Address. Thanksgiving for Philemon's Love and
Faith. Intercession for Onesimus.
Concluding Request and Salutations.
This Epistle affords a specimen of the highest wisdom
as to the manner in which Christians ought to manage social affairs on
more exalted principles.
1. prisoner of Jesus Christ—one whom
Christ's cause has made a prisoner (compare "in the bonds of the
Gospel," (Phm 13). He
does not call himself, as in other Epistles, "Paul an apostle," as he
is writing familiarly, not authoritatively.
our … fellow labourer—in
building up the Church at Colosse, while we were at Ephesus. See my Introduction to Colossians.
2. Apphia—the Latin, "Appia";
either the wife or some close relative of Philemon. She and Archippus,
if they had not belonged to his family, would not have been included
with Philemon in the address of a letter on a domestic matter.
Archippus—a minister of the Colossian
fellow soldier—(2Ti 2:3).
church in thy house—In the absence of
a regular church building, the houses of particular saints were used
for that purpose. Observe Paul's tact in associating with Philemon
those associated by kindred or Christian brotherhood with his
house, and not going beyond it.
4. always—joined by Alford with, "I thank my God."
5. Hearing—the ground of his
thanksgiving. It is a delicate mark of authenticity, that he says
"hearing" as to churches and persons whom he had not seen or
then visited. Now Colosse, Philemon's place of residence, he had
never yet seen. Yet Phm 19 here
implies that Philemon was his convert. Philemon, doubtless, was
converted at Ephesus, or in some other place where he met Paul.
love and faith—The theological order
is first faith then love, the fruit of faith. But he
purposely puts Philemon's love in the first place, as it is to
an act of love that he is exhorting him.
toward … toward—different
Greek words: "towards" … "unto." Towards implies
simply direction; unto, to the advantage of.
6. That—The aim of my thanksgiving and
prayers for thee is, in order that the, &c.
the communication of thy faith—the
imparting of it and its fruits (namely, acts of love and
beneficence: as Heb 13:16,
"to communicate," that is, to impart a share) to others; or,
the liberality to others flowing from thy faith (so the
Greek is translated, "liberal distribution," 2Co 9:13).
effectual by—Greek, "in"; the
element in which his liberality had place, that is, may be proved by
acts in, &c.
thorough knowledge," that is, the experimental or practical
of every good thing which is in
you—The oldest manuscripts read, "which is in US," that is, the practical recognition of every
grace which is in us Christians, in so far as we realize the
Christian character. In short, that thy faith may by acts be proved to
be "a faith which worketh by love."
in Christ Jesus—rather as
Greek, "unto Christ Jesus," that is, to the glory of
Christ Jesus. Two of the oldest manuscripts omit "Jesus." This verse
answers to Phm 5, "thy
love and faith toward all saints"; Paul never ceases to mention him in
his prayers, in order that his faith may still further show its
power in his relation to others, by exhibiting every grace which is in
Christians to the glory of Christ. Thus he paves the way for the
request in behalf of Onesimus.
7. For—a reason for the prayer, Phm 4-6.
we have—Greek, "we had."
joy and consolation—joined in 2Co 7:4.
saints are refreshed by thee—His house
was open to them.
brother—put last, to conciliate his
favorable attention to the request which follows.
8. Wherefore—Because of my love to thee,
I prefer to "beseech," rather than "enjoin," or
I might … enjoin—in virtue of
the obligation to obedience which Philemon lay under to Paul, as
having been converted through his instrumentality.
in Christ—the element in which his
boldness has place.
9. for love's sake—mine to thee, and
(what ought to be) thine to Onesimus. Or, that Christian love of which
thou showest so bright an example (Phm 7).
being such an one—Explain, Being
such a one as thou knowest me to be, namely,
Paul—the founder of so many churches,
and an apostle of Christ, and thy father in the faith.
the aged—a circumstance calculated to
secure thy respect for anything I request.
and now also a prisoner of Jesus
Christ—the strongest claim I have on thy regard: if for no
other reason, at least in consideration of this, through commiseration
10. I beseech thee—emphatically repeated
9. In the Greek, the
name "Onesimus" is skilfully put last, he puts first a favorable
description of him before he mentions the name that had fallen into so
bad repute with Philemon. "I beseech thee for my son, whom I have
begotten in my bonds, Onesimus." Scripture does not sanction slavery,
but at the same time does not begin a political crusade against it. It
sets forth principles of love to our fellow men which were sure
(as they have done) in due time to undermine and overthrow it, without
violently convulsing the then existing political fabric, by stirring up
slaves against their masters.
11. Which … was …
unprofitable—belying his name Onesimus, which means
"profitable." Not only was he "unprofitable," but positively injurious,
having "wronged" his master. Paul uses a mild expression.
now profitable—Without godliness a man
has no station. Profitable in spiritual, as well as in
12. mine own bowels—as dear to me as my
own heart [Alford]. Compare Phm 17, "as myself." The object of my most
intense affection as that of a parent for a child.
13. I—emphatical. I for my part. Since
I had such implicit trust in him as to desire to keep him with
me for his services, thou mayest.
I would have retained—different
Greek from the "would," Phm 14, "I could have wished," "I was
minded" here; but "I was not willing," Phm 14.
in thy stead—that he might supply in
your place all the services to me which you, if you were here, would
render in virtue of the love you bear to me (Phm 19).
bonds of the gospel—my bonds endured
for the Gospel's sake (Phm 9).
14. without thy mind—that is,
should not be as—"should not appear as
a matter of necessity, but of free will." Had Paul kept Onesimus,
however willing to gratify Paul Philemon might be, he would have no
opportunity given him of showing he was so, his leave not having been
15. perhaps—speaking in human fashion,
yet as one believing that God's Providence probably (for we cannot
dogmatically define the hidden purposes of God in providence) overruled
the past evil to ultimately greater good to him. This thought would
soften Philemon's indignation at Onesimus' past offense. So Joseph in
departed—literally, "was parted from
thee"; a softening term for "ran away," to mitigate Philemon's
receive him—Greek, "have him
for thyself in full possession" (see on Php
4:18). The same Greek as in Mt 6:2.
for ever—in this life and in that to
come (compare Ex 21:6).
Onesimus' time of absence, however long, was but a short "hour" (so
Greek) compared with the everlasting devotion henceforth binding
him to his master.
16. No longer as a mere servant or slave
(though still he is that), but above a servant, so that thou shalt
derive from him not merely the services of a slave, but higher
benefits: a servant "in the flesh," he is a brother "in
beloved, specially to me—who am his
spiritual father, and who have experienced his faithful attentions.
Lest Philemon should dislike Onesimus being called "brother," Paul
first recognizes him as a brother, being the spiritual son of the same
much more unto thee—to whom he stands
in so much nearer and more lasting relation.
17. a partner—in the Christian
fellowship of faith, hope, and love.
receive him as myself—resuming
"receive him that is mine own bowels."
18. Greek, "But it (thou art not
inclined to 'receive him' because) he hath wronged thee"; a milder term
than "robbed thee." Onesimus seems to have confessed some such act to
put that on mine account—I am ready to
make good the loss to thee if required. The latter parts of Phm 19,
21, imply that he did not
expect Philemon would probably demand it.
19. with mine own hand—not employing an
amanuensis, as in other Epistles: a special compliment to Philemon
which he ought to show his appreciation of by granting Paul's request.
Contrast Col 4:18,
which shows that the Epistle to the Colossian Church, accompanying this
Epistle, had only its closing "salutation" written by Paul's own
albeit, &c.—literally, "that I may
not say … not to say," &c.
thou owest … even thine own
self—not merely thy possessions. For to my instrumentality
thou owest thy salvation. So the debt which "he oweth thee" being
transferred upon me (I making myself responsible for it) is
20. let me—"me" is emphatic: "Let
me have profit (so Greek 'for joy,' onainen,
referring to the name Onesimus, 'profitable') from thee,
as thou shouldst have had from Onesimus"; for "thou owest thine
ownself to me."
in the Lord—not in worldly gain, but
in thine increase in the graces of the Lord's Spirit [Alford].
my bowels—my heart. Gratify my
feelings by granting this request.
in the Lord—The oldest manuscripts
read, "in Christ," the element or sphere in which this act of
Christian love naturally ought to have place.
21. Having confidence in thy
obedience—to my apostolic authority, if I were to "enjoin" it
8), which I do not,
preferring to beseech thee for it as a favor (Phm 9).
thou will also do more—towards
Onesimus: hinting at his possible manumission by Philemon,
besides, being kindly received.
22. This prospect of Paul's visiting Colosse
would tend to secure a kindly reception for Onesimus, as Paul would
know in person how he had been treated.
your … you—referring to
Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the Church in Philemon's house. The
same expectation is expressed by him, Php 2:23, 24, written in the same imprisonment.
23. The same persons send salutations in the
accompanying Epistle, except that "Jesus Justus" is not mentioned
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner—He had
been sent by the Colossian Church to inquire after, and minister to,
Paul, and possibly was cast into prison by the Roman authorities
on suspicion. However, he is not mentioned as a prisoner in
4:12, so that "fellow
prisoner" here may mean merely one who was a faithful companion to Paul
in his imprisonment, and by his society put himself in the position of
a prisoner. So also "Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner," Col 4:10, may mean. Benson conjectures the
meaning to be that on some former occasion these two were Paul's
"fellow prisoners," not at the time.
25. be with your spirit—(Ga 6:18;