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The Appeal of Onesimus
Summary —Greetings. Thanksgiving for Philemon's Faith. Entreaty for Onesimus. The Change in Onesimus. His Return. An Appeal to Philemon's Love for Paul. Paul's Hope to Visit Colosse. Closing Salutations.
1–3. Paul, a prisoner. A prisoner at Rome. The first words are an appeal to the sympathy of Philemon. He refers to his chains five times in this letter. Timothy our brother. Two other Epistles of the Captivity name Timothy in the first verse. See Phil. 1:1 and Col. 1:1. Unto Philemon. See Introduction. Philemon evidently lived in Colosse, but Paul had never been there. He had probably converted him in Ephesus, the capital of the province, during his long sojourn there. 2. Our beloved Apphia. Supposed to have been Philemon's wife. And Archippus. The connection has suggested that he was Philemon's son. He was no doubt a minister. See Col. 4:17. The church in thy house. As the early church had no houses of worship, it met in private houses. 3. Grace. The benediction of grace would remind him of God's mercy.
4–7. I thank my God. Here he begins to speak directly to Philemon, whom he always mentions in his prayers. 5. Hearing of thy love and faith. The ground of his thankfulness is Philemon's godly life. 6. That the communication of thy faith. Rather, “fellowship,” as in the Revision. The Greek word is koinonia, and the prayer is that the fellowship of faith between Philemon and Onesimus may become effectual in showing forth forgiveness, which would of course be comprehended in every good thing. Here, however, the statement is general. 7. For I had much joy and comfort. Alluding to the time when news came to him of the state of the church at Colosse and of Philemon's active Christian life. The news was brought, no doubt, by Epaphras (Col. 1:7).
8–14. Wherefore. After this introduction Paul states the purpose of the letter. Though I might be much bold in Christ. As an apostle, and as the one who gave Philemon the gospel, he had the right to command what is befitting. 9. Yet. Yet he does not come thus with commands, but as beseeching for love's sake. Paul the aged. That his appeal may be more sure to touch Philemon, he reminds him that Paul is an old, gray-haired, scarred veteran of Christ, who has grown aged in his service, and is now a prisoner suffering for his Lord. 10. For my son Onesimus. His spiritual son, whom he in his bonds, while a prisoner in chains, had converted. It is possible that Epaphras met Onesimus, his fellow-townsman in Rome, and brought him to Paul. 11. Which in time past was to thee unprofitable. He may not only have been a restless, discontented servant, but in addition, he ran away. But now profitable. Such a change has taken place in him. He has served Paul in his bonds well, and will also serve Philemon well. 12. Whom I have sent again. Not only that he may make amends to thee for his wrong, but that thou mayst be able to treat him as a brother in Christ. Mine own bowels. Rather, “My very heart” (Revision). I am so much attached to him. To be unkind to him would wound Paul's very heart. 13. Whom I would have retained. Would gladly have kept him with me to render for thee the service you would be glad to give me while I am in chains, only (14) without thy mind would I do nothing. He wished, if such a service was rendered, it might be with Philemon's free consent.
15–17. Perhaps he therefore departed, etc. Perhaps his departure was providential, to lead to his conversion, to give you a faithful helper, and to save him forever. 16. Not now as a servant. His relation is changed. He is more than a servant, a Christian brother, beloved, specially to me. See verse 12. How much more unto thee. He has both temporal, fleshly relations to thee (those of master and servant), and besides is your brother in Christ. Both these ties ought to bind him to you. The gospel held Christian masters responsible for both the moral and the physical welfare of their servants. 17. If thou count me a partner. Christian fellow-laborers are partners. See 2 Cor. 8:23, where Titus is named as Paul's partner. Then receive him, as you would me.
18–21. If he hath wronged thee. By defrauding thee of his service. Some have seen in this a suggestion that Onesimus had robbed Philemon, but that inference is not necessary. See Introduction on the gospel and slavery. 19. I, Paul, have written it with mine own hand. If you hold this wrong against him, here is my written bond that I will repay it. Albeit. Here is a reminder that Philemon owed his salvation to Paul, a reminder which would certainly prevent him from putting in a claim against the apostle. 20. Let me have joy of thee. By learning that you have cheerfully granted all I ask in this letter. 21. Having confidence. This letter is written in full confidence that even more than I ask will be granted. Perhaps this is a hint that Philemon might grant Onesimus his freedom.
22–25. Prepare me also a lodging. All the letters of the first imprisonment express confidence that he will be set at liberty. That Paul visited Asia again is almost certain, and perhaps he visited Colosse. 23. There salute thee Epaphras. See notes on Col. 1:7. He probably founded the Colossian church. See also Col. 4:12. My fellow-prisoner. Perhaps only in the sense that he shared Paul's imprisonment by becoming his companion. 24. Marcus. Mark. See Introduction to Mark. Aristarchus. A Macedonian. See Acts 27:2. Demas. See 2 Tim. 4:10 for his later history, Lucas. See Introduction to Luke. Also Col. 4:14. These are all mentioned in the closing salutations of the Colossian letter.
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