The Gospel Observer
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them
to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
September 25, 2011
1) Philemon 1:1-7
2) News & Notes
by Tom Edwards
During the apostle Paul's two-year Roman imprisonment, when he was
under house-arrest and continued to be chained to different guards,
he wrote four of his New Testament epistles. Three of them --
Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians -- were written to different
churches; but Philemon, which is only one chapter, was written to
just one individual, around A.D. 60 or 61.
It is thought by some that Paul might have dictated this letter to
Timothy, as well as the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.
The deliverers of the message appear to have been Tychicus and
Onesimus, according to Colossians 4:7-9. Note that Onesimus,
who was Philemon's servant, is spoken of as having been "one
of your number," with regard to the Colossians (v. 9).
Various sources refer to Onesimus as having been from Phrygia, and
most likely the city of Colossae (where his master Philemon would
have also dwelt).
Concerning slavery of that day, Roy E. Cogdill writes that "Slavery
was one of the common practices of the ancient world. People
then saw no more wrong in having slaves than in having domestic
servants. Some authorities think that within the Roman Empire
there were perhaps 60 million of these slaves. This grievous
condition was so common it could not be uprooted immediately, so
Christianity regulated it with such principles as to make righteous
conduct toward it possible, while at the same time, making it very
difficult to continue its inequities [unfairness or injustice] and
be what Christians ought to be."
This letter is an appeal Paul is making to Philemon that he would be
merciful to Onesimus and receive him back -- and now as a brother in
Christ. For, actually, according to the law of the land at
that time, Philemon could have severely punished Onesimus -- or even
put him to death. But Paul is appealing to Philemon as a
friend and trusting (based on Philemon's character) that he will
treat Onesimus as a fellow Christian.
S. J. Eales points out that, according to Roman Law, run-away slaves
"...were to be beaten to death...in the presence of the other
slaves," which, of course, would serve as a deterrent toward others
trying to do the same in fleeing from their masters.
Not only do we hear of the type of person Philemon was, in this
epistle, but also Onesimus. For instead of fleeing to
some other place for safety, Onesimus risked his life by going back
to his master to face whatever consequences he would. For
under Roman Law, runaway slaves were to be returned -- and that law
could demand some terribly heartless penalties. In referring
to such, J. B. Lightfoot writes, "For the smallest offense, he might
be scourged, mutilated, crucified or thrown to the wild
beasts." So Onesimus would truly be at the mercy of his
Let us now look into this short letter.
Paul begins this epistle by referring to himself as "Paul, a
prisoner of Christ Jesus..." (1:1). Unlike many of his other
epistles, Paul doesn't include the fact that he is an apostle in his
salutation of this letter. This is also true for Philippians
and 1 and 2 Thessalonians -- though Paul does include himself
among the apostles in 1 Thessalonians 2:6.
In all of his prison epistles, Paul refers to himself as being a
"prisoner of Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:1 and Phm. 1:1); a "prisoner of
the Lord" (Eph. 4:1); "His prisoner" (2 Tim. 1:8, which pertains to
Paul's second Roman imprisonment); and he also indicates himself as
being such in Colossians 4:10, where he speaks of "Aristarchus" as
"my fellow prisoner."
This does not mean, of course, that the Lord was holding Paul
prisoner; but, rather, that he was a prisoner for Christ's
sake. Paul's imprisonment was due to his proclaiming the
gospel of the Lord, as he mentions in verse 13, "...my imprisonment
for the gospel." It, therefore, wasn't for any crimes nor
misdemeanors that Paul was imprisoned, but for simply serving
Jesus. So because of that, Paul did not need to be ashamed in
his imprisonment. Instead, he could even rejoice in his being
persecuted for righteousness' sake, which is exactly what Jesus
teaches in Matthew 5:10-12; as well as Peter in 1 Peter 4:12-16, and
what we see the apostles doing in Acts 5:40-42.
Paul also includes Timothy in the salutation, indicating that he was
there in Rome with Paul at that time. Timothy is also
mentioned in the opening greeting of two other prison epistles
(Phil. 1:1 and Col. 1:1). It is most likely that Timothy was
also known by Philemon and other Christians in Colossae, in helping
Paul with the work in that area.
This epistle is addressed in Philemon 1:1 "To Philemon."
Thayer defines the Greek word for Philemon as literally "one who
kisses," and Adam Clarke shows that this connotes "Affectionate or
beloved." Hence, Paul refers to him as "our beloved brother";
or as the KJV renders it, "our dearly beloved." It appears to
be a play on words; but judging from Philemon's character, Paul is,
no doubt, sincere when he says this.
Philemon is thought to have been a Gentile and one who was a wealthy
individual, based on the following facts: 1) He had his own
slave. 2) He could accommodate a church in his house. 3)
And he also appears to have been generous and helpful toward the
It is believed that Philemon probably came to Ephesus, the capital
of the province, and was converted by the apostle Paul who was
preaching there during his third missionary journey. The
apostle had actually spent about 3 years in Ephesus, which is where
he stayed the longest, out of all the places he went to, during all
3 of his missionary journeys. But another possibility is that
Philemon's conversion took place while Paul and Timothy had been
preaching the gospel in Phrygia, during Paul's second missionary
journey: Acts 16:6 states, "They passed through the Phrygian
and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to
speak the word in Asia." Then in Acts 18:23, it speaks of the
beginning of Paul's third missionary journey: "And having spent some
time there [in Antioch, tte], he left and passed successively
through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the
disciples." Colossae had been an important city of
Phrygia. Consider also Philemon 1:19, which seems to indicate
Paul's involvement in Philemon's conversion. Here, Paul
parenthetically states, "(not to mention to you that you owe to me
even your own self as well)." Why would Paul say this?
What did Paul do for Philemon that would cause him to owe his own
self to Paul? Would it not be in helping Philemon's soul to be
Notice how Paul refers to Philemon in verse 1 as "our beloved
brother and fellow worker." There are several in the NT whom
Paul speaks of as being a "fellow worker": "Prisca [or
Priscilla] and Aquila" (Rom. 16:3); "Urbanus" (Rom. 16:9);
"Timothy" (Rom. 16:21); 1 Corinthians 3:9, the apostles
(implied in the "we"); 2 Corinthians 1:24, the Corinthians
("workers with you"); "Titus" (2 Cor. 8:23); "Epaphroditus" (Phil.
2:25); "Euodia," "Syntyche," "Clement," and others not mentioned by
name (Phil. 4:2,3); "Aristarchus," "Mark," and "Jesus" who is also
called "Justus" (Col. 4:10,11). In Philemon 1:24,
"Aristarchus" and "Mark" are mentioned again as Paul's "fellow
workers," along with "Demas" and "Luke."
Paul also gives greeting to "Apphia our sister" (v. 2).
According to Robertson Word Pictures, "Apphia" was "A common name in
Phrygian inscriptions...." It is thought that she was the wife
Greeting is also given to "Archippus," whom Paul refers to as "our
fellow soldier" (v. 2). Various sources view him as being
Philemon's son. Paul also makes mention of him in Colossians
4:17, "Say to Archippus, 'Take heed to the ministry which you have
received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.'"
Lastly, Paul includes in his greeting, "the church in your house"
(v. 2). It was common in those days for churches to meet in
someone's home. For example, in Romans 16:5, Paul exhorts the
brethren to "greet the church that is in their house" (the house of
Aquila and Priscilla), which is mentioned again in 1 Corinthians
16:19. Paul also speaks of the church that is in Nympha's
house (Col. 4:15).
This, of course, doesn't mean that having a building for the church
to meet in is unscriptural; for it is expedient to have one that can
accommodate all the members and visitors. It, therefore,
serves as an aid to help us in obeying the command to assemble and
worship. So buying or renting a place with the Lord's money
(the weekly contribution) is scripturally authorized in God's word.
In Philemon 1:3, Paul desires grace and peace for his readership,
which was a common part of Paul's salutation. For he mentions
this in all of his epistles.
Notice what Paul then says in Philemon 1:4: "I thank my God always,
making mention of you in my prayers...." Paul then goes on to
show why he thanked God on Philemon's behalf: "because I hear of
your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and
toward all the saints" (v. 5). Philemon's love for the saints
has been cited as referring to his generosity toward them. For
instance, Zerr defines love in this passage to refer to "a sincere
desire to help in the welfare of others in the work of the brethren,
and an interest in the progress of the cause of the Lord."
The "faith" that Philemon had was an active faith that complied with
God's commandments. Note, too, that regardless of how godly
and generous Philemon had been, he still needed others to be praying
for him. This is also true of each one of us; and it is so
because we are all far from perfect and that goal of eternal life is
still before us, which we must continually strive for, rather than
Paul truly did pray for his brethren, and this passage in Philemon
1:4,5 sounds very similar to what Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Eph.
1:15,16). Consider also Romans 1:8,9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3;
Philippians 1:3-5; and 2 Timothy 1:3, "I thank God, whom I serve
with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly
remember you in my prayers night and day." So it appears
that in Paul's prayers, he would sometimes mention specific
individuals, as well as certain churches, by name, to the Father.
Commenting on this, Albert Barnes makes a good observation of what
kind of person Paul was: "though encompassed with many cares and
sorrows, and about to be put on trial for his life, he did not
forget to remember a Christian brother though far distant from him,
and to bear him on his heart before the throne of grace. To remember
with affectionate concern these churches and individuals, as he did,
Paul must have been a man of much prayer."
From what we have seen in just these few verses, that does
most certainly appear to be true: Paul was very much given to
The KJV renders the first part of Philemon 1:6 as, "That the
communication of thy faith may become effectual...." The NASB
translates this as "that the fellowship of your faith may become
effective...." The communication or fellowship of Philemon's
faith pertains to the good deeds that his faith would lead him into
doing that would indicate to others that his faith was genuine and
produced good results.
We can compare this to what James writes about faith and works in
James 2:14-18. True faith will demonstrate itself in righteous
acts, and the one who has that kind of faith will be setting forth a
good example for the world -- and an example that can be very
beneficial to others. Corresponding to this, Jesus instructs,
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see
your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt.
5:16). Similarly, with the same purpose and goal in mind,
Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:12, "Keep your behavior excellent among
the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as
evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe
them, glorify God in the day of visitation." Seeing good deeds
in others can often encourage us to do likewise (cf. Heb. 12:1-3 and
The faith and love of Philemon had led to the refreshing of the
hearts of the saints, which also caused Paul to have much joy and
comfort in just knowing that. The term "hearts" in the KJV,
for this verse, is translated as "bowels," which long ago was used
to pertain to the intellectual part of an individual. For the
ancients had believed that kindness, benevolence, compassion, tender
mercies, and affections had stemmed from the intestines. The
refreshing of their hearts refers to, as Lipscomb writes, "the
relief and rest given by Philemon because he had encouraged and
refreshed the souls of the saints by his labors and gifts in their
(In our next Gospel Observer, we will continue in considering this
epistle of Philemon.)
News & Notes
After hearing September 20 that my sister (Helen Bott) was given just 1 or 2 more weeks to
live, I flew out to Nevada to spend time with her; but she passed
away while on my way there, not even making it to one week. We
then had her funeral on September 27. I was truly moved by all
the people who had shown up for it. Helen was well liked and
well loved. I could see that she would be genuinely
missed. I solict prayer, from the saints, especially for her
23-year old son Tommy, as well as for all the relatives and friends
of my sister. Many of these have been giving much moral
support to Tommy, during this difficult period. I appreciate
Linda Mancini, a very good, long-time friend of my sister, who flew
back to Tampa, Florida, during the middle of her two-week vacation
in Italy, with her husband, so that she could then turn around and
fly out to Nevada for Helen's funeral and to help Tommy with all the
paper work. Linda had just recently gone through this type of
thing, in trying to get all in order, during the death of her
husband's brother. So she knew of all the things that needed
to be taken care of, and did so. She was a very big
help. She also wrote Helen's obituary and helped select the
pictures that were used in Helen's memorial video.
I also learned just yesterday that Agnes
Shuff, a former member of the Myrtle Street church of
Christ in Denham Springs, had passed away October 5, as if drifting
off to sleep. Her funeral will be this Saturday in Winnsboro,
Louisiana. Just a week before, she had celebrated her 80th
Let us also be praying for Cheryl Crews, who continues to
be having health problems, not feeling well, and undergoing
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel,
for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the
deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins
(Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in
Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water
for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4;
Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith;
for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet.
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