Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15

King James AV1611


Philemon was taught by Dr. James Modlish

I. Introduction and Background to Philemon

A. Points of Interest

The book reflects Paul's tact, delicacy, good feeling, sensitivity, regarding master-slave relationship. Paul shows us how to apply Christian principle to social relationships. This book pictures the church and Jesus Christ. Slaves were under Roman Law given to master. Paul asks the slave owner to receive back the runaway thief. Slave is a brother beloved (vs. 16).

B. The People

Philemon - Paul's dearly beloved and fellow laborer (vs. 1). This seems to indicate a possible deep friendship. Possible that Philemon was one of Paul's converts (vs. 19-21). (Col. 4:9) - gives a slight indication that Philemon lived in Colosse. Philemon was a freeman - a slave owner; which presumably would make him of the higher class socially. This is also bore out by the fact that Paul addresses this letter to the church in his house which implies his social status. Apphia and Archippus (vs. 2) are believed to be Philemon's wife and son respectively. Archippus also, besides being Philemon's son, was a pastor at either Colosse or Laodicea (Col. 4:17).

Onesimus - he was one of Philemon's slaves. When the epistle to Colossians was dispatched from Rome, per Lychicus, Onesimus accompanied him (Col. 14:7-9). The two of them also carried this private note to Philemon.

C. The Background

Onesimus who was probably a domestic slave of Philemon's and had run away, stole some money from Philemon (vs. 18) to afford the get away. We need to remember that slavery was an accepted institution in the Roman Empire. Romans and Greeks brought multitudes of slaves (old and young) home from their wars, and the buying and selling of slaves was a part of their daily life.

Paul had a great interest in slaves (1 Cor, 7:20-24; Col. 3:22-4:1; Eph. 6:5-9). He would encourage them to be the best possible Christians and to win their freedom lawfully. Certain Roman laws regarding slavery are important to our study of Philemon:

[1]. Roman law gave a slave no right of asylum, but granted him the privilege of making an appeal.

[2]. The slave had the privilege of fleeing to his master's friend; not for concealment, but for intercession.

[3]. The owner of a slave was very strict in his possession of the slave, although he might be persuaded to loan him to a friend.

[4]. A slave could be adopted by his master as a son and could be freed.

Apparently Onesimus fled across Asia, across the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea to Rome. At Rome he was under the influence of Paul, was saved, and later returned to Colosse.

Onesimus quickly grew in grace and endeared himself to Paul (vs. 11, 12) proving so serviceable to Paul that he would have gladly detained him in Rome (vs. 13) but Paul realized he belonged to Philemon so the Apostle took the opportunity to send him back with Tychicus, bearing the Colossian epistle and the private note to Philemon.

D. The Letter

Paul's letter to Philemon was written to be the mediation between Onesimus and his outraged master.

Terrible punishment was sanctioned by Roman law for such offenses; even the death penalty. A slave was absolutely at his master's mercy; for the smallest offense he might be scourged, mutilated, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, etc. But Philemon was a Christian, and therefore, when Paul writes this letter he appeals to his Christian character. 

II. Philemon Outlined

A. Paul's Greetings (vs. 1-3)

[1]. (vs. 1) - Paul is the author and he is in prison when he writes this. This book is one of four Paul writes from prison:

    (a). Ephesians - (represents the body of Christ)

    (b). Philippians - (joy of Christ)

    (c). Colossians - (the Head - Jesus Christ)

    (d). Philemon - Timothy is perhaps in prison also.

They are writing to Philemon. The reason Paul writes "dearly beloved" is probably because Paul led Philemon to Christ. Verse (19) lends significant light on this.

[2]. (vs. 2) - Apphia is Philemon's wife. Archippus is probably his son (Col. 4:17).
[3]. (vs. 3) - Shows the love and respect that Paul had for Philemon to wish him grace and peace.

B. Paul's praise of Philemon (vs. 4-7)

[1]. Paul approaches the delicate subject by showing his appreciation for Philemon.

[2]. (vs. 4) - Gives the assurance to Philemon that Paul prays for his disciples daily.

[3]. Philemon must have been the Christian that best lived his faith in Christ. He probably was the type of man that others liked to be around to pattern their life after.

C. Paul's plea for Onesimus the slave (vs. 8-17)

[1]. (vs. 8-9) - Paul is simply stating that he could have almost demanded or commended Philemon in regards to Onesimus, but rather chooses to entreat him in love.

[2]. (vs. 10) - Paul is beseeching Philemon on the fact that Paul has led Onesimus to Christ (1 Cor. 4:15).

[3]. (vs. 11,12) - Paul reassures him of the fact that something has changed Onesimus and now he is become profitable; and (vs. 12) Paul asks Philemon to receive him (Onesimus) as if it were himself.

[4]. (vs. 13,14) - Paul wanted to keep Onesimus (vs. 13) to help him preach the Gospel because Paul was in prison but he would not do it unless Philemon gave him permission.

[5]. (vs. 15,16) - "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Paul is appealing to Philemon hoping that since Onesimus left, Philemon has missed him and is willing to accept him back; not as the old slave, but new creature in Christ.

III. Paul's pledge and assurance (vs. 18-25)

A. (vs. 18) - This statement seems to point to the fact that Onesimus was guilty of stealing. Paul is then willing to pay back anything that Onesimus took. I.O.U.

B. (vs. 19) - U.0. Me. Paul then puts the monkey on Philemon's back because Paul has done many things for him including leading him to Christ.

C. (vs. 20,21) - Paul knows when Philemon thinks about what he owes him for giving him the gospel, that Philemon will do more than what Paul asks.

D. (vs. 22) - Paul cares a lot for Philemon, he asks him to prepare a place for him so that when he gets out of prison he will come to him. 

IV. Doctrinal and Inspirational Application

A. Doctrinal

[1]. (vs. 18) - Imputation "Impute means to put to one's account". Christ found us as runaway slaves to the law. We ran to Him for salvation. He went to the cross to pay the debt for us. Therefore, our sins were put to Christ's account and his forgiveness and righteousness was put on our account. (Rom. 4:1-8; Ps. 32:2) vs. 18 "Put that on my account."

[2]. Identification - (Eph. 1:6) Receive Him as as myself.

B. Practical Application

[1]. Getting saved does not negate responsibility. Even though Onesimus was saved, he was still Philemon's slave.

[2]. Getting saved does not negate you from following the law (Rom. 13).

[3]. Discipleship is so important, and because of the one that lead you to Christ, you should have the utmost respect and feel a tremendous debt of gratitude.


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