Study of Philemon

By Dr. Edgar Pierce

(c) 2006

 

Study in Philemon

BACKDROP:

The book of Philemon is as several authors have said, like looking over the shoulder of Philemon as he reads his personal mail. The book is a very personal letter sent from the Apostle Paul (see Philemon 1,9,19) to his friend and son in the faith Philemon.

The book is on of the epistles that Paul wrote while he was in prison during his first imprisonment. The dates generally given are from 61-63 A.D. It is therefore known as one of the Prison Epistles along with Ephesians, Phillipians and Colossians. The book in fact has a close association with Colossians for both epistles mention Archippus, Epaphras, Aristaruchus, Demas and Luke (see Col. 4:10,12,14,17) Also Onesimus accompanied Tychicus, who carried the letter to Colossae.

Slavery:

This book is set against the backdrop of a kingdom which was one that allowed and condoned slavery of men. There were approximately sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire. This is even more striking when we realize that the entire population was only 120 million. The slaves were half of the population. The slaves however were just a piece of personal property to be treated as the owner wished. He was treated worse than an enemy by many owners.

Characters:

Philemon was a rich slave owner who lived in the city of Colossae. Paul had evidently lead Philemon to the Lord and most scholars think it was in Ephesians that this occurred. (see Acts 19.)

Onesimus was a runaway slave from his master Philemon. He had fled to Rome to hide in the big city. There he ran into the gospel in the person of Paul. Paul then writes a personal letter to Philemon, Onesimus master and owner on behalf of Onesimus.

So we have three character in this story, Paul the apostle, Philemon the slave owner and Onesimus the runaway slave.

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OUTLINE:

I- Greeting and Salutation: 1:1-3

A- The Writer: 1:1a

B- The Recipients: 1:1b-2

1- Philemon:

2- Apphia:

3- Archippus:

4- The Church:

C- The Salutation: 1:3

II- The Thanksgiving and Praise for Philemon 1:4-7

A- Thanks for Philemon 1:4-5

B- Prayer: 1:6

C- Joy and Encouragement: 1:7

III- Personal Appeal for Onesimus 1:8-20

A- Plea not a Command: 1:8

B- Plea for Love's Sake: 1:9

C- For His Son Onesimus 1:10

D- Past Relationship with Philemon 1:11

E- Plea from Paul's Heart 1:12

F- Paul Relationship with Onesimus 1:13

G- Not Without Your Permission 1:14

H- Higher Purpose of Runaway 1:15

I- Future Relationship of Onesimus and Philemon: 1:16

J- Plea as a Partner 1:17

K- Imputations Living Example 1:18-19

L- Refresh Paul Heart: 1:20

IV- Conclusion and Expectations 1:21-25

A- Philemon Will Do More Than Asked 1:21

B- Prepare for My Visit 1:22

C- Greeting from Our Mutual Friends 1:23-24

D- Blessing 1:24

 

Exposition of the Text:

I- Greeting and Salutation: 1:1-3

A- The Writer: 1:1a

The identification of the writer of the book of Philemon is not anything that is a hard matter to discover. The Apostle Paul identifies himself very clearly as the writer. Notice that he calls himself, "A prisoner of Jesus Christ..." He does not refer to himself as a prison or Rome which he was, but as a prisoner of Christ. He also does not refer to himself as an apostle because this is a very personal and private letter.

B- The Recipients: 1:1b-2

The recipients of this letter are Philemon, his family and the Church that meet in his house.

1- Philemon:

As we have already discussed Philemon was a wealthy slave owner who lived in the city of Colossae.

2- Apphia:

Apphia is believed by most bible scholars to be the wife of Philemon. This letter is important in it address to her because in the culture the women had a great deal to do with the slaves and their management.

3- Archippus:

Archippus was assumed to be the son of Philemon and he held a prominent place in the Colossian church. (see Col 4:17)

4- The Church:

The "Church in thy (Philemon's) house." The church for the first 200 years or so of it's existence did not have a building to call it's own and meet in the homes of believers.

C- The Salutation: 1:3

The salutation is one that is common to most of the letters of Paul in the New Testament, grace and peace.

II- The Thankgiving and Praise For Philemon 1:4-7

A- Thanks for Philemon 1:4-5

Paul sets about commend Philemon and gives him a very glowing report in these verses. Paul says that he is thankful to God for Philemon. Paul is going to ask a personal favor of Philemon and some have said that he was buttering him up. I believer that these are not idle words but are word of genuine praise. This is the pattern of Paul in his writings to open with a word of thankgiving. Galatians is the only book that he did not do that in.

B- Prayer: 1:6

Paul prayer for Philemon was for him to continue to do and recognize God at work in his life.

C- Joy and Encouragement: 1:7

The NIV says, "Your love has given me great joy and encouragement..." Philemon had been a source of encouragement for Paul because of the way that he had treated the saints. He had, "Refreshed the hearts..." NIV of the saints.

III- Personal Appeal for Onesimus 1:8-20

We now come to the heart of the letter. The Personal appeal for Onesimus. Remember that Onesimus was a runaway slave from Philemon. He had probably stolen something of value as he left also. Upon his return Philemon and Apphia would have every right to punish him and even put him to death.

A- Plea not a Command: 1:8

Paul issues this not on the ground of his apostolic authority but on the grounds of a plea. He says he could be Much bold" and issue it as a command but he chose to not do so.

B- Plea for Love's Sake: 1:9

He does it on the highest motivation possible, love. He pleas for love sake. He says Paul the aged and prisoner. He was probably only in his mid 50's to early 60's but his work had aged him.

C- For His Son Onesimus 1:10

"For my son, Onesimus" leads us to know that Onesimus was a spiritual son of Paul. He also refers to Titus and Timothy as his sons. His converts is what he is saying , his son in the faith. Philemon is probably one of these sons also according to verse 19.

D- Past Relationship with Philemon 1:11

The past relationship of Philemon and Onesimus was not a good one. Onesimus means profitable and he had been anything but that in the past. Paul's tells Philemon that he which was not profitable in the past was now profitable to both himself and Philemon.

E- Plea from Paul's Heart 1:12

Paul had come to love Onesimus very deeply and heart felt in a very short time. The NIV says, "I am sending him---who is my very heart---back to you." He is pleading for Onesimus from his heart. Some have said that we can see the heart of Paul the Pastor here.

F- Paul Relationship with Onesimus 1:13

Paul would have liked to have kept Onesimus but he realized that he needed to return to Philemon. He would have kept him to minister to himself in Philemon's place.

G- Not Without Your Permission 1:14

Paul says that he would not do this without Philemon's permission. Paul wanted it to be so that Philemon could make the decision without feeling he had no choice but to say yes. He was not appealing to him on a guilty basis but a love basis remember.

H- Higher Purpose of Runaway 1:15

Paul says that the purpose of Onesimus running away may have had a higher purpose. God in his providence had brought Onesimus to Rome seemingly as a free man and he ran into one who was shackled in irons who was free indeed. Paul was a prisoner and yet he had a freedom that Onesimus did not. Paul says that the hand of God was working to change the life of one who was worthless to one who would be profitable forever.

I- Future Relationship of Onesimus

and Philemon: 1:16

Paul is asking not only for Philemon to receiver Onesimus back but to welcome him as a brother. Some think that Onesimus was a blood brother ot Philemon because Paul says, "both in the flesh" and in the Lord. He ask that Philemon receive him not as a servant but as a brother in Christ.

J- Plea as a Partner 1:17

The plea of Paul in this verse is one of a Partner in the ministry. Philemon was a very strong servant of Christ and Paul was partner in his work.

K- Imputations Living Example 1:18-19

This is a wonderful living example of imputation. Paul tells Philemon if he owns you anything, and the though is that he does, to charge it to the account of Paul and he would pay the debt. The Lord Jesus Christ took the sin that was on our account and paid it in full as you and I know full well. Paul says that he is signing his name to the note.

L- Refresh Paul Heart: 1:20

This verse is tied to the actions of Philemon in the past. Remember in verse 7 Paul says that Philemon had done this in the past. Paul is asking him to do it in this situation.

IV- Conclusion and Expectations 1:21-25

We come to the conclusion of this brief yet powerful letter. In the last 5 verse we have the conclusion and expectations.

A- Philemon Will Do More Than Asked 1:21

Paul says that he knows and has confidence in Philemon that he will not only do what is ask but more also. There is little doubt that Philemon accepted the plea of Paul.. Paul seems to be suggesting that Philemon give Onesimus his freedom. some think that he was on the first wagon train, if you will, back to Rome with supplies and help for Paul.

B- Prepare for My Visit 1:22

Paul had a heartfelt desirt to visit with Philemon. There is no record that Paul every visited Colossae but most suspect that he did. He would be staying with Philemon when he did come.

C- Greeting from Our Mutual Friends 1:23-24

He list several mutual friends that sent their greetings. This list is also mention in the letter to the Colossians. (See Col 4:10-14.)

D- Blessing 1:24

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." What a gracious way to end such a personal letter. He asks that God bless them and lead them by His grace.

LESSONS FROM PHILEMON:

1- The lesson that God can change a life no matter how unprofitable they are.

2- The lesson of relationships that have been wronged and need forgiveness. Notice that this was a two way street, Onesimus was repentant and Philemon needed to forgive him.

3- The lesson of attempting to undo the wrongs of pre-conversion trouble.

4- The lesson of true freedom only come with a right relationship to Christ.