Book of Philemon Study

The Book of Philemon (Fih-lee-mun) is one of the shortest books of the Bible.  It is an epistle from the Apostle Paul to a Christian named Philemon over a personal matter which will be explained clearly by the substance of the epistle.

Philemon 1:1-3: Paul doesn’t rebuke Philemon for not buying or renting a building to hold church meetings in.  Such a building could never have any use besides accommodating a group more conveniently that couldn’t fit well into a home.  What happens in such a building bought or rented for church meetings is not inherently more sacred than the things done elsewhere.  If the people and the meeting are not holy, then putting them into a building called a church will not make them so.  To eliminate confusion related to this, and prevent superstitious scruples related to this, it is better to call a building designated for church meetings a meeting hall- or just call it by its street address or something else that sounds very unimpressive rather than calling the building a church.

1:4-5: And this is referring to Philemon’s love, expressed practically, towards Christ’s people on earth who are governed by His Word.  Verse seven proves this, though there shouldn’t be any doubt about it anyways since praying to dead people called saints is not prescribed in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the only true mediator between God and men.  Those who pray to the dead practically deny Jesus Christ.  They add to God’s Word too since this practice is foreign to it in terms of being something which the righteous practice.

1:6: Or, the fellowship of thy faith.  This is a prayer that has to do with Paul’s hope and desire that every Christian virtue would be demonstrated to the maximum in Philemon’s practical care for fellow Christians (and demonstrated practically in Philemon in every way).  Philemon was already serving and caring for other Christians unto the Lord from the heart.  And he was already excelling in this.

A related Scripture to this is 2 Peter 3:17-18.  Remember here also John the Baptist saying concerning Jesus Christ in John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

1:7: Or, the hearts of the saints.  This is a reference to the inner being of the saints.

1:8: Or, fitting.

1:9: Or, I would rather appeal to you.  This seems to be during Paul’s final imprisonment by the Romans which eventually resulted in his execution.

1:10: It is evident that Onesimus had run away from Philemon and eventually come to Paul.  It is no surprise that a young man on a bad course would run towards the big city to pursue the sin which is prevalent and easily accessible there.  Rome for someone in the Roman Empire was what a place like New York City might be to many now.  Onesimus could have wanted to be part of what was happening at Rome, but perhaps he had gone there in his escape from his master because he thought the biggest city he knew of would be the best place to hide in order to avoid being caught.  Yet somehow, and for some reason, he ended up coming to Paul who was imprisoned in Rome.  After conversing with Paul, he turned to Jesus Christ in truth and put his sin away.  It would be an amazing thing to hear Paul’s conversation with Onesimus, but there is something we can know about it for sure due to Paul’s own testimony summarizing his evangelistic message.

Acts 26:19-20: “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for (or, fitting for or in keeping with) repentance.”

And we can know that Onesimus heeded this key direction.  

1:11: Onesimus actually means useful, profitable, beneficial, etc.  Yet Onesimus had not been living up to his name before both God and man.  However, after conversing with Paul, Onesimus really repented and took up his cross to follow Jesus Christ.  Though it seems likely that he would have heard the Gospel before, he now repented and came under the true grace of God in turning his whole being to Jesus Christ.  He came to be a partaker of the grace that actually brings salvation, which as we saw from Titus chapter two, teaches us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.  Many have a lying concept of grace which doesn’t require sobriety, righteousness, and godliness in this present world (and all unconditional eternal security inherently teach such false grace by their very doctrine).  

Revelation 14:6-7: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”

Those who properly fear the true God can be trusted in matters pertaining to earth because He requires uprightness of us in our dealings with others.  Those who are not upright in their dealings with other people (without partiality) do not adequately fear God and they cannot be properly related to Him through Jesus Christ (many Scriptures prove this, but two examples would be Micah 6:8 and Psalm 34).  Though some may generally be trustworthy before men for other reasons, the true fear of the Lord extends to every matter of life, public and private, to one’s thoughts as well as actions, and it binds a person to righteousness like nothing else can.  It also guards against a person from following a twisted definition of righteousness like nothing else can.  The Good Samaritan could not neglect doing what was in his power to help the wounded man whom he found on the road to Jericho- because he feared God.  Onesimus now fears the Lord and cannot revert to his previously unprofitable ways as long as he continues to do so.  He has turned to Jesus Christ and been given His Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” in Isaiah chapter 11.  Onesimus is now being taught to walk in truth and in the fear of the Lord continuously by Christ’s Holy Spirit.  As long as he abides in Christ and doesn’t resist the Spirit of God which now resides in him, his ways can be said to be profitable before God as well as to people- especially those he has direct responsibilities and duties towards.

1:12: Or inward parts.  Paul is now knit together at heart with Onesimus through their Christian fellowship.

1:13: Paul obviously could have used a lot of help in his imprisonment.  It seems likely that he was not necessarily imprisoned in the way many think of being imprisoned now.  We see during Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea in Acts 24:23 that the Governor Felix commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintances to minister or come unto him.  There was also likely much Christian ministry within Rome that Paul could send people on tasks in relation to, if and when, he had people whom he could trust would follow his instructions in accomplishing such tasks.

1:14: Paul was not going to make Philemon comply with his wish that Onesimus stay with him, even though he believed this would be something which God would bless Philemon for.  This was rightfully Philemon’s decision that Paul wasn’t going to do more than make a case before Philemon on why he considered Onesimus staying with him (that is, Paul) to be the better choice. 

1:15-16: Paul recognized that God may have answered the prayers of Philemon and of other Christians for Onesimus by allowing things to work out like they had up until this point with the intention of bringing Onesimus back to Philemon’s house to strengthen the Christian fellowship there and to be a Christian example there.  Paul was not presumptuous.  He understood well that he didn’t see everything involved in a situation.  He therefore recognized that perhaps it was better that Onesimus go back to Philemon despite the fact that he had a strong opinion otherwise.

And by the way: We’ve talked in other studies about how much slavery in the ancient world did not stem from kidnapping and human trafficking (things which the Law of God calls for the death penalty for those guilty in).  Those who make slavery a racial issue are highly ignorant of history or driven by a Marxist agenda- or both.  The Africans who were kidnapped and sold as slaves in the Atlantic slave trade were mostly kidnapped and sold to slave traders by other Africans.  The word “slave” itself comes from the Slavic people of Eastern Europe who had commonly been traded as slaves.  Many Europeans throughout history have been enslaved, including by many who would not be considered white people.  The Marxists are despicable, even in their denunciation of slavery in America, because they want to exploit it to turn Americans against each other and to overall break down society to make it susceptible to coming under their control (and this has already happened to a significant extent, by the way).  They also promote illegal immigration to destabilize society to grab power for themselves.  Nevertheless, they are still pawns of another group- the one who controls the nation’s money supply that you’re not allowed to talk about (proving their power) without being censored or at least irrationally compared to a certain European leader who came to power in the 1930s.

1:17-21: Paul was confident that Philemon was walking in the fear of the Lord and seeking to do what is pleasing to Him in everything.  Paul simply is informing Philemon of the situation and letting him know what he believes he ought to do.  He is confident that Philemon will be generous and not self-willed in his decisions related to the matter of Onesimus.  Paul is confident that Philemon will do even better than what Paul is strongly recommending that he do, however that ends up being expressed practically.

1:22-25: Or, Luke.

We can infer that Philemon is in or around the city of Colossae since those whom Paul greets here correspond to those whom he greets in the epistle to the Colossians.

Some key things to consider in relation to this book:

Many want the warm reception in Christian fellowship which was proper to give to Onesimus- but they don’t want to demonstrate the repentance which Onesimus was demonstrating.  

If Onesimus had been given the impression that many bad evangelists give, that he could receive Christ and not forsake his evil way and his evil deeds, then he probably would become two fold more the child of hell.  He might have improved his conduct some, telling himself “this is what Christians are supposed to do.”  Yet he would have remained a sinner, an enemy of God alienated from Him in his mind through wicked works (as Colossians 1:21 explains so well).  He likely would have become a Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the hour of trial.  It would have been better then, if an evangelist were to have given Onesimus such a bad impression, for Onesimus to have said “I want nothing to do with Jesus” and to have walked away without making any procession of faith in Jesus Christ.  That way, he’d at least not be two-fold the child of hell whose sinful life is a disgrace to Jesus’ name and causes His name to be blasphemed.  And that way he’d know for certain that he had no interest in Jesus Christ and wouldn’t ever have grounds to think something like “I tried that Jesus stuff and it didn’t really do anything except it gave me a placebo of hope which made me happy and excited for a while” or something like that.

We see in this epistle the Apostolic view that heeding the Biblical counsel commanding man to forsake his sins and turn to God wholeheartedly in repentance is indeed doable (contrary to what many who preach and teach in Christ’s name say).

Ezekiel 18:26-32: “When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.  Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.  Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal.  O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? A re not your ways unequal?  Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God.  Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.  Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”

Consider here also, especially with someone like Onesimus who was a natural gentile from the lowest class of society, consider him in relation to natural Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah and in relation to professing Christians who do not live up to their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 12:39-42: “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas (Jonah): For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.  The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.”

It is potentially casting pearls before swine to talk about people like Onesimus, Zaccheus, and the Prodigal Son without sufficiently talking about their repentance..  True instances of the shedding of God’s grace and mercy upon people are strong candidates for abuse and misapplication, resulting in damage done to souls which is impossible to estimate the value of- and also resulting in pearls being cast before swine.

We also learn here that it’s okay to write a short letter.  It also must be okay then to give a short message when not a lot needs to be said.  Sometimes less is more, but sometimes a lot needs to be covered to help people understand a matter like they ought to.  A preacher or Bible teacher who always needs to give long messages, or always needs to give short messages, or always needs to give messages of any particular length, is probably not adequately regarding the good of his hearers.  They also may very well have ego problems, which they ought to seek to identify the root of, and pull that out in repentance.  Or, at the very least, they have some superstitious scruple related to the length of the messages they give which they ought to abandon when a Biblical example like this is brought to their attention.

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]