The epistle of Philemon is the only private letter of Paul’s which has survived the passage of time. All his others were either addressed to local churches or were pastoral letters of authoritative direction.
In the epistle Paul throws off the restraint of authority and addresses Philemon as “brother”(V.7), which breathes the spirit of freedom and equality. We see here Paul as the minister and the man.
Philemon appears to be a Christian of some eminence residing at Colossae(Col 4:9). It seems that Philemon and Archippus(son) (Phile. v.2) were both office-bearers in Colossae (Col 4:17). Philemon was saved under Paul’s ministry (Philemon 19). Onesimus was one of his slaves who had robbed his master Philemon, forsaken his service, and fled 500 miles to Rome. But the hand of God directed Onesimus to hear Paul’s Preaching (Acts 28:30-31) which was blessed of the spirit to his conversion (Philemon 10). Though Onesimus greatly helped Paul and had been useful to Paul in his imprisonment, Paul realized it was only right to send him back to his master. Accordingly Paul wrote this touching letter to Philemon, begging that the slave Onesimus might be given a favorable reception. It is highly probable that Paul’s request was granted and that Onesimus was received and later given his freedom. Tradition says that Onesimus afterward became a minister of the Gospel.
Invariably, in those days, runaway slaves were crucified. Paul tried to bring reconciliation between the master and the slave balancing the claims of Justice and Mercy.
A Four-fold Fellowship
1. Fellow-believer V.6 (Trusting)
2. Fellow-Soldier V.2 (fighting)
Fighting follows trusting. Gal. 5:17 & Exo. 17:1-8.
Remember it was immediately after God had given water (Holy Spirit) to Israel , that Amalek (flesh) fought Israel. But in this fight, through our heavenly Moses on the Mount – Our Lord Jesus Christ as Great High Priest – We are more than conquerors.
3. Fellow-Labourer V.1 (Working)
4. Fellow-Prisoner V.23 (Suffering)
This is the only epistle were Paul begins by simply calling himself a “Prisoner” .
Six times(V.1,9,10,13,22,23).The epistle begins with Paul in bonds,
but leads up to Paul in prayer.
In the course of his letter Paul used the most touching arguments:
1. An appeal to his love for the saints (V.5)
2. An appeal to his own condition aged-in prison (V.8,9)
3. From the particular relation of Onesimus to Paul his own son in faith (V.10)
4. From the transformation accomplished in Onesimus -he was now “profitable” (V.11)
5. The strong affection Paul had for Onesimus. (V.12)
6. From his unwillingness to act without the approval of Philemon (V.13,14)
7. From the special relation Onesimus now has to Philemon-a brother-beloved (V.15,16)
8. From the intimate bonds that existed between Paul and Philemon (V.17)
9. From the assurance given by Paul that he would personally make good any loss which Philemon had incurred (V.18)
10.The Joy and refreshment that would be Paul’s if Philemon granted his request (V.20)
THE BALANCE OF TRUTH
Natural Order (in Christ no difference)
Governmental Order (Philemon->Master, Onesimus-Servant)
Note 1 Peter 2:13-15
AN ANALOGY OF OUR SALVATION
1. Original Position : God created man perfect and thus man was the property. But in sinning he not only departed from God, as Onesimus had done, but also robbed Him.
2. Sad Plight : As Onesimus fled to Rome so with man. As Roman Law gave a slave no right to asylum, so the Law of God affords man, no right of asylum, no resting place, no way of escape. The Law says ” The soul that sinneth it shall die”
3. God has a Partner (V.17): In Jesus, God has a Partner. Knowing fully how much we wronged God, how much we owe Him, Jesus says ” Put that on mine account”
4. Grace Intervenes : Roman law Permitted a slave to flee to his master’s friend, who could plead for him. Onesimus went to Paul, his master’s friend, and he was born again(V.10). Sinners fly to the Lord Jesus In Him, through Him, they receive pardon and begotten a new as sons. Jesus is both a Savior and Intercessor. The sinner returns to God, not as a runaway slave, but as CHRIST HIMSELF (V.16) (There are 11 references to the Lord Jesus by name in this short Epistle – (V.1,3,5,6,8,9,16,20,23,25) (Onenimus – “Profitable”)
Paul’s Prayer : Philemon V.4-6
1. Object : ” My God” – The first lesson in Prayer the relationship – Psa. 86:12, 67:6
2. Its heartiness : “Making mention of thee always in my prayers”-Paul was no Casual Supplicant.
3. Its Occasion : ” I thank my God……….hearing of thy love and faith”
Thanks to God for the Graces. For God is the Author of them. Thanksgiving should be offered to God not only for ourselves but for our fellow-christians also. This was always Paul’s custom (Rom 1:8; Eph 1:15,16, Col 1:3,4)
V.5–> Where one grace exists, the other is found.
4. Petition: V.6 – Request was here made that Philemon might be divinely enabled to give still further proof of his faith and love, by bringing forth more abundant fruit, in ministering to the need of others.