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					Sermon Transcript — December 18, 2004

Philemon: Case Study in Christian Living
by Mr. Jack Hendren
Well happy Sabbath to everyone. I would like to go to an area that is very interesting to me and
that is the area of biographies. I don't know how interested you are in reading biographies of
various people, but I find biographies to be absolutely amazing and interesting reading, and in
the course of reading biographies, I've become interested in historians that write biographies.
And a book that I recently completed was written by Stephen Ambrose. Many of you know of
Stephen Ambrose. He's a very popular writer that recently died; he wrote such books as the
biography of General and President Eisenhower. He wrote the Nothing Like It In the World: The
Story of the Trans-Continental Railroad. He was written a number of books on World War II, an
absolutely fascinating writer of history, and the course of the book I was reading, I think it's
entitled, To America, Mr. Ambrose described the process of being a historian.
If you are a historian and you are an accurate historian, you attempt to understand your subject as
clearly as you possibly can and the way you do that is you read what they have written. You read
their letters; you read notes that they may have made about a certain portion of their life. He was
saying that in the course of doing over a thousand pages of the biography of President and
General Eisenhower, which was over a thousand pages in length, he had to read multiple
thousands of letters and articles and stories about the General. He said he would take on
three-by-five cards, on pieces of note take an average of twenty notes for every reference that he
might make in a book.
So we would, if there's a reference or part of a page that references a certain specific piece of
information he will have taken twenty times that to even pull the information together. And he
said over a period of time as you read the letters of famous people or even those that aren't so
famous, you begin to understand something about their character, something about their nature,
something about them as an individual. We have the opportunity as we read God's word to
follow through on the practice that Mr. Ambrose described so simply and so eloquently in his
recent book. We find in the pages of the New Testament, we find thirteen letters which are, we
know with certainty are written by the Apostle Paul.
Many of us believe, I am one of them, that the book of Hebrews was the fourteenth book or the
fourteenth letter that Paul wrote that God has preserved in the New Testament for us and for our
education and for our edification. As we read through these, we see that Paul has one central
driving theme in his writings and that is the reconciliation between man and God. And the whole
process that God put in place, how the sacrifice of Jesus, then the acceptance of that sacrifice by
the individual begins a journey of bringing God and man back together.
Because of God the cause of man's repentance and acceptance of Christ man is forgiven by God
and now from that point onward man can have a relationship with God and so that is the great
theme that we find as we read through the Apostle Paul. There's lots of doctrine in his letters. His
are letters of doctrine; however, there is an additional letter that Paul has written that deals with
the subject of reconciliation man-to-man. In essence, it's much like reading the Harvard Business
Review case study. Students that go to Harvard to study business, the principal way that they
learn is they learn the principles in class and then they are given case studies to examine and to
draw conclusions and make recommendations and see the principles of business that are
unfolding in that case study and begin to describe in their own words how they might solve a
particular problem and how they might work through a case study. We'll find this afternoon the
Apostle Paul in his smallest letter has given to us a beautiful and a wonderful case study on
Christian living and how we as a Christian can apply the great teachings that he gives to us in his
other letters, and of course, the other Apostles of Jesus Christ provide for us in the New
I was looking for a subject several weeks ago as we would break into our series on Christ's
sermon in Matthew and I said we'll have a simple subject, one subject that will be easily covered
in one sermon. I said, well, it must be something small in the Bible. Perhaps it's one of the minor
prophets. We can cover that. I was looking at them, and I said, no, they tend to be a little bit
heavy and negative, and I don't want to be heavy and negative. I'd rather have something a little
more positive, and we can have heavy topics at other times, and so looking in the New
Testament I came across the book that's been there all along, not that I discovered it for the first
time, the book of Philemon.
Now I was thinking about the book of Philemon and I said, you know, in the thirty plus years
that I have been a member of God's church, attending Sabbath services, Feasts and holy days,
Bible studies, spokesmen's club, you know all the things that are a regular part of our diet over
the years. I could not recall a single reference to Philemon in any of the services that I have been
a part of, not even a passing glance of a reference. Now my memory isn't perfect, I'll admit to
having senior moments every now and again, but I couldn't pull this out and so I started to look
on the various websites of the churches of God. Many of them have websites these days. I went
to the United website and I typed in the word Philemon, and the answer came back: no reference.
I went into other church of God websites and I typed in the word Philemon and I would see an
occasional reference, but I would not see a sermon or a Bible study or a discussion of this. I said,
well, isn't this interesting? Well, what is it about this book, I wonder why we don't see as often as
we might, and so in doing my preparation I of course went to commentaries and other points of
reference and saw that it was actually a very high reputation among the commentators and
among the scholars that study the Bible. Haley's Bible Handbook in the section on Philemon.
Haley says this: "A perfect jam of a letter for courtesy, tact, delicacy and generosity."
And if we were to go and use the student Bible, which some I know use as their study Bible. The
student Bible in its introduction to Philemon, it says simply: "...masterfully brings together Paul's
persuasion and diplomacy." So this is a masterful demonstration of Paul's writing, his persuasion
and his diplomacy. And Morgan in his handbook for Bible teachers says simply: "
illustration of what Paul wrote as doctrine in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians." And so it
turns out that Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians and Philemon were all written during the
same period of time that Paul was in prison in Rome; they're called the prison epistles.
And so in the course of studying this for the very first time I found it very interesting, and I
posed a question to myself, why is it that we don't look at it or why I personally had never really
seriously considered studying Philemon before. It's a story of a slave, a runaway slave at that and
an interaction between and Philemon about this runaway slave. Perhaps that thought came to
mind as justification, well, I don't live in a culture where slavery is prominent. If slavery in this
nation has been done away with since 1865, the end of the American civil war, the most deadly
and most vicious war that American's had ever been engaged in was fought largely, according to
President Abraham Lincoln at his second inaugural, was for the issue of ridding the nation of
And so we do not live in a nation of slavery because of what transpired almost a century and a
half ago. And so that's not part of our culture, but if we read the New Testament letters of the
apostles, particularly the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul we find out in that day and age
slavery was actually very prominent, very much a part of the culture and what Christians had to
deal with and so look what Peter says in I Peter 2 about slavery, about Christians that find
themselves in that condition. Peter writes, he says...
I Peter 2:18. "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and
gentle, but also to the harsh."
So if you find yourself as a servant and you even have a harsh master, you are to serve under
them, you are to be submissive to your master. This is very much a part of that period of time,
the first century of this era in Rome slavery was very, very much in existence. Paul writes in
Ephesians, he writes calling them bondservants specifically. He says...
Ephesians 6:5. "Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh,
with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ."
So he's writing and says if you find yourself to be a bondservant, a bond slave and you are in that
condition, you are to serve your master as if you were serving Jesus Christ himself, and so you
would operate in that manner as if Christ was your master as in deed ultimately he is, and so this
was the context of thinking. The church of God in the first century could not change the Roman
world as an institution. It could only work with as God called individuals and God worked with
them to change individuals not to change a nation and a culture.
If we were to live back there, we know that over one-third of the people in the Roman Empire
were slaves, and so a significant percentage of the population. Of course, slaves were not citizens
because slaves were considered property in Rome, and they were treated very harshly as
property. If a slave were to run away, they could be brought back by a bounty hunter, and when
they were returned to their master, they could be killed; they could be beaten; of they could have
the letter "F" for the Latin word which we translate "fugitive" branded in their forehead, and so
that was the degree in which the organization of the laws at that time supported it, treating
individuals as property.
The Roman army as it would got to conquer new territories would identify the more capable
individuals in those territories and bring them back as slaves because they could be sold for the
equivalent of two years of wages. So if a Roman legionnaire found someone who was a
particularly good scholar, teacher, craftsman, skilled in some way, they could bring them back
into the interior of the Roman Empire and they would receive as payment for delivery of that
slave the equivalent of two years of income or what the value of that slave would be. And so it
was a very robust trade that existed in slaves in that period of time.
So this is the culture unto which Paul is writing as he writes this very short letter called
Philemon. What I'd like to do is look at this letter and just see the interactions and the dynamics
and what we're going to see is how God's holy spirit dramatically works on and with and through
three individuals, and the effect of God's spirit in one congregation, the Colossae congregation
and what we're going to see and appreciate even more is that God's spirit working in this
environment with these individuals produces love, forgiveness and reconciliation, and so this is
indeed a case study of the bringing together the reconciliation not of man with God, but Christian
with Christian which is what Paul was describing and Paul is giving us a description of as we
look through his letter.
So in turning to Philemon in my, computers are very rigid in the way they do things. In a
computer every book has chapters, but this book has only one chapter. My computer is called
Philemon 1:1 because it was to have the pattern. Computers just work that way; well this is the
only chapter in Philemon so we'll just go to Philemon 1 and see Paul begin his letter to a man we
will soon discover is his friend.
Philemon 1:1. "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our
beloved friend and fellow laborer..."
Paul was a friend of Philemon. Paul had taught and preached in the area of Ephesus for several
years more than two years, some five or more years prior to the writing of this letter. If we were
to look at a map of Turkey, we would see that Ephesus is on the coast of the GNC and coming
eat out of Ephesus traveling slightly to the east and to the south we come to Laodicea and
continuing on south from Laodicea we find ourselves in Colossae. And Paul was active in that
area for a period of time and so he during that period of time we speculate, it seems reasonable
that he became a friend of Philemon, so he writes to him as a friend, a beloved friend and a
fellow laborer. A fellow laborer meaning that Philemon is indeed active in the church of God,
laboring as Paul labors, in a different manner, in a different way.
We see that Paul is also telling Philemon that Timothy is with him and so he sends greetings.
Remember Paul left Timothy at times in Ephesus, so no doubt Timothy also would have known
Philemon. So as we begin this letter, we see that we are looking over the shoulder and reading a
letter between two good friends, including salutations from other friends that happen to be with
Paul at this time. As we later will read that Paul actually writes this letter. It's a personal letter
that he writes and it appears to be the only letter that was preserved in the New Testament that he
actually wrote out; the rest of them he dictated. And so this is indeed something very personal,
playing as Stephen Ambrose would say this is indeed could be quite revealing of the man Paul
and the way he thinks. He then continues and says...
Verse 2. " the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your
It's very important that Paul include a reference to Apphia; Apphia being Philemon's wife. Now
the reason that's important is of course a matter of courtesy, but also where he's going with the
letter, the request that he will be making shortly in the letter involves slaves and in the Roman
household the wife was the one who was in charge of the slaves and so he is including the
salutation to Apphia because he knows that ultimately she will be involved in making the
decision that Paul is going to be asking as he continues. He also makes reference to Archippus
who appears to be because of the salutation our fellow soldier likely to be the pastor of the
congregation at that point in time or an elder in the congregation as the case may be.
And he notes that the church meets in Philemon's home, so just in a very few words we have
learned a great deal about this man Philemon. He has a large enough home to host a congregation
of God's people. Could it possibly be as large as this congregation this afternoon? Can you
imagine the type of home that would be required for us to assemble in someone's courtyard in the
center portion of their home; it would be a very nice home. Very nice indeed, and we have no
sense as to how large the congregation was, but we know it contained multiple families and so
Philemon has a larger home, he is part of the upper middle class or maybe the upper class of that
community. He also is well to do because he owned slaves. Recall a slave you have to pay two
years of their worth just to own and he owns slaves and so Philemon is a man of means; he has
opened up his how to the church. The church regularly meets in his home. And Paul then
continues and says...
Verse 3. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
The word "you" that he's using is singular, so even though he makes a greeting to the others that
would likely and probably read the letter; the letter at this point remains singularly focused as a
letter between Paul to Philemon and the salutation that he includes is a salutation that's common
to Paul and writers of that period that they recognize that the person to whom they're writing is
also in fellowship with them and with God and with Jesus Christ. They are part of, as we would
call it today, the ecclesia, the church, and they all share a common bond, a common
understanding; they share God's holy spirit. They share the promises of the future, the kingdom
of God and the very family of God that Paul and others would write about. And so Paul then
continues and says I think about you often. He says...
Verse 4. "I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers."
Often Paul writes about praying for others, that they are often in his prayers and he thanks others
for praying for him. We think about Paul's particular circumstances he's writing these words. He
is in prison. He cannot do what he wants to do. He wants to get out on the road and be the apostle
to the gentiles, and he can't do it. So what does he choose to do? What must he do under that
circumstance? He must master within the environment that he finds himself. Any minister is
mightily in that environment, having an effect on even Caesar's household as we read in the book
of Acts.
And so Paul does not reduce the attention of his efforts, it's just reduced in its scope of
geography. He has to stay in Rome because that's where he is tethered to a Roman guard, but he
can pray. He can write powerful letters of doctrine; he can write a powerful, personal letter to a
friend, which is indeed what he does, and he says I pray for you regularly, Philemon. I remember
the congregation in Colossae; I remember those that meet in your home and I pray about you and
them regularly. He also comments about what he hears in the reports that come back to him from
the ministers and the brethren that pass through Colossae and what is the report? What is the
report that Paul hears from Colossae about Philemon specifically? He records this in verse 5. He
Verse 5. "Hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all
the saints."
So Paul uses the word agape for love, the most intimate and personal form of love. He says,
Philemon, I hear of your faith and your love which you have toward Lord Jesus and toward all
the saints. So what Paul is describing in his characterization of Philemon is a man that loves
God, a man of deep faith and that love and that faith work together so that it is increasing his
faith and increasing his love toward the Lord Jesus Christ and it manifests itself in his dealings
with the saints.
So this is not a man who just has a relationship with God, that relationship that he has with God
is powering his life and it flows from him. God's holy spirit flows through him and acts in him so
that it is toward the saints in that congregation. So all of that congregation are benefited by the
way Philemon is as a man, as a Christian. He has the works which are a result of his faith and the
holy spirit of God operating in him. And then Paul continues in the New King James it says
Verse 6. "That the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every
good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus."
I think the NIV does a better job of expressing the thought. He writes...
Verse 6. "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full
understanding of every good thing we have in Christ."
So he's saying Philemon I pray that you would be active in your faith. What produces more
faith? Active in the faith that he already has. Faith leads to faith. Faith builds faith. Be active,
exercise, let others see this and your faith will increase and Paul says I pray that you will
continue to do this because as others see your faith you are sharing it with others. You are a
walking, talking, living, breathing example of your belief and your belief empowers your
actions. In verse 7 he reflects how this has impacted him and the others that are in Rome that are
with him as he writes. He says...
Verse 7. "For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints
have been refreshed by you, brother."
Paul it seems like can't say enough of complimentary remarks to Philemon. It's his friend. We
might and I think could accurately sense that Paul was very much involved in the time when
Philemon was first called, and so Paul is excited to see that his friend has love, that he refreshes
the saints, that he is acting as, very much like a pillar in that particular congregation, so Paul says
I have great joy because the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. Can you imagine what it
would feel like to receive a letter like this from your former pastor, your former minister? He's
been kind of keeping with how you're doing and he would write a letter to you, a very personal
letter in his own hand and say these things and genuinely mean them because Paul genuinely
means this. This is something Paul is speaking the truth. He is expressing how he feels. He's
helping Philemon see himself.
Most of us, all of us, can't really see ourselves very well. We don't see the good very well. We
don't see the evil very well. Because that's the way we are, that's the way man is, man doesn't
really see himself. We've all met people who are excellent examples in their life, but they
wouldn't even admit it to themselves. Perhaps Philemon was one of those types of people. He
just served. He did what he came to understand was right and proper before God, and if he were
to rate himself he said, well maybe a good solid "C-" that's about all I can do. And Paul was
saying quite the contrary. You are quite exemplary in your actions. I call you a brother. Now in
verse 8 Paul gets to the subject at hand. He says...
Verse 8. "Therefore..."
...and recall from our earlier studies and readings of Paul's writings and Christ's writings when
we hit the word "therefore" this is a transitional phrase, a transitional word in which Paul now is
bringing together all that he has said before, he is now transmitting to the results he desires, the
message he wants to deliver. Whatever it might be, this is what's coming next. I bring all this up
for a purpose. "Therefore", he says...
Verse 8. "...though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting."
So Paul is saying therefore I might be very bold. He says, Philemon, remember I am an apostle; I
am a minister of Jesus Christ. He said so I might be very bold to you and command, I might
command something of you. And that thought would no doubt come to Philemon's mind or
likely came to his mind as he was reading. He says, well, I've heard Paul say "therefore" many
times before; he's going to tell me something he wants me to do. He's making a request; he's
going to give me a particular instruction, an action that I must take. No Paul changes the tone or
continues at a much more diplomatic tone, a very delicate tone and says...
Verse 9. "yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you..."
So he's making an appeal; he's not giving a command.
Verse 9. "...being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ."
So Paul is reminding Philemon, he says remember how old I am. I've been doing this for a long
time, going back to the years when I knew you. I have been a prisoner of Jesus Christ the entire
time. I have been his servant. I am older now, I'm an older man, but I choose to come to you not
because of my gray hair, not because of my position, but I make an appeal to you for love sake. I
am basing my appeal on love. I am asking you something for you to consider carefully. Think
about what I'm about to say and now Paul continues and lays out very quickly what is his
request. His request continues in verse 10. He says...
Verse 10. "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains."
At this point, Philemon all of a sudden discovers that Paul is talking one of his former slaves
because Onesimus has fled from Philemon. Onesimus is in Rome with Paul. How he got to
Rome the scripture does not say; however, what Paul says that is most important; he says...
Verse 10. "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains."
Paul was the one that taught Onesimus. Paul is the one that helped Onesimus come to understand
what the scriptures truly say and Onesimus repented, was baptized and was given God's holy
spirit and made a member of God's church. In all this was a miracle. At that point in time, at that
point in history, the city of Rome had one-and-a-half million people in its population. How in the
world did Onesimus get to Rome and find Paul in prison? and the miracle, certainly of his
calling? Because God the Father calls each one who he chooses and extends the offer and the
person then must respond and accept the calling.
So we see in here Paul is describing in a very few words several miracles that had happened.
Onesimus had found him in Rome, a miracle. Onesimus was called by God, a miracle. Onesimus
responds to that calling, yet again a miracle and now he is a part of the body of Christ. And he
calls him my son. So Paul has a very close, intimate, personal relationship with this man who he
is now writing about. Because Paul recognizes that between the two men Philemon and
Onesimus there is huge unresolved difficulty because Onesimus ran away from Philemon and he
is still the property of Philemon.
And Paul knows that in the church of God he cannot allow this lack of reconciliation to continue.
He must work as best he can to cause the brethren to work in harmony and feast together. He
uses a very interesting phrase when he says in verse 11...
Verse 11. "Who once was unprofitable to you..."
If we could read this in the Greek, and if we could understand the Greek, we would find that Paul
has interjected a very powerful yet subtle terminology. It turns out that Onesimus means
profitable. And so Onesimus' name was profitable. Now when he ran away from Philemon he
became unprofitable and so Paul says...
Verse 11. "Who once was unprofitable..." speaking to the man by his name " you, but now is
profitable to you and to me."
So the one who called himself or was called profitable, but who was unprofitable has now
become profitable and he lives up to his name, he's profitable to you and to me. Both of us. Paul
was saying that and no doubt Philemon when he received the letter caught the twist, beautiful,
beautiful writing. I think this is part of the reason I think that this book is so famous among
scholars is that the underground, if you read it and understood the original language, there is a
great deal of subtlety in what Paul was writing. Paul is being a craftsman of diplomacy. He has
put together a very fine letter because he wants, he's requesting of Philemon something to occur.
It turns out that the name Onesimus is a very common name in that period of time in the Roman
Empire or certainly that part of the Roman Empire. And so there are lots of Onesimus's. Just like
there are lots of Johns or whatever common names we have in our society today, but Onesimus
was quite common, maybe it was the name they just gave to slaves. Be that as it may, verse 12,
Paul continues, he says...
Verse 12. "I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart."
So Paul now has done something and now we are engaged in thinking about what happened in
Rome. Now think about the conversation you would have with Paul if you were Onesimus, if
you were that slave. And Paul begins to talk with you and says, you know, you are a Christian
now and brothers are to reconcile their differences one with another as they have the opportunity,
and you can have the opportunity to reconcile yourself with Philemon who I know is a Christian.
All you need to do is to go back to Colossae and work this out with Philemon.
Now what's going to be likely the first thought that's going to going to go through Onesimus'
mind as Paul makes a suggestion. Have you considered this? His response might well have been,
right, I'll go back and get killed, beaten or branded. That's what you're asking me to do. If that
wasn't stated, that would be certainly the context of the request. And so the request that Paul is
making to Philemon to receive Onesimus is no larger than the request that he made to Onesimus
to go. Each man, Onesimus and Philemon, are being asked to take action that is very strange and
very unusual in the context in which they lived and the society they lived.
No doubt Paul was teaching Onesimus that God is merciful, God is might. God works things out.
All things work together for good as Paul had written in Romans. All being consisted is
preaching and teaching would've been approaching things from the very same way. He says...
Verse 12-13. "...that is, my own heart..." I desire for him to come back in verse 13 "...whom I
wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me..."
Paul really wanted to keep the slave, really wanted to keep the new Christian, Onesimus, with
him. He was of value to Paul, but Paul now speaks and calls attention to the relationship that he
had in former days with Philemon.
Verse 13. "...whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my
chains for the gospel."
Is he calling attention to the time when Philemon worked with Paul in Colossae in the area of
Turkey back five or more years previously when they were working together doing the work of
God? Well Philemon is no longer present with Paul, Onesimus is and he says that on your behalf
he might minister to me. He could be just as valuable to me right now as you were back then. So
we see Paul continuing to put out this message and this request. In my chains, he could help me
here where I am. Locked up and incarcerated at least geographically in Rome, not able to leave,
but verse 14 he said...
Verse 14. "But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by
compulsion, as it were, but voluntary."
So Paul is saying I don't want to command you to do what is right. He's already complimented
Philemon for the way his love and his faith works within him in his dealings with the brethren
there in Colossae. He has reminded Philemon that he is confident of the type of Christian he is
and the example of life that he lives and so he says...
Verse 14. "But without your consent I wanted to do nothing..."
I'm going to allow you and your free moral agency to decide how you're going to handle this
situation. Will you be reconciled to your former slave? Will you take the action that I'm
requesting and receive him?
Verse 14. "...that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary."
Then Paul reminds us as we read it and Philemon as well, he says...
Verse 15. "For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose..."
Now as the letter begins if you were to ask Philemon how Onesimus had departed he would say
he ran away. He departed for awhile. Boy, is that an assumption. When he departed, he wasn't
coming back, he was out of there. He was not coming home. I'm through with being a slave; I'm
gone. I'm going to go somewhere else and get away from being a slave, but Paul says, well, that
may could well have been in his mind, he doesn't say that, he says, but...
Verse 15. "For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose..."
For what purpose? That he would find his way to me; that he'd come to understand what the
scriptures say, to be recognized the life and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and it applies to him
personally, that a miracle could be received and for that short-time that he was gone the purpose
was achieved. He did repent, he was baptized, he was given God's holy spirit, he has been a part
of the very church of God that we are a part of.
Verse 15. "... that you might receive him forever."
Forever indeed because you, Philemon and Onesimus and I shall share the kingdom of God. We
will forever be a part of the family of God. This is the beginning of forever. This man has
changed his position. He's now a different man.
Verse 16. "No longer as a slave but more than a slave..." but more than a slave "...a beloved
Wow, what a transformation this man has made. Paul says, get it, recognize what's happened
here in Rome. This man who was a slave is no longer a slave, but more than a slave.
Verse 16. "...a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you..."
He asserts to Philemon that this slave now is a beloved brother all that much more to you.
Verse 16. "...both in the flesh and in the Lord."
He's coming back to you to be a member of your congregation; he's going to be with you there.
So it would be a great value...
Verse 16. " the flesh and in the Lord. "
See him for what he is, he is a new creation. He is a new man, he is different. He has been
transformed by the power of God's spirit and by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Verse 17. "If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me."
Paul now gets to the financial issues at hand. He begins to use financial terms. He says Philemon
is a partner.
Verse 17. "If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me."
Treat this new Christian in the same manner, in the same way, that you would treat me were I to
come back and visit with you. There is no gradation of better or not as good Christians. Do not
have a sense of position. Look what James writes of the same theme in James 2. Jumping into the
middle of James writing, but he makes the point, challenging those he's writing in James 2:4
because in this context he says some have told those that were visiting that weren't dressed as
nice to sit at their feet where others could sit at a nicer, more luxurious condition, James says...
James 2:4. "Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil
We within the body do not show partiality one-to-another that's what Paul is writing. He says do
who partiality, count him on par with me, as a brother. And he says in verse 18...
Verse 18. "But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account."
Well if Philemon was a craftsman, a tradesman, a very skilled silversmith, the time, the months
that he was gone from Philemon in dear in lost income to Philemon. Paul says whatever the lost
income may have been, some scholars suggest perhaps that Philemon had stolen money, it
doesn't say that, it says whatever you are out, whatever your losses are...
Verse 18. "...if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account."
And then Paul says...
Verse 19. "I, Paul, am writing with my own hand."
Now why is that important? This is a banknote. This is a legal document, so whatever the
banking system was in Rome if Philemon wanted to he could go to his accountant and say how
much does Paul owe me and come up with a figure and turn this into an amount due. And Paul
said whatever it is, whatever it is I will pay it and so Philemon has in his hand a handwritten
document by Paul that says I will pay, but then Paul continues and reminds Philemon of
something very important.
Verse 19. "I will repay..." and he continues "...not to mention to you that you owe me even your
own self besides."
Remember, Philemon, I preached to you and opened the scriptures to you and you came to see
that the debt, the huge debt that you had was being paid by Jesus Christ would you not say,
would you not suggest that that debt was much larger than the debt that Philemon owes you. Paul
is just doing a beautiful job of making his case, but leaving the choice clearly in the hand of
Philemon as to how he might proceed and then in verse 20...
Verse 20. "Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord."
So Paul is coming back around and picking up a word that he used previously in verse 7, going
back to verse 7, he had said previously...
Verse 7. "For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints
have been refreshed by you, brother."
And so if you are a refresher of saints in verse 7...
Verse 20. "Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord."
So Philemon, refresh me as you have refreshed others.
Verse 21. "Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even
more than I say."
To whom is he being obedient? To God. Not to Paul. Because Paul speaks to the higher case.
Paul is describing what God would have us be and how we would live and so the obedience that
Paul was speaking to is the obedience of this Christian, Philemon, to the instruction that God had
given him and he had come to understand. Obedience to love, to have faith toward Philemon,
from Philemon to Onesimus, as Philemon had the same love and faith toward God. It applies.
Make it apply.
Verse 22. "But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your
prayers I shall be granted to you."
So Paul looks ahead, he has now made his request, the request is over. No more compelling
arguments, it's true, he says, it appears that perhaps your prayers have been answered. Prepare a
room for me and I shall come and visit. The next few words he closes the letter calling attention
to the others that are present with him.
Verse 24-25. "...Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."
So here we see in this letter a case study, an example, of the application of what Paul has been
teaching in his other letters, what Christ and the apostles write in the New Testament. Here we
see three individuals: Paul, Philemon, Onesimus. They're being called to exercise the love and
the faith for the purpose of being reconciled one with another.
What did we learn as we read this letter about the writer, the apostle Paul? Paul describes himself
in a way that is compelling in its majesty, compelling in his submission as the apostle to the
gentiles. Paul is a prisoner in Rome, but that's not what Paul writes. Paul writes, I write as a
prisoner of Jesus Christ. Everything from the moment of his calling forward, the apostle Paul
recognized he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus and he accepted that, whatever was to happen to
him in his life from that point onward that's how he saw himself. And he writes from that
In Philippians he writes about it in this manner. He writes of what he has learned, what he has
learned since his calling. Philippians 4:11. He's thanking them for their generosity and what the
church at Philippi had sent to him and cared for him on at least two occasion and Paul is of
course is appreciative of that, but in 11 of chapter 4 he writes...
Philippians 4:11. "Not that I speak in regard to need..."
I really appreciate what you've said and what you're doing, however...
Verse 11. "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be
Now how in the world was Paul able to be content in whatever state he found himself in?
Whatever condition he found himself in. He answers that in verse 13. He says...
Verse 13. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
So Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ receives his strength from Jesus Christ so he could be
content in all circumstances, in all situations. The power of God's spirit working through him
caused him to make his requests not a command. He chose to make a request, he chose to allow
the spirit of God to work in the mind and in the lives of the other two men and in effect change
them and the triumph would be seeing that occur as Paul was confident and desired for that. He
did not take and use his authority, no he checked his authority and did not retain one that he
called valuable. He didn't keep Onesimus with him in Rome to help him in that regard. No, he
released him to allow Philemon to exercise his choice as to how to deal with a situation.
That's the power of God's holy spirit operating in the life of the apostle Paul in this very short
letter. Within the letter we see Onesimus. We have seen the power of God's spirit change him as
he was called out of the world, as he was brought into the body of the church, that he was
through the power of God's spirit converted, given that spirit and became profitable after having
been unprofitable for the prior portions of his life.
We see that he made a choice to respond and to follow through and go and take this letter to
Philemon, so he responded and where did he get the power to make that life threatening choice?
The power came from God. God's spirit operated in his mind. He was given the faith to make
that difficult choice and then finally Philemon. We see and we learn about this man, a pillar in
his congregation, the love and the faith that he had toward God drove his action and his service
toward the brethren there, toward Paul. We see that he was faithful in his calling and faithful in
the service that he gave to God's people and that is also because of the power of God's spirit
working in him. And we see as well that he is being challenged. He was being challenged to
respond to the instruction that he maybe had not heard, but we have heard it. We have read it as
we read the words and the messages of Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew.
What was that principle that Paul was calling Philemon to apply? It's the one that Christ in
describes in Matthew 6:14. To understand this, this little letter is an example of one who
recognizes or is being challenged to recognize this living point of God's word. Like I said I don't
know if Philemon had ever heard these words as it's described here, but the principles are here;
we have heard them and we see the application being called out in Paul's letter. Christ is
speaking in Matthew 6:14, he says...
Matthew 6:14-15. "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also
forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
This is the principle; it's laid down in scripture by the son of God, a very challenging scripture.
As we considered what God is showing us in this letter on the subject of love, faith and
reconciliation because the whole process, the whole transaction of reconciliation does include the
event and the act of forgiveness. The event and the act of Onesimus, be that us, of going and
asking, repenting and asking for forgiveness and at times we are Philemon, where we hear the
request and we offer and give repentance, so that be we Onesimus or Philemon we may be part
of the body of the Church that has been reconciled one with another. Because that's what Paul
says in verse 17, he says very simply this request...
Verse 17. "...receive him..."
He didn't say make him free. He said, receive him. Receive him because now he is a different
man. He's different than the one that left however long before it was; he says receive him. And
then as we read this letter we see some compelling questions that would come out. Had the,
whatever the outcome may have been, because the scriptures do not record what the outcome is,
we see the request, we understand the contents of the request, we sense all the importance of it,
but what would be the indication if Philemon had refused to receive Onesimus.
What does that tell us about Philemon's faith and love if he would not receive Onesimus? What
would we see if Onesimus had refused to go to Philemon as he was request to? The same
conclusion could be drawn that Philemon, Onesimus did not have the love of God that he said
that he had because his actions would not portray and follow the words. And what would we
learn if the apostle Paul, if he had retained Onesimus for his own use, we would see a minister of
Jesus Christ who recognized two brethren who were not reconciled one with the other and that he
failed him his responsibility to attempt to precipitate reconciliation.
Paul needed to affect reconciliation, that was what's sitting there. He couldn't ignore it. He had to
take some action and the action was the only action that he could take was to write a letter and
teach Onesimus that that's what needed to be done and send the letter on its way.
And so in this marvelous case study of but a few words we see the principles of love and faith
and reconciliation that are written about other places in the New Testament being described in a
living example. Now we don't know what actually happened because the scriptures are quiet;
there is silence here. The book of Acts does not continue to this time; we don't know. However,
companioned to our Bible study, concordances and expositors and others write that the tradition
in the church was that when Onesimus appeared, Philemon did accept him and did set him free.
There are some that write that indeed Onesimus returned to Paul and served with him for a
period of time. Perhaps the most chilling thought, the most moving thought of the whole that
time is that later in the first century history records that in the church of God in Berea, that pastor
of that church had the Onesimus, but remember it was a common name, many people have it, so
we don't know if the Onesimus of scripture is the Onesimus of Berea. I prefer to think of it that
way. It helps the story end in a very positive tone and it shows us the very power of how the love
of God, the faith toward God, yields reconciliation. And indeed in the final analysis this letter
teaches us that our relationship with one another reveals our relationship with Jesus Christ.

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