PHILEMON - Chapter 1
(Read Philemon 1:1-3)
This is also a prison epistle. In the opening greeting, Paul introduces himself a prisoner for Christ Jesus. Paul never visited Colossae. It is likely that this church was started as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10, 26). Paul joints Timothy to greet Philemon. Paul praise God for what he has done in Philemon’s life. Because of the work of Christ, Philemon has become not only a beloved fellow worker but also there was a church meeting in his home (1:1-2). It is generally consider that Apphia was Philemon’s wife. Archippus was a minister of the Word in this church (Col 4:17). Paul expresses his deep love for this household church by greeting believers with grace and peace. During that time believers used to meet in homes for worship, prayer, fellowship and breaking of bread (Rom 16:5). Paul prays that Philemon's love, faith, hospitality an witness continue to grow and bear more fruit “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. This shows that Christ is equal with the Father. The grace was the common Greek greeting and Peace the ordinary Hebrew greeting. Paul combines these two terms to greet believer to show the fact that there is no difference between gentiles and Jews in the church. Grace is the means of salvation and the peace is the result of it. Christ has made peace with God on our behalf.
Paul was full of thanksgiving and praise for what God has done in Philemon’s life. He was a model believer before God and to other believers. His love, faith, witness and hospitality shown to fellow Christians were known to all. Paul prays that his faith may grow and bear much fruit (1:5-7). Philemon was radically changed because of the gospel. He now uses his time, talents and resources to serve Christ by ministering to others. Paul was encouraged because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through Philemon. Our eloquence and orthodoxy will be forgotten but the kindness shown in Christ’s name will be remembered for generation to come. Brotherly kindness is a great Christian virtue (1 Pet 1:7). Kindness is the strongest force on earth and it is music to broken hearts. We should show kindness for the sake of Christ. We should forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us (4:32). We can refresh the brokenhearted people by treating them with compassion, humility and patience (Col 3:12-14). The love of Christ should flow through us to others.
Paul’s Appeal for Onesimus:
In these verses we see Paul’s appeal to Philemon regarding his runaway slave, Onesimus. He is now a transformed brother in Christ. Paul knows that he does not need to command Philemon with his apostolic authority because Philemon is a beloved brother in Christ. He was sure of Philemon’s love and faith towards God. His love was practical because he refreshed the saints. Paul requests Philemon to consider Onesimus no longer as a runaway slave but as a beloved brother in Christ (Vs 16). He wants Philemon to know that once we were also sinners but the gospel brought radical change in our lives (Titus 3:3). Paul being an old apostle and a prisoner for the sake of the gospel made his appeal all the more forceful. Paul led Onesimus into the saving knowledge of Christ. Once he was useless but now he has proven to be profitable to Paul and Philemon. True salvation brings radical change in lives (2 Cor 5:17). Paul expressed his deep affection for Onesimus by calling him “My son in faith” (vs 10). Paul request Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul himself (Vs 17). Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him on behalf of Philemon during his imprisonment for the gospel (Vs 13). But he preferred to do nothing without Philemon’s consent. Kindness cannot be forced upon someone. The gospel does not force to do something against our will.
Paul did not use his apostolic authority but requested Philemon to receive Onesimus. Once he was not profitable but now he is profitable. Paul wants Philemon to know that God in His providence permitted Onesimus to go to Rome that he might meet Paul and get saved. God is able to rule and overrule everything to fulfill his purpose in our lives (Rom 8:28). God does all things for our good and for his glory. Onesimus is still a slave to Philemon but he is a free man in Christ. He is a brother in Christ. Spiritual-bonds transcend all human barriers and relationships. Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul himself. This illustrates what Christ has done for us. Once we were slaves sin but we are forgiven and accepted in Christ (Ephesians 1:6). Paul asks Philemon to charge to Paul’s account what Onesimus owes to him. Paul models the transforming love of the gospel as he asks Philemon to “Charge that to my account”. This reminds us of what Christ himself has done for us (1 Pet 2:24; 2 Cor 5:21). The grace of God is so powerful that it makes a slave a brother and partner in Christ (Rom 8:17). Paul led both Philemon and Onesimus to faith in Christ (Phil 10, 19). Paul points out that he wrote this letter personally knowing that Philemon will do even more than what he asked for. Paul also asks a personal favor that Philemon may refresh his heart, even as he has refreshed the hearts of others. How greatly the church will be blessed if believers would show kindness to one another!
Paul concludes his letter in a confident note. Paul is confident that Philemon would receive Onesimus back unconditionally (Vs 21). Paul hopes that he would be released from prison soon (Phil 2:24). Paul plans to visit Philemon and he expects that Philemon would provide hospitality for him. Christ not only has paid the penalty of our sins but also gives us the power to live a transformed life. Paul joints Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke in his final greeting. They are fellow workers. Epaphras was well known to the Colossians. He came to Rome to assist Paul in his imprisonment (Col 4:12-13). Mark had recovered from his failures (Act 13:13). Aristarchus was one of Paul’s converts (Acts 20:4). Demas was fellow worker but later loved the world and deserted Paul (2 Tim 4:10). Only Luke the beloved physician remained faithful to the end (2 Tim 4:11). Paul ends the letter as he began, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit”. We are saved by grace. It is the same grace that enables us to live for God. God's acceptance of us is without reservation because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Pray that God may help you to show the same grace and forgiveness that Christ has shown to you. May God be glorified!