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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

Philemon 1

Verses 1-25

  1. Intro:

    1. Sept 11- We are blessed w/freedom, & blessed to be able to bless others.
    2. Back to School: Pray for teachers.
      1. Public school; Christian School; Home School; Children’s ministry.
    3. Disaster Situation – Our 1st team arrived back this morning.
      1. It will take us a little longer to establish exactly where we are needed. [1] We are listening to God’s leading [2] There seems to be an open door w/Samaritan’s Purse [3] We are not going to run down & “just do something”.
      2. Last week $31,000 came in.
    4. Overview: An appeal by Paul, to a godly friend Philemon, to graciously receive back his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a Christian & whom Paul is now sending back to his master.
  2. CHRISTIANITY IN ACTION! (1-25)
    1. PAUL’S POSTCARD! (1-3)
      1. Though short in size(25 vs.), it’s long in truth!
    2. What makes up a Postcard? (show one)
      1. Whom it is from: Paul [A prisoner in Rome(under house arrest); wrote prob summer of 62ad, along w/Colossians]
      2. Whom it is addressed to: Philemon. [Wealthy slave owner; house large enough to have a church in it; lived in Colossae]
      3. The stamp: Holy Spirit! Authenticity…no question.
      4. The Postmark(when and from where a piece of mail was sent): Colossae.
      5. Its content: To inform Philemon that his slave was not only safe but saved. To ask Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
      6. Sometimes a picture: A picture of friendship, acceptance, salvation, forgiveness, freedom, providence, reconciliation, grace.
        1. Here is an unforgettable picture of “Christianity in action!”
    3. (2) Apphia – possibly his wife; Archippus – possibly his son.
    4. (3) As Paul asks this for him, he will in turn ask this of him.
    5. APPRECIATION! (4-7)
    6. Paul has so much good to say about Philemon.
      1. This was not empty flattery; it was sincere Christian appreciation.
      2. He was: a beloved friend(1), a fellow laborer(1), a man of faith & love(5), an effective Christian(6), a refreshing Christian(7), a man who obeyed God’s will(21), a praying man(22).
      3. Q: Would your friends say the same about you?
    7. (5) Isn’t this the best evidence of true Christianity?
      1. Love for Christ & Love for the brethren! [upward to Christ & outward to others]
    8. (6) We say “keep the faith”. Not Philemon, he said, “share the faith!”
      1. He didn’t keep it to himself, he shared it(communicated it) with others.
      2. Paul prayed that his faith would “go to work”(be effectual).
    9. (7) Refreshing love! - The legend is told of a desert wanderer who found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness. The water was so pure he decided to bring some to his king. Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the clear liquid and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace. When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his sovereign, the water had become stale and rank due to the old container in which it had been stored. But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use. He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and sent away the loyal heart filled with gladness. After he had gone, others sampled it and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it. "Ah!" said he, "it was not the water he tasted, but the love that prompted the offering."
      1. Many times our service is marked by multiplied imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives and says "It is good."
    10. APPEAL! (8-17)
    11. (8) Why not use his apostolic authority? It would not help Philemon grow in grace or gain a real blessing from the experience.
      1. Law is a much weaker motivation than love!
      2. So, no pulling rank, no issuing orders, just an appeal on the basis of love!
    12. (10) He now mentions his name(which might have been like fingernails on a chalk board!) but he does so by wisely sweetening his name with “my son!”
    13. Providence!
      1. The providence of God is amazing. A run away slave jumps a ship from Greece to Italy(1700 mile journey). Hides out in the Metropolis of Rome “never to be find out”. By the providence of God he runs into Paul, gets saved. Is now accountable to “do the right thing.”
    14. (11) Note, play on words!
      1. Q: What happened to Onesimus to make him start living up to his name? [Accepted Christ]
      2. Q: Has acceptance of the Christian faith made you useful?
      3. I Picture a before & after photo of Onesimus on the Postcard!
        1. And here’s what he looks like now! J
      4. Q: Anything you need freedom from?
    15. (12-14) According to Roman law, Onesimus could have been executed for his crimes.
      1. 2-Fold: Money he stole from Philemon(22); the price Philemon had paid for him. (500 Denari [days wage] – to 50,000 Denari for a skilled labor)
      2. A slave was not a person; he was a living tool. A master had absolute power over his slaves. William Barclay said, “He can box their ears or condemn then to hard labor – making them, for instance, work in chains upon his lands in the country, or in a sort of prison-factory. Or, he may punish them w/blows of the rod, the lash or knot; he can brand them upon the forehead, if they are thieves or runaways, or, in the end if they prove irreclaimable, he can crucify them.” (William Barclay; pg.270)
      3. But now, he was free! – In this big city he would simply lose himself in this faceless sea of people!
      4. So, he was free!...But are you really free when you are constantly looking over your shoulder?
        1. He was a fugitive & a thief…2 shackles that would hinder his every move!
      5. Fortunate for him God has true freedom waiting in the wings!
    16. Interesting, liberty in Christ, however, doesn’t mean being absolved from all earthly debts & responsibilities. (imp message for guys in jail)
      1. Yes Onesimus you made things right w/God, but now you need to make things right w/Philemon. [this was risky business!]
        1. Christ forgave him, but would Philemon?
    17. (15,16) “Perhaps” this is what God was doing:
      1. He departed that he might come back.
      2. He was gone a short time so that he & his master might be together forever.
      3. He left for Rome a slave, would return to Colossae a brother.
    18. (16) Imagine a slave entering the Masters family. - But now imagine a guilty sinner entering Gods family!
      1. Paul wanted him to receive him back both in the spiritual & physical sense!
    19. (17) “Receive him” – (dilemma)
      1. If he was too easy, this might influence other slaves to “become Christians” (i.e. for wrong motives)
      2. If he was too hard on him, it might affect his testimony & ministry in Colossae.
    20. ASSURANCE! (18-25)
    21. (18) Paul doesn’t ignore the Onesimus’ crime & forget about the debt he owes.
      1. He says “I’ll pay it myself”, “put it on my account”
      2. Vs.17 was the doctrine of Identification. – Vs.18 is the doctrine of Imputation. [Adams sin was imputed to the whole world; Mans sin was imputed to J.C.; Gods rt. is imputed to believing man]
      3. Ps.32:3 “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.”
    22. (19) This is a 1st century “IOU”! [He was taking Onesimus’ debt upon himself]
    23. True reconciliation is not cheap; there is a price to pay.
      1. Paul knew this & was willing to pay the price himself.
      2. Q: Can God use you as a reconciler?
      3. Q: Are you willing to pay the price? (Sometimes it costs your friendship)
    24. (20) Another play on words.
      1. Joy/benefit = root of Onesimus. (i.e. “now let me receive from you a touch of Onesimus through your willingness to forgive him!”)
    25. So what was Philemon’s response to this Postcard? Did he forgive him? (we don’t know)
      1. Ignatius(early church father) writing 50 yrs later in a letter to the Ephesians, addressed their wonderful minister, their bishop, named Onesimus.
        1. Ignatius makes exactly the same pun as Paul made – he is Onesimus by name & Onesimus by nature, the profitable one to Christ. It may well be that the runaway slave had become w/the passing years the great bishop of Ephesus. (Ibid; pg.275)
    26. Now let’s go down to the Murrieta Post Office!
      1. We’d find a present-day postmark on it, w/our names on the forwarding address!
    27. We clearly see this letter is also a picture of Christ as the Redeemer of lost sinners.
      1. Christ found us as runaway slaves, law-breakers, rebels, but He forgave us & identified us w/Himself. [“All of us are Onesimus!”]
      2. Look how a useless runaway became useful though the transforming power of the cross!
      3. As Paul was willing to pay the price to save a disobedient slave, so Christ paid the price on the cross for His wayward children.
      4. Receive Him as you would me” – reminding us that we are “accepted in the beloved!”
        1. The Christian will never enter heaven on his/her own merits.
        2. When the believer stands before the Father, Christ will have to say, “Receive them as you would me”.
        3. This speaks of our Identification w/Christ.
        4. That’s what we mean by Justification – We are in Christ & therefore accepted before God.
      5. The Christian needs to keep in mind the distinction between “accepted in Christ” & “acceptable to Christ
        1. Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are forever accepted in Christ & can never be rejected by the Father!
        2. When believers sin, they are accepted, but their actions are not acceptable!
        3. Because we are accepted in him, we have sonship;
          as we live lives acceptable to Him, we have fellowship!
    28. It wasn’t easy for Paul in letting Onesimus go.
    29. It wasn’t easy for Philemon to take Onesimus back. (stole from him)
    30. It wasn’t easy for Onesimus to face his former master.
      1. But…these men were Christians! And that made all the difference.
      2. An unforgettable picture of “Christianity in action!”
      3. It sounds like they put Col.3:12-16a into play!
    31. Wrap up: Are you a presently a runaway?
      1. You’ve made(or are planning) your mad dash for freedom!
      2. The alcoholic drinks till all pain is left far behind.
      3. The adulterous spouse runs form a dying marriage into a lover’s waiting arms.
      4. The depressed executive flees to a world of privacy & silence.
      5. The alcoholic drinks till all pain is left far behind. (Swindoll; NT Postcards; pg.8)
      6. If you’ve been running, this Postcards for you! - Running may receive the pressure for awhile but it doesn’t solve the problem!
    32. Maybe you’ve already made your escape, & now you think that the Lord won’t want you back. But that’s not true!
      1. Onesimus teaches us a repentant runaway can always return home
      2. The Lord is always ready to forgive! Ps.86:5 (Wait! Let me check & see if that’s still there…Yep!)
      3. Q: If you’re running are you ready to come home this morning?
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Philemon 1". "Bell's Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/philemon-1.html. 2017.