Philemon 1:1-7 open_in_new
Introductory. Paul writes from prison, sending greetings from himself and Timothy to Philemon a dear friend with whom he had worked probably during his stay in Ephesus Apphia (presumably Philemon's wife), and Archippus (Colossians 4:17, possibly his son) his spiritual comrade-in-arms, together with the brethren of their household. He is constantly hearing of the love and loyalty displayed by Philemon both towards the Lord Jesus and towards all the saints (Philemon 1:5): the hearts of God's people have been greatly cheered by his kindness, and the thought of one who in so true a sense is a brother has been a great joy and comfort to Paul (Philemon 1:7), so that it is with great thankfulness to God that he makes mention of Philemon in his prayers (Philemon 1:4), praying that the readiness to share with others which his faith has prompted may prove (increasingly) effectual, as he comes to fuller knowledge of all the good that there is among the Colossians, unto (a deeper experience of) Christ.
Philemon 1:2. our sister: i.e. in the faith (cf. mg.).
Philemon 1:8-21 open_in_new
The Request on Behalf of Onesimus. Paul might confidently presume to issue commands to Philemon Paul an ambassador, and at the time of writing actually a prisoner, of Christ Jesus but for love's sake he prefers to make entreaty. He entreats Philemon, therefore, on behalf of one who has become his son, the child of his imprisonment, Onesimus an unprofitable servant, it is to be feared, to Philemon in the past, but now the reverse of unprofitable to him, yes, and to Paul too. Paul sends him back this dear fellow whom he has come to love as his own heart though sorely tempted to keep him to render service on Philemon's behalf to one who is a prisoner for the gospel's sake. He has been reluctant, however, to take any steps without Philemon's consent; he did not wish a benefit of this kind to wear the appearance of compulsion; it must be a matter of free-will. Moreover, it may have been God's plan to allow Onesimus to be separated temporarily from Philemon, that the latter might receive him back in an eternal relationship, no longer as a mere slave but as more than a slave, as a beloved brother (he is that most of all to Paul: and yet how much more must he be so to Philemon!) both in the outward relations of life and also in the Lord. Cf. p. 649.
Philemon, then, if he regards himself and Paul as having anything in common, must please receive Onesimus as he would Paul himself. If the former has wronged Philemon or owes him money, let that be put down to Paul's account; this is an autograph letter, and Paul personally and solemnly guarantees repayment though Philemon owes Paul as much and more, his very existence, indeed, as a Christian; of that Paul prefers not to remind him. Well, then, as a brother in Christ let him grant Paul's request; it is asked as a personal favour in the Lord. He writes in the confidence that Philemon will obey, well knowing that he will do all, and more than all, that he asks.
Philemon 1:9. The word presbutes (aged) is here probably only an alternative spelling of presbeutes (ambassador); cf. Ephesians 6:20.
Philemon 1:11. unprofitable. profitable: there is a play upon the meaning of the name Onesimus (=serviceable).
Philemon 1:18. Onesimus, before running away, had evidently robbed Philemon; Paul undertakes repayment, though he may not expect Philemon to exact it.
Philemon 1:21. even beyond what I say: Paul hints at Onesimus-' manumission, though he does not venture to suggest it in so many words.
Philemon 1:22-25 open_in_new
Closing Words. Meanwhile let Philemon get a room ready for Paul also; for he has good hope that their prayers will be answered by his release. Epaphras, who is sharing his imprisonment, sends greeting; and so do others who are working with him in Rome. The grace of Christ be with those at Colossæ.
Philemon 1:22. It was a journey of some weeks from Rome to Colossæ, and Paul's words are not meant to be taken too literally, but he is evidently optimistic as to the result of his approaching trial, and means to pay a visit to Colossæ when he can.
Philemon 1:23. Epaphras: cf. Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12. The Colossian leader was apparently remaining in Rome for the present as a voluntary companion of Paul's imprisonment.