Philemon’s Character

Philemon 1:4-6.

I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

Paul didn’t need to take a course in administration, or go to a seminar on how to talk to people. He was led by the Holy Spirit in his words to Philemon, and he knew that a good way to get someone’s attention and listening ear was to sincerely compliment him. Paul was not being manipulative here. His words are sincere.

Philemon was a good and godly man, known as such by all who knew him.

Wouldn’t you love to know that a man like Paul prayed for you on a regular basis? Wouldn’t it encourage you to know that you were mentioned in the daily prayers of a good and godly man? And that you were mentioned for your love of God and of other believers with whom you had to do? To know that Paul was praying that the daily living (communication) of Philemon’s faith would be effective by Philemon’s recognition of all the good in himself because of Christ?

I would certainly be motivated to become worthy of such a wonderful opinion of a believer of Paul’s stature, or of anyone else for that matter. Many years ago, I heard a woman say that any time she received a compliment she would write it down as soon as she could, and add it to a list she kept at home; then she would pray that the Lord would give her the grace to truly be whatever the compliment was; that she would live up to that person’s opinion of her. I loved that, and have kept my own log ever since. Doing so has taught me that in myself I am weak and selfish, but in Christ I am a new person, dependent wholly upon Him to mold me into what He wants me to be.

It is quite humbling to see yourself through another person’s eyes, knowing that any good thing that person sees in you is only by God’s grace.

The Church in thy House

Phil, 1:2-3.

And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course, we don’t know what Philemon’s house looked like. It was likely spacious enough to accommodate a fairly large gathering, though. This was normal practice in the early church, and many modern-day churches have adopted this early pattern to a greater or lesser degree. The hope, in doing so, is that neighbors will be reached with the gospel, and closer relationships will develop among believers.

It’s interesting how we tend to go in cycles, isn’t it? The megachurch movement swept across America and other countries, as well, during the last thirty years of so of the 20th century. Then, realizing that a lack of personal relationships was one of the results of having thousands of people attending a church, we began this move back to “house churches,” under the direction of pastors and lay leaders.

In Philemon’s day, there was no option outside of the church house. He was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, a man of some wealth and recognition in his community. Opening his home to believers around him was a natural thing for him to do.

Apphia, meaning that which is fruitful, is widely believed to have been Philemon’s wife or sister, a “beloved” member of his household and also beloved by Paul.

Archippus was either the son or brother of Apphia, a member of the household of Philemon. He was a fellow soldier, an associate in labors and conflicts for the cause of Christ. Tradition holds that Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus were all stoned to death during the reign of Nero. I could find no absolute truth to that, but it certainly could be true that they were martyred.

Paul’s greetings to those who read his epistles often included the phrase grace and peace be unto you. These believers were living through dangerous, difficult times. No one understood that any better than Paul himself.

Philemon and Onesimus

Since we finished the book of Colossians yesterday, I find I’m not quite ready to move on to a longer study just yet. Writing through Colossians really grabbed my heart in several ways. I know that Philippians is similar in some ways, and I do feel the leading of the Lord to go there next. However, the story of Philemon and Onesimus is short, only 25 verses, and I really want to look at it before doing the next longer study.

Onesimus Returns

Philemon 1:1. “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,”

In Paul’s greetings, he often uses the term prisoner of Jesus Christ, or some similar self-description. The actual word he used is bondservant.

Exodus 21:5-6:

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.

The relationship between master and slave was not always one of the slave having no say in his situation, or being subject to ill treatment. There was often a very intimate relationship between servant and master. Sometimes, even when a servant had earned his right to go free, he would choose to remain in his master’s employ for the rest of his life. In such cases, the slave was brought before judges who would determine and approve such a step. The servant then had his earlobe pierced and a ring would be inserted through the piercing that would never be removed.

This process was entirely voluntary. It was the servant’s choice to give up his right to leave. He would live with his wife and children, and continue to serve his master for as long as he lived. This happened because the master was fair, just, and merciful.

For Paul to describe himself, then, as a bondservant to Jesus Christ, was to declare his lifelong dedication to the service of his Master, Who was fair, just, and merciful in every respect.

Paul mentions Timothy, a faithful companion who was with Paul when this epistle was written.

Philemon himself held high favor in Paul’s eyes, being a believer and a fellow laborer in the work of the gospel. He is called beloved here, indicating a strong relationship with Paul, and holding high regard in the Christian community. Paul knew he was writing to a godly and reasonable man, not to a Simon Legree who took delight in persecuting his slaves.

Take Heed to the Ministry

Col. 4:17-18.

And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

Archippus was apparently a Christian leader in Colosse. It is possible he was a pastor, though I could find no proof of that. In any case, he was known in the Colossian Christian community, and was most likely a lay leader or pastor in the congregation of believers.

So the question is, why did Paul single him out with a warning to pay attention to his calling, and fulfill it?

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that he was failing in some way, but that is only supposition. I believe Paul’s message to him was more by way of encouragement to stay strong in the battle. There was so much that easily distracted the Colossian believers–heresy, looming persecution, problems within the congregation–that Paul must have felt compelled to tell Archippus, through the Colossian letter, not to give up; not to falter, but to forge ahead with courage and strength.

Pastors and lay leaders need encouragement! They get more than their fair share of criticism and discouragement. I am a preacher’s kid, and I know the weight that a pastor carries. So often, the problems arise not from the outside, from unbelievers, but from within the church itself. Dissatisfaction among believers, who choose to speak among themselves; or who go to the pastor with criticism and no encouragement or support. I’m not saying that a pastor or lay leader is above reproach. There is, however a right way to handle it when reproach is necessary. Go to Galatians 6:1-10; Matthew 18:15-20; and I Timothy 5:1. Go in prayer. Go with the goal of reconciliation.

Finally, Paul makes his usual final salutation. His practice was to dictate his letters to an amenuensis, or secretary, and then to write the final salutation in his own hand. He asks that he be remembered in prayer as a prisoner of Rome, and prays for grace for the recipients of his letter.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Shorter Days Already!

I glanced at my watch 20 minutes ago, surprised to see that it was already dusk outside. It was a quarter to nine and now, at 9:05, it’s dark. Well, we ARE at the halfway mark in July, but still, it seems that the days are shortening way sooner than they should.

Do you remember, if you grew up in a city or a smaller town neighborhood, how we milked these long summer days? After supper was the time for lots of hide and seek, and other games we could play in the street because there wasn’t much traffic. The heat of the day had relented somewhat, although it could still be overwhelming with humidity if there was no breeze. Back then, the mosquitos were relentless. No one was spraying whole neighborhoods 65 years ago, and we all had a bumper crop of mosquito bites in spite of whatever bug deterrent we used. It was just part of life.

Sometimes we played army until it was too dark to see each other. We were children of WWII parents, and we knew all kinds of things that gave us plenty of room to imagine scenarios. We spied, we hid, we sneaked up on each other. Then, the street lights would go on, and we knew we had to go in soon.

Now and then, if we didn’t get home as soon as they wanted us to, one or the other of our parents would call our names. We didn’t waste any time at that point. We knew we’d better get home fast!

One of these days, Jesus is going to call us home. We won’t get a warning. It will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and our time on earth will come to an end. Those who do not know Jesus Christ will remain, and I would love to know how the talking heads are going to explain away the instant disappearance of millions all around the world.

And all this brings to mind a song that’s really an oldie, and that I didn’t much care for when I was younger. But it has more meaning as I grow older, and so I’m going to offer it to you here. I hope you’ll consider the words as they apply to believers.

Share God’s Word!

Col. 4:16. “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”

Paul’s letters were never meant to be read, kept, and held away from other churches or groups of believers. He may have addressed a particular issue, as he did in I Corinthians, but he also knew and understood that such issues would be common to all believers down through the centuries, as in his own time. His desire was that his letters be a blessing to all believers.

Apparently, he had written a letter to the Laodiceans that has not been retained, and is not part of the canon of the Bible. There is nothing shocking or mysterious about that. What we have in God’s Word is that which was specifically inspired of God through the Holy Spirit (II Tim. 3:16-17). Not every word that Paul ever wrote fell into the category of God-breathed inspiration. There is, in fact, a Latin letter written to the Laodiceans, but the earliest church “fathers,” such as Jerome, denied its authenticity on comparison with Paul’s other writings. The Latin letter differs in style and substance to the point that the question of including it in the canon has long been settled.

Remember that God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Satan loves to pour doubt all over the Word of God, but it has remained secure in spite of his efforts.


Col. 4:15. “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.”

My husband has taught me to have a keen interest in maps. I love knowing where places are in relation to places I know. This one pinpoints the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3, which include Laodicea, a lukewarm church.

Laodicea means justice of the people, which I find interesting. In Revelation, it is considered a church that is neither hot nor cold, reprehensible to God. Perhaps at one time it was fervent, but had lost its zeal. It is in Phrygia, on the river Lycus, very close to Colosse. Destroyed by an earthquake in 66 A.D., it was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. It was considered the seat, or beginning, of the Christian church in that part of Asia.

There were no buildings designated as Christian churches until the third century A.D. Instead, believers met in private homes, each group led by a pastor or lay leader. Nymphas is translated as bridegroom. He was apparently a wealthy enough person to have a large home which, in his zeal, he was willing to open up as a place for believers to assemble. Doing so would likely lead to persecution later on, but the new believers were willing to face that danger while they met together for study, prayer, and worship.

Beloved Physician

Col. 4:14. “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.”

Again, we don’t know what these men looked like. I use these illustrations hoping that they will not be considered as facts; they are artist’s renderings based upon what we know of the characters they portray. Luke’s name is a contraction of the Latin Lucanus, which means Bringer of Light. And yes, it is related to the name Lucifer, Light Bearer, which that prideful fallen angel, Satan, was named before he fell from heaven because of his sin.

Luke was a Gentile believer. He accompanied Paul many times on his missionary journeys. He was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, both books full of enlightening detail and description. I think he must have been near-genius in his intellect, and full of the love of God in his heart and soul. I like to think about meeting him someday!

Demas, along with Luke, sends his greetings to the Colossians in this letter of Paul’s. His name means governor of people. He had been Paul’s companion, but deserted him during his imprisonment in Rome and returned to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia”).

Demas apparently started out well, traveling with Paul as he planted new churches and carried the gospel everywhere he went. Very little is said about Demas until the passage above in

II Timothy 4:10. There was something about “this present world” that called his name. Maybe he was fearful of imprisonment and death. Maybe he just grew weary in well-doing. We don’t know. What we do know is that this can happen to any believer. There are many, even well-known and beloved by other believers, who have shrugged off the calling of God to live lives that did not honor Him. It is a warning to us. No one is above that sort of temptation.


PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Shlomo, bent and frail, watched as busloads of tourists filed under the Arbeit Macht Frei gateway. Loaded with water bottles–which made Shlomo smile –and cameras, they gazed with intense curiosity, as if they expected to see ghosts. Most became very quiet.

There wasn’t even any birdsong, as if nature itself revered the spirits of those who had suffered there.

Shlomo, aided by a grandson on each side, walked away from the tourists toward the barracks that he knew best. Wordless, he and his grandsons stood and gazed into the interior.

Wordless, they walked away.

Laboring. . .in Prayer

Col. 4:12-13.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

Epaphras: The name means charming or foamy. Foamy? Hmmmm. Well, maybe in the sense that he bubbled over with his love and concern for Paul and his fellow-believers back home. It seems he was able to be with Paul, whether as a prisoner or a visitor from outside is not made clear.

What IS clear is that he was a prayer warrior! Have you ever “labored fervently” in prayer? James 5:16 says that the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” To be fervent is to be very hot : glowing the fervent sun; exhibiting or marked by great intensity of feeling : zealous.

Also, notice that Paul refers to Epaphrus as a servant of Christ. The meaning here is that of being a bondservant, who was one who voluntarily worked without pay, and was cared for by the ones for whom he worked. It speaks to a warm and loving bond between the servant and his master, Who in this case was Jesus Christ.

Epaphras was “one of you,” that is, he was from the area of Colosse, and knew the people personally. He had a deep love for the people of Colosse, and Laodicea, and Hierapolis.

You can see from the map that these three cities are very close together, and though Paul himself had never been to Colosse, Epaphras was from that area, and knew the people well.

The one distinguishing description of Epaphras was his fervent zeal and prayer for his fellow-believers. That’s quite a distinction, isn’t it?