also had written around 60
c. Political environment
i. Jewish persecution of Church (33-64)
ii. Nero’s reign (54-68)
1. Eusebius attributed Paul’s death to Nero (also Peter)
2. The letter’s structure
a. Greeting/addressed recipients
c. Addressing issue
3. Paul introduced himself and addressed the letter (vv. 1-2)
a. Remember to think of this as a personal letter between friends and brothers in Christ.
b. Paul & Timothy
i. Dictated to Timothy; could have delivered it
ii. From both of them in concert
c. To Philemon & Apphia & Archippus
i. Apphia is Philemon’s wife (Calvin)
ii. Fellow soldier—a title belonging particularly to ministers (Col. 4:17, another mention) – son?
iii. Church in Philemon’s house
4. A typical greeting
1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:2 (God THE
Father); Phil. 1:3 Rom.
i. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
ii. Calvin actually preferred the translation: “joy and consolation”
5. Paul expressed thanks
a. Paul’s prayer is that their faith will produce forgiveness (v. 6) “sharing” = fellowship
b. Philemon’s household exhibited love toward neighbors and faith in Jesus Christ (v.7)
c. Philemon’s household “refreshed” the hearts of the saints (v. 7)
i. Christ’s benefits have been faithfully preached to them
1. This, in turn, gave Paul joy and comfort; encouraged to see disciples generated
6. All of the intro, greeting and expression of thanks preface Paul’s command
7. Vv. 8-16
i. Paul in Roman prison for the gospel/Prisoner of Christ and an old man.
ii. Onesimus is Paul’s son in the faith.
iii. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who ran away/useful to Paul after being saved.
1. “Onesimus” means profitable.
iv. Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus.
b. Vv. 8-9 Paul says he’s able to command but he “appeals” instead.
i. Why does Paul have such authority?
1. Cringe at Paul’s right to command.
a. Paul pointed out authority he wouldn’t exercise—results:
i. Extended mercy
ii. maintained seriousness of obedience
2. In individualistic democracy, no context for Kings and commands.
ii. What is it that is required?
1. v. 17 “…receive him as you would receive me.”
iii. Why wouldn’t he just command Philemon to take Onesimus back?
1. “…for love’s sake…” Calvin says, “Philemon’s love”.
2. The tone of the letter is gentle tactfulness.
c. Vv. 10-14
i. Paul deeply appreciated Onesimus’ company/service.
ii. Onesimus is sent back with Paul’s very heart.
iii. Desire for Onesimus to stay = declaration of his usefulness.
d. Vv. 15-16
1. Paul expected freedom—v. 22
2. v. 15 “…have him back forever.”
ii. v. 15 Paul appealed to the sovereign work of God through the sinful acts of men.
1. Contending for Onesimus, Paul said, “…parted from you…” instead of “ran away”.
iii. Added variable in the master/slave relationship—Onesimus is Philemon’s brother eternally.
1. “…especially to me…” or, immensely, intensely, exceedingly. “Elative sense”.
2. “…both in the flesh and in the Lord.”—as regards Onesimus’ relationship to Philemon
a. “…in the flesh…”
i. Master: slave = father: son
ii. Fellow Colossian
iii. In the affairs of this world in contrast to the affairs of the eternal world
b. “…in the Lord.” is obviously as a fellow member of Christ’s body.
e. Vv. 17-20
i. v. 17 Here is the request – receive him as you would receive your partner in Christ.
1. “koinonos”—sharer in the koinonia.
ii. v. 18 Illustrates atonement.
1. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that debt isn’t paid.
a. A company “forgives your debt”—they pay the price themselves.
b. You forgive your neighbor—you absorb that debt.
i. “You do not make the other person pay the debt of emotional pain, but you pay it down yourself. When someone wrongs you it creates an emotional debt of pain, it’s a debt that you feel.”—Tim Keller
c. Christ is punished and God forgives us —our debts are actually paid.
i. Jesus absorbed our debt. Asked His Father to forgive—I will pay for it (Luke 23:34).
iii. v. 19 Paul asked Philemon to absorb Onesimus’ debt or charge it to Paul’s account.
a. Philemon shouldn’t charge it to Paul—Paul appeals to Philemon’s debt (Matt. 18:21-35).
iv. v. 20 Paul answers the objection Philemon might have after reading v. 19.
1. Paul desires benefit from Philemon, “…in the Lord.”
a. Philemon would refresh Paul’s heart by receiving Onesimus.
i. Receiving in v. 17 is—Philemon absorbing any debt incurred by Onesimus.
f. Vv. 21-25
i. v. 21 Paul began verse 8 with an appeal to obedience and concludes with confidence.
ii. v. Paul is confident that he would return to
iii. vv. 23-24 List of companions.
1. Epaphras—fellow prisoner (Col. 1:17).
2. Mark—the cousin of Barnabus (Col. 4:10).
(Acts 20:4—a Thessalonian). Col.
4. Demas—later forsook Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).
5. Luke—the doctor, the author of the Acts and a gospel account.
iv. v. 25 Benediction
i. A personal letter from Paul to Philemon and his household, but especially to Philemon.
ii. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who fled to Roman
1. Saved under Paul’s ministry
2. Made useful again, to Philemon and for the first time to Paul.
iii. Paul appealed to Philemon’s love for the saints
1. Onesimus is now counted among saints, so “receive him as you would receive me.”
2. Paul is confident of Philemon’s forgiveness/mercy. Philemon experienced God’s mercy.
iv. Paul hoped to see Philemon again and sent greetings from his fellow workers.
i. What would you say this letter is about? One or two words.
ii. How does it challenge us?
iii. Is there any “Good News” in it?