Philemon 22-25 The Farewell

As was his usual custom, Paul closed his letter by sending greetings to and from various believers. These closings are always of significant interest as they give us a meaningful glimpse into the lives of some of the believers of the early church—brothers and sisters whom we shall soon meet face to face in heaven and fellowship with. We shall all serve our Lord together for eternity.

In our text today, Paul is the first believer seen. The point being stressed is his eternal optimism. He was in prison, yet he believed unreservedly that he could be freed by the prayers of his dear friends. What an impact prayer has. God answers prayer; this is His promise. The problem is that we do not take God at His word: we do not pray. The friends of Paul prayed and Paul was apparently released from prison.

Epaphras was a servant of the Lord who in the past had been imprisoned with Paul. He was the “minister” of the Colossian church. He was “a faithful minister of Christ”. He was “a servant of Christ”. He was a “fellow servant” who was ever so dear to Paul’s heart. He was so committed and dedicated to Christ that Paul called him “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus”. He was a believer who fervently labored and toiled in prayer for his dear people in Colosse. He prayed in particular for one thing: that they might be perfect and complete in all the will of God; that is, that they might know the complete will of God and do His will perfectly. He was a minister who worked hard for his own church and for all the churches that surrounded him. He prayed and prayed much, but he also worked much, so much that his labor was even a testimony to the great minister Paul.

John Mark was the young man who had repented. Mark had earlier deserted Paul and the ministry but notice what Paul says to the Colossian church. He tells the church that they are to receive John Mark if he was able to visit them. Apparently, some earlier instructions had been sent to the churches founded by Paul telling them about Mark’s desertion. But now the young man had repented and recommitted his life to Christ. He had repented therefore, he was to be welcomed. When a believer fails and sins, even if it is desertion of Christ, he is to be welcomed back with open arms once he has repented. We must not hold a person’s failure and sin against him. Christ has forgiven us for so much—all of us—therefore we must forgive and welcome our brothers and sisters back into our hearts and lives.

Aristarchus was the believer who was a faithful companion, one who was always there when needed. He is always seen with Paul and other believers, joining them in their great trials and sufferings. He was a member of the Thessalonian church, a citizen of Thessalonica. He was one of the believers attacked by the violent mob in Ephesus. The citizens of Ephesus were rioting against Christianity because so many people were being converted that it was cutting into the sale of idols made to the goddess Diana. The fact that Aristarchus was one of the believers attacked and dragged before the mob shows that he was a leader and spokesman for Christ. He went with Paul to minister in Asia. He is seen travelling with Paul to Rome after Paul had been arrested and was being transferred to Rome as a prisoner. He is seen as a fellow prisoner with Paul in Rome while Paul was awaiting trial on the charge of treason. Apparently he too was being charged with the same crime. The point is that he was a real companion, a companion who stood by the side of his fellow believers through thick and thin. He would never think of deserting his dear friends or the Lord, no matter how difficult the task or terrible the trial. He would face imprisonment and suffer death before he would be a turncoat. He was a good man to have around when facing trials, for he would stand by the side of his friend even if it meant imprisonment and death.

Demas was a man who turned away from Christ going back to the world. His life is written in tragedy, a life that serves as a warning to other believers, a life that shows the utter necessity of walking in Christ daily. At first, he is seen as a fellow laborer. Later he is just a name, with no comment at all—perhaps suggesting the detection of some loss of spirit and energy in the work for the Lord. Finally, he is Demas who “loved this present world” and forsook the Lord’s work.

Luke gave all to follow Christ, all that the world had to offer. He was the physician who was beloved by Paul and the church. Luke is said to be the “beloved physician”, a physician who was endeared to the hearts of believers.

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Philemon 12-21 The Debtors

Onesimus faced his past in order to right his wrong. This is clear evidence that the heart of Onesimus had been truly converted to Christ. He wanted to return and right the wrong he had done. Christ always does this to a person when he is truly converted.

How dear this slave was to Paul, Paul says that he was sending a part of his own heart to Philemon. Paul loved this man who had been a law-breaker and thief. This slave had become a dear, very dear to Paul’s heart. He was so dear that Paul would have preferred to keep Onesimus with him. Paul, who was in prison, desperately needed Onesimus, needed his companionship, encouragement, and assistance.

But Paul would not ask him to stay. Why? Because Paul would do nothing without the consent of Philemon. Onesimus owed Philemon and it was up to Philemon where Onesimus should serve, either with Philemon as a slave or to return and serve with Paul as a minister. The strength of Paul’s wish is seen in his including Onesimus in the list of some great ministers who had been serving with Paul (Col. 4:7-9). Paul elevated Onesimus so highly that he said that Onesimus could share exactly what had been happening to the gospel through Rome.

A Christian believer is to make restitution, to right whatever wrong he has done, in so far as it is humanly possible. No Christian should ever try to escape from making restitution, from righting whatever wrong he has done. The very cause of Christ upon earth is righteousness and justice. If believers shirk their duty to right their own personal wrongs, then of what value is their Christianity? This is the reason Onesimus was returning to Philemon, the reason Paul was sending him back despite the fact that he himself desperately needed Onesimus.

Onesimus was a changed man. And what a change he had experienced. He had been changed by the hand of God, that is, under the providence of God. Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus had left for just a brief time so that he could return forever. God was overlooking and overruling the whole event for the sake of Onesimus’ salvation.

Philemon was now able to be associated with Onesimus forever. The implication is that both shall live forever with Christ, worshipping and serving Christ throughout all eternity. He had been changed from a slave to a brother, a dearly “beloved brother.” Onesimus had left as a slave, but he was now above a slave, was now a beloved brother, was now of great value to Paul, was now of much more value to Philemon.

When Christ changes a life, the life is changed eternally. Earthly relationships are changed forever. The changed person becomes a beloved brother. It does not matter what the relationship has been, a master-slave relationship, a friend-enemy relationship a victim-criminal relationship, a love-hate relationship, a marriage-divorce relationship.If the person has been truly changed by Christ, then he is to be received as a beloved brother. Why? Because God has put His hand upon the person and changed him forever.

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Philemon 8-11 The Useful Ones

Paul wanted to make a special request of Philemon. He had the right to demand that Philemon grant the request. Why? How can any believer, even a minister, demand that another believer do anything, especially if the believer differs or does not wish to do what is requested? There are two reasons: It is the right thing to do and it is a believer’s duty to do it.

A believer, no matter who he is, should do the right thing; he should do his duty. Therefore, Paul had the right to make a special request of Philemon, but notice Paul did not demand that Philemon grant the request. Philemon should, but Paul did not demand it. Instead he beseeched, that is, appealed, urged, and pleaded with Philemon because he loved Philemon. Paul based his plea upon three things that should appeal to the heart of any believer.

Paul based his appeal upon love: the love of Christ and the love of believers for each other. This should mean that Philemon loved Paul as a brother in Christ, loved him enough to grant the request.

Paul based his appeal upon his age. He was apparently in his fifties and no doubt his body was somewhat more aged than the average person because of the wear and tear upon his body from the sufferings that had been inflicted upon him through the years.

Paul based his appeal upon the fact that he was a prisoner for the cause of Christ. He had suffered so much in order to carry the gospel to the lost of the world, to people who were hopeless and lost just as Philemon and his family had been. Because he was a prisoner for Christ, Philemon should grant his request.

Paul was tired and worn, about to close his ministry and life upon earth; therefore, he expected his dear friends to heed his last request. What was Paul’s request? It concerned Onesimus, a former slave of Philemon, a slave who had run away to gain his freedom and had fled to Rome.

Imagine Onesimus having just returned to Philemon and having handed this letter to Philemon—and Philemon standing there reading this letter. What were his thoughts? What was the impact upon Philemon, the slave owner who had been converted to Christ? What would he do now? There standing before him was a former slave who had broken the law by running away, broken one of the major laws upon which the Roman empire was built.

Onesimus was a changed man, a man who had been “begotten,” that is, born again. Paul had led Onesimus to the Lord. Remember that Paul was in prison. How then did Paul come in contact with Onesimus? Was Onesimus recognized as a runaway slave while in Rome and imprisoned himself? No! He could not have been, for he was not in prison. He had returned and was moving about freely and was now standing before his owner, Philemon.

When Onesimus reached Rome, he had most likely run across some Christian believers, and they had introduced him to Paul. Paul then led him to Christ. Paul pulled no punches. He readily admitted the wrong that Onesimus had done: he had been unprofitable, that is, useless. The idea is that Onesimus had been absolutely of no use, just good for nothing. But now he was profitable. He had believed in Christ and he was of the greatest use to Philemon and to Paul for the kingdom of Christ.

Jesus Christ changes lives. He can take a useless, unprofitable, good for nothing person and make the most useful, profitable, and good person imaginable. Jesus Christ can take nothing and make something out of any person no matter, how low a person is, how far a person has sunk, how far a person has gone or what a person has done. Jesus Christ can change a person and make him the most useful person in the world. How? Jesus Christ takes a person and creates him anew. Christ gives the person a new birth, makes a new creature, a new man out of him.

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Philemon 4-7 The Refreshers

In our text this week we have the testimony of Philemon, the prayer Philemon needed, and the love of Philemon…

Paul says, “I thank God” for you. Imagine having a testimony so strong in the Lord that Paul would thank God for you! That was Philemon. His testimony was so strong that it stirred Paul to pray for him, not just every now and then, but always. His testimony was steeped in love; also his testimony was that he was strong in faith.

Strong in love and faith yet Philemon still needed prayer; no matter how strong we may think we are we need the prayers of the saints. This is actually the prayer that every strong believer needs. Verse 6 is somewhat complex because it has so much packed into one verse. Simply stated, Paul is asking God to help Philemon to share his faith more and more effectively. Notice that “every good thing” is said to be in Philemon. It is those good things that Paul prays for others to acknowledge and desire in their own lives.

What are those good things? They would, no doubt, be the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The good things would also include life, both abundant and eternal life and the glorious hope of living forever in a new heavens and earth with Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, the great need of every believer is for prayer; prayer that God will help us share the good things and the hope that we have in Christ.

We also need to be a loving people, Philemon was apparently a man who loved everyone and proved it by helping others. He was a man of compassion and grace who was committed to help those who had need. He refreshed them. Do you refresh people or depress people?

Philemon 1-3 Greetings from Prison

Philemon was so committed to Christ that he was counted “beloved” by Paul himself. And even more than this, Paul calls him “dearly beloved”—a brother in the Lord who was held ever so close to the heart of Paul. But even this is not all that Paul said.

Notice the striking title that Paul used for himself: “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” This is a most unusual opening for Paul’s letters. He usually opened his letters by establishing his apostleship, saying that he was “Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ.” Philemon must have been a dear friend of Paul’s, a friend who recognized God’s call to Paul, a friend who loved and supported Paul so much that Paul did not have to establish his call to the ministry for Philemon.

Philemon was a beloved friend and supporter of Paul, one who was so committed to Christ that he was counted as beloved by one of God’s choice servants, Paul himself. Philemon was so committed to Christ that he was a laborer for Christ. He served Christ diligently, he labored so diligently that Paul calls him a fellow- laborer. He was working so faithfully for Christ that Paul could acknowledge his labor and count him as a fellow-laborer, as working as diligently as Paul himself in the cause of Christ. What a dynamic testimony: to be working so hard for Christ that one could be counted as a fellow-laborer with Paul! What a challenge for us!

May God grant that we be stirred to serve Christ ever so diligently. Philemon was so committed to Christ that he rooted his family in Christ. Apphia was apparently the wife of Philemon and Archippus the son of Philemon. Note that Archippus is addressed as a fellow soldier of Paul. This must mean that at some point in his life he had actually served with Paul on some mission campaign. He was apparently the pastor of the Colossian church.

The point to see is the dedication of this family to Christ. Philemon, as the husband and father, had rooted his family in Christ and led them to serve Christ. He had even supported his son’s call and decision to serve Christ in the ministry. He was so committed to Christ that he took his responsibility to be the spiritual head of the family seriously. And from all evidence, his wife supported him in his call to be the spiritual head of the family.

What a dynamic example for Christian families, fathers, others, and children each living for Christ and fulfilling his and her function and duty within the family. Philemon was so committed to Christ that he opened his home to the church. Remember that the early church did not have church sanctuaries to meet in; they met in homes of faithful and committed believers. Philemon loved Christ so much that he was willing to open his home night after night and week after week for believers to worship and study God’s Word together. How many today would open their home this much for the church? How many love Christ enough to open their home on a regular basis—enough to forget their tiredness and the housecleaning required?