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).
October 2, 2011


1) Philemon 1:8-22 (Tom Edwards)
2) News & Notes


Philemon 1:8-22
by Tom Edwards

In Philemon 1:8-10, Paul says, "Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you -- since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus -- I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment."

Paul could have simply commanded Philemon to do the right thing, and surely he would have obeyed; but instead Paul appeals to him as a brother to a brother.  

Notice how Paul refers to himself in verse 9 -- "Paul, the aged."  It has been estimated that Paul was about 60 years old at this time.  That doesn't seem old in our time with longer life-spans, but it was old for Paul's day.  Plus, when you add to that all the hardships, scourgings, and other physical distresses Paul endured, that probably all had a toll on his body.  

Notice, too, how Paul refers to Onesimus: "my child Onesimus."  Why?  Because Paul helped him to become a Christian, as the same verse indicates: "whom I have begotten in my imprisonment."  

It was the power of God's word in the apostle Paul that brought this about.  As Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:23-25, Christians have been born again not through a perishable seed but by one that is "imperishable" -- "the living and enduring word of God...."

Think, too, of how Paul's identifying with Onesimus as his "child" would also make more of a tender appeal toward Philemon to do the right thing.  According to the Jewish Talmud, if a person were to teach the law to his neighbor's son, this would be viewed as if the one teaching begot the one who was taught.  

There had been a good change in Onesimus' life.  For Paul now refers to him in Philemon 1:11 as being one "who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me."  There was probably no pun intended in this; but, rather, a sincere remark from the apostle Paul about the usefulness of Onesimus' changed life. However, it does sound as if it is a play on words, for the name Onesimus literally means "profitable or useful," as Thayer defines it. So now it appears that Onesimus is truly living up to his name, and Paul is giving Philemon another reason for receiving Onesimus back.  For now he would be more useful than before.  We would think, too, that Onesimus would also be better in the sense that now he will be serving his earthly master as unto the Lord, which would also make a great improvement in  his person. For abiding in the commandments of the Lord will improve anyone's life.  

In a similar manner, we, as Christians, have made ourselves useful for our Lord by turning from sin and turning to His word, as Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 2:19-22.  So if we want to be useful to our Master in heaven, we have the responsibility toward becoming that.  

Note, however, what is said of those who turn to the world -- rather than to God -- in Romans 3:10-12: "...There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless...."

We can then see more of the emotional and brotherly attachment that Paul has to Onesimus in Philemon 1:12-14.  Here, Paul refers to his sending of Onesimus back to Philemon as "sending my very heart."  Paul wished for Onesimus to remain with him, but he knew this could not be done without the consent of Philemon.  So Paul sends Onesimus back, and so that the goodness of Philemon might be of his own free will, rather than under compulsion.  

Though not mentioned in Paul's letter to Philemon, Colossians 4:7-9 shows that Tychicus had accompanied Onesimus in this journey.  One reason for that might have been for Tychicus to be able to protect Onesimus.  For it would have been much more dangerous for him to have gone alone because of the "constant danger of falling into the hands of the slave-catchers," as James Coffman writes.  

Paul, instead of describing the time of Onesimus' absence from his master in a negative or futile way, speaks of it, rather, as a time that led to his positive reform, which would result in even something better for Philemon: "For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while [which sounds like an allusion to the providence of God], that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord" (Phm. 1:15-16).  In this passage, "forever"  is from the same Greek word that is often used to refer to "eternal" life in the NT.  Therefore, this can imply that not only would there be a permanence in the earthly relationship that Philemon would have with Onesimus, but also one that would be forever more in heaven itself.  

Notice what Paul then writes in Philemon 1:17: "If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me."  Isn't that an impartial concern?  Being impartial, or not showing favoritism, is a characteristic of God; and one that we are also to have.  For instance, Romans 2:11 states, "For there is no partiality with God."  Christians, therefore, are exhorted to be impartial: "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality" (1 Tim. 5:21).  Notice, too, the severity expressed toward those who would not develop that: "But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (Jms. 2:9).  

In Philemon 1:18, Paul declares, "...if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account."  Paul reminds us, here, of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.  For after taking the man to the Inn, who had been attacked by robbers and left half dead, the good Samaritan did what he could for the man; and then the next day he gave two denarii to the innkeeper and told him in verse 35 to "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you."  Paul is saying a similar thing to Philemon.  This willingness of Paul to pay another person's debt could very well be a willingness instilled within him from the Great Teacher Himself who was willing to pay all of our debts of sin on that torturous cross at Calvary.  

Paul then says, "I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand...." (v. 19).  This was not always the case, for Paul often dictated his message to someone else to write. Consider, for example,  Romans 16:22.  The verse states, "I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord."  So in writing the Roman letter, Paul was dictating it to Tertius.  

Consider also Colossians 4:18: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you."  Here it appears that only this closing remark was written by Paul's own hand.  This is also seen in 2 Thessalonians 3:17, where Paul states, "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write."  Paul doesn't say that he "writes this letter" with his own hand, but that he writes "this greeting."  Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 16:21,  Paul includes in the closing of that letter, "The greeting is in my own hand -- Paul."  

Poor eyesight has been suggested as why Paul usually dictated his message to someone else to write down, which has been inferred from Galatians 6:11, where Paul says, "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand."  So this is why some folks believe that Paul's thorn in the flesh was poor eyesight; and that the reason for his writing large letters was because he couldn't see well.  Another verse that is sometimes cited to strengthen that idea is Galatians 4:15, where Paul says about the Galatians, "...For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me."  But it would seem that Paul's thorn in the flesh would have been more than poor eyesight.  

Paul then says in Philemon 1:20, "Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ."  The benefit Paul alludes to is Philemon's compliance to Paul's request in receiving Onesimus back the right way.  The next verse also confirms that: "Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say" (Phm. 1:21).  

Knowing that Philemon would do "even more than what" Paul said, does not mean that Philemon would "go beyond the things that are written"; but, rather, that he would comply with Paul's request to an even fuller degree -- such as in being more thoughtful or more kind than Paul had implied.  This should also be true of every Christian.  For as J.W. Shepherd points out, "A heart truly touched by the love of Christ never seeks to know the lowest limit of duty, but the highest possibility of service."  

Some have taken this phrase, "even more than what I say," to be referring to Philemon setting Onesimus free from his slavery and sending him back to Paul.  It might include that; but that, of course, is not stated.  

Paul then makes another request of Philemon in Philemon 1:22, "At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you." Paul had hopes of being released from his first Roman imprisonment.  Take a look, for example, at Philippians 2:23,24, which is another of Paul's "prison epistles": "Therefore I hope to send him [Timothy] immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly."

Knowing that Paul was coming might have also encouraged Philemon in doing what would be right with regard to Onesimus.  

Notice also what Paul would attribute his release to: "for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you."  Much good can be accomplished through prayer.  In James 5:17,18, James cites the example of Elijah who, though having a "nature like ours," "prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.  Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit."  James cites this example to illustrate the fact, as he points out in James 5:16, that, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."

Though we don't find Paul requesting prayer from Philemon, it was as if Paul expected or knew that Philemon would be praying for him; and Paul believed that prayer could make a great deal of difference.  For he knew that, in his case, it could result in his being released from prison.  May we also, who are Christians, never forget how important and beneficial prayer can be.  

(Concluded in our next Gospel Observer)


News & Notes

R.J. Evans is now 4 weeks through his treatment for prostate cancer.  As mentioned, it involved an implanting of 83 radiation "seeds" that are time-released.  His doctors had told him that they think he will be healed in two months; so he is now half way there.   He was also told, however, that after 4 weeks into this, he might start feeling the effects of the radiation; and he mentioned just last night that he was.  It is making him feel a little worn out.  Let those of us who are Christians continue to remember R.J. in our prayers.

Also, R.J.'s wife Jackie was not able to be at church Wednesday evening, due to her back giving her some terrible trouble.  If that keeps up, it looks like Jackie won't be able to wait two or three years before having her back surgery.

Let us also be praying for Clyde Jackson who recently had surgery due to lung cancer.  He is now recuperating from that.

Let us also be praying for Cheryl Crews who came down with the flu, on top of all her other health problems.     

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. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA  70817
Sunday services: 9:00 AM (Bible class); 10 AM & 6 PM (worship)
Tuesday: 7 PM (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/go (Gospel Observer website)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)