Phm. 1:23-25.

There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;

Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Paul’s final greeting in his letters often referred to specific people who had helped him in the years of his ministry. Each one has his own story. I have thought about making a list of every person he mentions in every epistle, and doing a personality study on each one. Maybe I will 🙂

In this greeting, Paul mentions Epaphras first. He was a fellow-prisoner with Paul. The word fellow prisoner here translates literally as prisoner of war. Paul and those early believers knew they were in a spiritual battle. Some would lose their lives in the struggle. Others would disperse all over the known world, taking the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. In all the 2000+ years since that time, the gospel has never been eradicated, no matter how hard Satan and his minions try. It never will be, because it is the living Word of God. It has never worked to legislate it out of existence. Burning Bibles has been a wasted effort. God’s Word is eternal. Man cannot destroy it. Satan cannot destroy it. It is still the best-selling Book of all time.

Demas stand alone in this list of valiant men because he left the ministry after Paul’s final imprisonment. II Tim. 4:10 tells us that his “love of the world” lured him away from Paul’s side. That could mean a lot of different things, and we are not given anything more specific.

Finally, Paul calls down the grace of God on Philemon’s spirit.

Think about that. Whatever Philemon’s human reaction to Paul’s letter, whatever his justified anger may have been toward Onesimus, Paul prays the grace of God on Philemon, knowing that only God’s grace could overcome whatever anger or seeking of justice Philemon may have harbored.

I wonder, have we ever prayed for the grace of God to soothe and comfort the spirits of those who are troubled?

Refresh My Heart

Philemon 1:20-22.

Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

We’ve talked before about the words bowels in Paul’s day being used much the same as we use heart today. What Paul was saying, really, was , “Philemon, please take heed to my words, and do the right thing, giving me great joy in your cooperation with my request.”

Not only did Paul believe Philemon would do as he asked; he was confident that Philemon would go above and beyond.

I find verse 22 to be interesting. Paul was under house arrest in Rome. He knew he was under the sentence of death, yet he asked Philemon to have a room ready for him for such a time as he could go to visit.

It made me think of my mom, who lived to the good old age of 87. The last couple of years, she needed care that neither my sister nor I could give her, and she moved into assisted living and then very quickly into a nursing home. Her things were put into storage. She stayed in the nursing home for about two years. We all knew it would be her last stop on her way to heaven, and I think she knew it too. But still, whenever I spoke with her over the phone, or went to visit, she would talk about “setting up housekeeping when the doctors figured out how to fix her.” She never lost that desire to live, clinging to life even in her final week or so before her heart finally gave up the battle.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go to heaven. She did! Jesus was there; her beloved husband was there, along with her son and grandson. Many, many other friends and relatives had gone ahead, and she didn’t dread heaven. There is, however, a natural will that God has given us to cling to life. My mom loved life. She loved the people in her life, and quite frankly, she loved holding court from her bed in the nursing home when folks came to visit. She loved celebrating my birthday on the Fourth of July with a houseful of friends and relatives that year, and especially when my son and my sister and I started singing. Eventually everyone joined in, an old-fashioned hymn-sing, and she loved every minute of it. I believe she was still carrying that music in her heart when God called her home.

I believe Paul intended to live every moment of his earthly life to the maximum extent possible, and so he invited himself to stay with Philemon sometime soon–knowing he would be welcome.

You Owe Me!

Philemon 1:19. I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

Philemon 1:19 WEB - I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will - Bible Verse Picture

Here, Paul restates that if Onesimus owes Philemon anything, Paul himself, as written by his own hand, as a sort of “IOU,” he will repay that debt.

But he doesn’t leave it at that. He gently reminds Philemon that he, himself, has a debt to Paul. It was Paul who led Philemon to the gift of salvation. Therefore, Paul has the authority as Philemon’s spiritual father to remind Philemon that he owes a debt, too. We all owe the debt of our salvation to Jesus Christ, Who stood in our stead and bore the shame and pain of our sin. How can we refuse to forgive others, when He has so freely forgiven us at His own cost!

A Correction

It’s a good thing to admit when you’ve been mistaken, especially if acknowledging the error keeps others from the same misapprehension.

I have always understood Paul’s Roman imprisonment to be IN a Roman prison cell. Either that’s what I’ve been taught, or a conclusion I assumed to be true.

Lately, I’ve heard, in conversation and in my reading, that Paul’s Roman imprisonment for two years, during which he wrote the Prison Epistles, was actually house arrest. So I began to search to find the truth, and I finally have it, to my satisfaction.

This is a picture from an article for which I’ll give you a link so you can read the information for yourself:

Paul's House Arrest in Rome and Our Home Isolation
One possibility of the type of quarters in which Paul may have lived.

Better yet, I found the scripture that states clearly that Paul had rented his own quarters for two years:

Acts 28:30-31.

30 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

Ironic, I think, that Paul paid for the quarters in which he was imprisoned.

Maybe this is not news to you, but somewhere along the way, I missed it. You know how you can read through the Bible, and suddenly a passage pops off the page and hits you right between the eyes, as if you’d never seen it before? Yes? Well, that’s what happened to me with this issue. It certainly explains all the people that could come and go to visit, or to bring food, assistance, etc. And he was not forbidden to preach and teach the gospel while he was imprisoned, making excellent use of his time doing so as well as continuing to pen his epistles.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at the link under the photo above.

A Brother Beloved

Philemon 1:15-16.

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

Still pleading with Philemon, Paul suggested here that maybe there was a reason Onesimus ran away that resulted in great good.

Someone along Onesimus’ journey pointed him to Paul. Almost certainly, that person was a believer, possibly through Paul’s ministry. There were so many slaves in Rome, and many of them had turned to Christianity during this period of time. One or more of them may have given Onesimus refuge and suggested he go to visit Paul.

Can you see how easily this whole story could be developed into an intriguing book? Had Onesimus, for instance, been falsely accused by another slave? Or had he been mistreated because of some laxity in his own service? How did he manage to escape? Who helped him along the way? There was a lot of distance for him to cover before he reached Rome, and surely he must have formed some sort of network along the way that led him to a place of refuge when he arrived in that huge center of population. His master, Philemon, was already a believer, so he’d been exposed to Christianity before he fled. Was his mind full of questions, doubts, guilt, fear? A little of all those things, I think. He knew the end for him could be terrible.

There is certainly suspense and drama here, right up to the very end.

But for now, Paul’s letter pleads with Philemon to consider that perhaps Onesimus was led to Paul so that Paul could lead him to Christ. Once Onesimus accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he became valuable to Paul as a helper, and a beloved son in the Lord. He was not Paul’s slave, yet his behavior was one of humble service.

Maybe, Paul suggested, this has all come about so that Onesimus will be a better servant; a servant with a willing heart instead of a rebellious heart, one who could be of great value to Philemon not just as a slave, but as a beloved brother in the Lord.

Not of Necessity, but Willingly

Philemon 1:14. “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.”

The importance of Paul’s attitude in his appeal to Philemon is important. He is not demanding or commanding. His is pleading. He understands that Philemon has the legal right to do as he pleases with his slave.

I was doing a little more research into the whole topic of slavery in Paul’s day. Rome and its influence had pretty much covered the known world. In the city of Rome itself, and its suburbs, there were upwards of 60 million slaves! One of the biggest concerns among free citizens was the very real possibility of a slave uprising. Slaves were merchandise. They were worth more if they were young and strong, less if they were feeble in some way, or if they were old. They were expendable. They could be tossed into prison for far lesser offenses than running away. If they were caught, they could be branded with a red-hot iron on the forehead with the letter “F” for fugitive. Slaves were routinely crucified for what we would see as minor offenses.

With all that in mind, Paul pleads his case for mercy toward Onesimus, but he makes it clear that he wants Philemon to choose out of love and mercy, not out of pressure to please Paul.

Jesus chose to die for us out of love and mercy, not because He had to!

Good works that are forced, and not from the heart, lose their sweetness.

Onesimus, My Heart

Phm. 1: 12-13.

Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. His preference would have been to keep Onesimus with him, as he had grown to love him as a son.

This verse makes it clear that Paul deeply cared for Onesimus, and was asking Philemon to treat Onesimus with Paul’s love for them both in mind. Paul knew that Onesimus had the legal right to have Onesimus beaten, jailed, even executed. He was Philemon’s property. That idea is repugnant to us, but it was customary in Paul’s day. Note here that Paul is asking Philemon for mercy. He is not voicing his opinion as to the morality of owning slaves.

Remember, bowels in Paul’s day, used in this way, is heart today. I’ve heard grandmothers say that a grandchild is “her heart,” and we understand what is meant. It’s the same as Paul saying Onesimus was “his bowels.”

Paul takes it a step further in v. 13, saying that he would have kept Onesimus in Philemon’s place, to minister to him as Philemon would have if he had been there.

Paul’s love for both Philemon and Onesimus is clear in today’s passage. It has me thinking about whether we believers, in our crazy mixed-up world, have developed such a strong bond with the other believers in our lives. I’m not talking about family members here. I’m talking about people in the churches we attend, or in other organizations in which we serve. Paul loved whole-heartedly, without reservation. He sets a standard for us in regard to our believing brothers and sisters.

My Son Onesimus

Phm. 1:10-11.

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

To beseech is to beg or plead with humility. Paul was not approaching Philemon in arrogance, counting on his great influence among believers to maneuver Philemon into doing something he didn’t want to do. He was pleading with him.

Onesimus was not Paul’s son by physical birth. He was Paul’s spiritual son, having come to a saving knowledge of Christ under Paul’s ministry while Paul was imprisoned. Verse 19 tells us that Paul also led Philemon to the Lord, so in that respect Philemon and Onesimus were now brothers.

Did Onesimus hear of Paul and visit him, hoping to find answers to his own confusion? Was he perhaps hoping that Paul would tell him that running away from Philemon had been the right thing to do? I can easily imagine a whole story being developed around this situation can’t you? I’m sure someone has already written such a story, perhaps an entire book.

In any case, Paul led Onesimus to Jesus Christ while he himself was “in bonds,” imprisoned in Rome.

Paul states in v. 11 that Onesimus had once been unprofitable, or useless to Philemon. A slave who ran away successfully was a sizable financial loss to his owner. It is also possible that Onesimus had been an uncooperative slave, unwilling to work for a man who owned him.

There was an ancient Greek law (inherited by the Romans) allowing any escaped slave sanctuary at an altar. The altar could even be the hearth of a private family home; then the head of the family was obligated to give the slave protection while he tried to persuade him to return to his master. If the slave refused, the head of the family would put the slave up for auction and give the price for the slave to the former master. Paul gave Onesimus protection, and now was working the issue out with Philemon.

Blue Letter Bible

The name Onesimus means profitable. Paul says that Onesimus, though unprofitable to Philemon, had become profitable to Paul. We don’t know how he was profitable, or helpful. Perhaps he acted as a messenger; maybe he helped Paul write some of his letters. Maybe he was physically serving Paul’s needs as he was chained both hands and feet, and would need assistance in his daily needs.

And now, since Onesimus had become a believer, he could also become profitable to Philemon.

Paul the Aged

Philemon 1:8-9.

Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,

Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

Years ago, I was taught that when a passage of scripture begins with a “therefore,” you need to go back and see what it’s there for!” Poor grammar, but the idea is very helpful. Wherefore is one of those words that refers to back to what had just been written or spoken. So, to paraphrase Paul, he is saying,”So, because of your reputation for love of the saints, and your love of God, and your benevolence to me personally, I have something to ask of you.”

Much bold in Christ: Paul was concerned that Philemon would think him much to forward, too frankly speaking, about Philemon’s personal business; Paul, however, reminds Philemon that he is speaking “in Christ.” He is speaking under the authority of the Holy Spirit.

To enjoin thee: To pertain to what is due, duty, as was fitting.

Paul, under the authority of the Holy Spirit, saw Philemon’s duty toward Onesimus as that which was his duty; that which was fitting for a man of God.

Yet for love’s sake: Better even that duty, what Paul was going to ask of Philemon was for love’s sake. Love of God, love of righteousness, love of mercy–and love of “Paul the Aged.” I wondered at first if Paul was trying to gain the sympathy of Philemon because of his old age, but that wouldn’t be consistent with the character of Paul. So, I looked it up. It’s what I do :). The same word, aged, can also mean ambassador. An ambassador is usually used in relation to one who represents someone else. Here, Paul is literally an ambassador for Christ.

And he IS old, probably older than his years due to all he suffered during his ministry. And he was a prisoner of Rome, waiting for his death sentence to be carried out. He was certainly speaking from a position of authority! His advanced age was regarded in itself as a sign of his authority.

He says that he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ; that is, he was bound, in bonds, chained FOR Jesus Christ’s sake. He seems not to have considered his bondage to be a burden, but a moment in time before he went to meet Jesus face to face.