John T. Willis

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paul Hopes to Visit Philemon's Home--Philemon 17-25

The little Book of Philemon is a genuine, inspiring, exemplary letter to a fellow-Christian pertaining to a sensitive, delicate spiritual issue involving interrelated human beings. Every Christian [in fact, every human being] needs to study and re-study this little letter. Three previous blogs have dealt with the Book of Philemon. This blog concludes this letter--the concluding remarks of Paul addressed to Philemon, recorded in verses 17-25. For practical purposes, this section seems to fall into four parts.

I. Verses 17-19--Paul beseeches Philemon to receive Onesimus back to Philemon as Philemon's slave.
a. Early in this letter, Paul calls Philemon "our DEAR friend and co-worker" (verse 1), "my brother" (verse 7). Now, in verse 17, Paul says: "if you [Philemon] consider me [Paul] your [Philemon's] partner"--without any doubt, Philemon considers Paul Philemon's partner. THEN, Paul beseeches Philemon to "welcome" Onesimus as Philemon would "welcome" Paul. Powerful rhetoric!!! How could Philemon say NO? BUT, Paul does NOT COMMAND Philemon to do this. It is Philemon's choice. Verse 17.
b. Paul knows that Onesimus has probably wronged Philemon or owed Philemon something--probably time or money. Paul says: "charge that to MY [PAUL's] account." Paul will pay the bill to Philemon in behalf of Onesimus, no matter how much time or money might be involved. Verse 18. [All this assumes that Paul is convinced that Onesimus has NOW become a committed Christian. So Paul and Philemon and God's people need Onesimus, just like God's people needed Saul when he became a Christian at Damascus, as related in Acts 9; 22; and 26].
c. Paul usually dictated others to write his letters by THEIR hands[see
1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Galatians 6:11-16). And Paul apparently wrote most of the Book of Philemon--probably Onesimus and Tychicus [see Colossians 4:7-9]. But Paul states that he is writing verses 18-19 with his own hand, BECAUSE here he is guaranteeing Philemon that he will pay Philemon the full amount that is due to Onesimus. Then Paul adds: "I say nothing about YOUR OWING ME even your own self." Verse 19. [Paul had converted Philemon to Christ at Colossae, but as more recently Paul had converted Onesimus to Christ at Rome].

II. Paul tells Philemon that he is confident that Philemon will do what Paul wishes. Verses 20-21.
a. As in verse 7, Paul again reminds Philemon that Paul considers Philemon Paul's "brother" in Christ. Then Paul asks Philemon to do Paul a favor: "Let me have this benefit in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ." The context shows that what Paul desires is: (1) that Philemon receive Onesimus back to Philemon not only as a slave, but as a brother beloved in the Lord (verses 15-16); and (2) that Philemon will voluntarily send Onesimus back to Paul while Paul is in prison at Rome so that Onesimus will help Paul (verse 13). If Philemon would do these two things, this would "refresh" Paul's heart. Verse 20.
b. Paul says he is "confident" that Philemon will respond in "obedience," NOT in obedience to Paul's "command," but in obedience to Paul's plea and kind approach to Philemon. Paul adds: I know "you [Philemon] will do even more than I say." What Paul SAYS is that Philemon receive Onesimus back not as merely a slave but as a beloved brother. EVEN MORE that Paul implies is that Philemon will send Onesimus back to Paul to work with Paul at Rome. Verse 21.

III. Paul hopes that in time Paul will be set free from prison at Rome, in which case he will return to Colossae and spend time with Philemon in Philemon's home. Verse 22.
a. Paul tells Philemon to prepare a guest room for Paul, because Paul feels certain that God will set Paul free. Verse 22a.
b. Paul asks Philemon to pray to God in Paul's behalf that God will set Paul free so that Paul may resume his missionary work in the Lord. Verse 22b.

IV. Paul concludes the Book of Philemon by naming several individuals with Paul in Rome whom Philemon knows mutually with Paul. Verses 23-25.
a. Paul reassures Philemon that as he writes, there are several fellow-workers known to Philemon that are there in Rome. Paul specifically names Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. All of these are sending Christian greetings to Philemon in this letter. Verses 23-24. [Other texts in the New Testament refer to these individuals. See especially Colossians 4:10-12, which state that Mark is the cousin of Barnabas; 2 Timothy 4:9-12].
b. Paul concludes with the loving statement: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your [singular--thus Philemon's] spirit." Verse 25.

The Book of Philemon is a little book--only 25 verses. But this is a powerful, moving, inspiring, emotional letter. All Christians, all people, need to study and re-study this little book. I hope this will touch your heart and change your life.

Share YOUR insights with others and with me. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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