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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Philemon 1

Verse 1

Philemon 1:1. Paul, a prisoner. As the matter on which the apostle is about to write is rather personal and social in its character, he does not style himself an apostle in his address, but employs a word which should challenge sympathy more than make a claim to obedience.

a prisoner. This was St. Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome, which lasted for two whole years (Acts 28:30), probably from A.D. 61-63. The name prisoner is applied to him (Acts 23:18) just before he was sent from Jerusalem to Cæsarea and thence to Rome, From the language of Philemon 1:22, St. Paul seems to have anticipated a speedy release. The Epistle to Philemon may therefore have been written near the close of his imprisonment.

of Jesus Christ. It was for the cause of Christ’s religion, and that it might be spread abroad, that the apostle was in prison, though it was also (Ephesians 3:1) for the sake of the Gentiles. St. Paul was not ashamed of his chains, but saw advantage coming from his bondage, and so he called it his grace (Philippians 1:7), and of this grace the Gentiles were partakers.

and Timothy. We are not told in the Acts that Timothy went with the apostle to Rome, but he must have been in close attendance on him while there, for St. Paul adds his name in the greeting of the Epistles to Philippi and Colossæ, putting him in the former on a level with himself as a ‘bond-servant’ of Jesus Christ.

the brother. A term early used by the Christians in speaking of, or to, one another (Acts 9:17), so that the literal rendering seems to be best here, the brother, he who is like you and me, a disciple of Christ.

unto Philemon our dearly beloved. Nothing more is known of Philemon than can be gathered from this Epistle. He seems to have belonged to Colossæ, for his slave Onesimus is said (Colossians 4:9) to have been of that city. The epithet, expressive of affection, is very frequent in the New Testament letters, especially in the Epistles of St. Peter and St. John.

and fellow-labourer. The sacrifices which Philemon was making for the church at Colossæ, by receiving the congregation into his house, entitles him to this name. And the man who did so much for Christ’s cause, we may be sure was ready to do more.

and to Apphia, the sister. From the close proximity in which this name stands to Philemon’s, it is natural to suppose that she was some relative, wife or sister, though in the apostle’s estimate it is her best title that, like Philemon, she is a Christian.

Verses 1-3

Address and Greeting, vv. 1-3.

The apostle, who joins with himself in the greetings of the Epistle his companion Timothy, salutes not only Philemon himself, but the members of his family, and the church for which he provided a place to worship in, thus making the appeal he has to present a concern to the whole Christian congregation.

Verse 2

Philemon 1:2. And Archippus, It is clear from the way in which Archippus is addressed (Colossians 4:17) that he occupied some ministerial office in the Colossian church. The word used there to describe his duty is the same that is employed concerning Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5). As he is mentioned before the general congregation, he may have been one of the deacons of the Colossian church, and perhaps connected with the family of Philemon.

our fellow-soldier. This word likewise speaks of the services undertaken by Archippus for the Christian Church. Though he only employs this word once again, St. Paul is extremely fond of the figure of a battle in describing the labours of himself and his fellow-preachers of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Timothy 1:18).

and to the church in thy house. The first congregations were formed so speedily after the preaching of the apostles at Pentecost, that there was no possibility of making provision for their accommodation in special buildings. Besides this, the general poverty of the first Christians was a hindrance, and it would, in the early days of the Church, have been somewhat unsafe to give too much prominence to their meetings. Accordingly, we find the Christians of Jerusalem assembled in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12); and the example of Jerusalem was followed in other places, and the richer members of the congregations provided rooms in their own homes for the religious meetings of their brethren. As this duty was discharged towards the church at Colossæ by Philemon, we may conclude that be was a person of some wealth. St. Paul was led to include the congregation in his salutation, because the runaway slave, who was now returning, came back as a Christian convert, and therefore one with a claim on the sympathy of the whole Church. He thus makes them a party with himself in the petition which he is about to make to Philemon.

Verse 3

Philemon 1:3. Grace to you. The gift of grace is sometimes represented as of Christ’s bestowing ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ;’ and at other times, as here, the gift of the Father and the Son. But the same is meant in both phrases. Christ, who has been declared by His resurrection to be the Son of God with power, is the channel through which the Church receives the peculiarly Christian gift of grace, the source of which is with the Father.

and peace, an especially fitting blessing to be invoked upon a congregation, for among them spiritual unity was to be preserved, and of this the apostle elsewhere declares that peace is the bond whereby it may be kept

from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. To those who felt the force of Christ’s words (John 17:22), ‘That they may be one, even as we are one,’ there could be no thought of a double source of blessing. Not only in the material creation, but also in the redemption and restoration of all things, by the gifts of grace and peace, does the Son co-operate with the Father (Hebrews 1:3; Ephesians 1:9 seqq.).

Verse 4

Philemon 1:4. I thank my God. He has just spoken of God as the giver of Christian grace, and the memory of such grace working in Philemon’s life, calls forth his instant thanksgiving. How constantly the apostle saw and acknowledged the gifts of God to the infant Church, is testified by the frequent occurrence of this eucharistic expression in all his Epistles.

always, That this word should be joined with the first clause rather than the second in this verse is made very probable from other passages where kindred language is found, and particularly Ephesians 1:16, where the phrase assumes the form, ‘I cease not to give thanks for you.’

making mention of thee in my prayers. Whether present or absent, the apostle laid not aside his ‘care of all the churches.’ And here we can note that his heart was full not only of thought for congregations, but for individual members wherever their state was known to him. Those over whom he cannot watch personally, he commends ever to the better care of God.

Verses 4-7

Philemon’s good offices to the Church St. Paul’s thankfulness thereat, vv. 4-7.

He has to appeal for an act of forgiveness to be shown to Onesimus; the apostle therefore, in words of deep thankfulness to God, recounts to Philemon the joy which he has felt at hearing of his good deeds to the brethren. Such works were the true fruits of faith. St. Paul makes this conduct of Philemon his warrant for asking that like love may be shown to the runaway, who now comes back as a Christian.

Verse 5

Philemon 1:5. Hearing of thy love. This was the cause of the thankfulness. The seed sown was bringing forth fruit. How the apostle had heard of the love shown to the congregation at Colossæ, we can only speculate. In the Epistle to that church (Colossians 4:12), Epaphras, who was a Colossian, is spoken of as sending his greetings to the Christians in his own city, and it may have been through him that the news of Philemon’s good deeds reached St. Paul. Or it may be that the runaway slave himself, when brought to a proper sense by the apostle’s teaching, may have borne testimony to the Christian graces of his deserted master.

and of the faith. The love was the outward manifest token of the faith within the heart. But neither is complete without the other, as the apostle testifies in many a place. And so here he adds, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus and toward all saints. The love was displayed towards the Christian congregation, the faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, But they are so knit together where they truly exist, that St. Paul speaks of them as both exhibited alike toward Christ and toward His people. This was his sense of true religious life from the first. With a ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ he acknowledges Jesus for his Master, and promptly follows his faith with the question, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’

toward all saints. And so he feels that the son whom St. Paul has begotten in his bonds, and who now has a right to the Christian title, ‘a brother beloved,’ will be made a partaker of this love, and be forgiven what he has offended.

Verse 6

Philemon 1:6. That the communication of thy faith. The A. V. seems to fix the meaning of this difficult expression as being ‘that thy faith being communicated to others may,’ etc., as if the apostle’s prayer at this moment were for a blessing on those among whom Philemon lived, rather than on Philemon himself; that they might become faithful and give evidence thereof, even as he was doing. But the thought uppermost in St. Paul’s mind was that Philemon might add to the other tokens of his true faith, this further one, to receive Onesimus. And the word rendered communication (or fellowship ) has the further sense of ‘bestowal, or imparting of a favour,’ which seems here to be preferred. Thus the prayer would be strictly for Philemon, that the good deeds which are evidence of his faith may work still more, and with this suit best the words that follow.

may become effectual, displaying its proper power. Good works, the fruits of faith, build up the Christian character to greater perfection. By doing what is already known, men come to know, and hence to do, still more.

in the full knowledge of every good thing. The word, a favourite one with St. Paul and St. Peter, is not the simple word for ‘knowledge,’ but implies a continual growth therein, a constant learning, and approach to perfect knowledge. Philemon shows that he knows much of the spirit of Christ, and what in consequence should be the spirit of His people. But there is more to learn, and when learnt it will make clearer still to him how he should behave in the matter of his slaves. To deal in a Christian manner with Onesimus is one of the good things for a full knowledge of which St. Paul intercedes with God on behalf of Philemon.

which is in you, of which you are capable, unto which you may be able to attain. The apostle here speaks of the whole Christian church at Colossæ, or if the reading in us be accepted, of all Christians generally. He looks on men as not fully conscious of the good unto which through faith they may attain, but as gradually becoming more and more enlightened through the diligent following out of what they already know. Thus the full drift of his prayer is, that Philemon’s faith may teach him still more to do good to the brethren, and thus showing its true influence, may lead him to know to the full unto what goodness both he and the rest of the Christians, his fellows, may attain

in Christ Jesus. Words that at once correct any proud thought of Christian advancement Christians may grow in grace and knowledge, and labour still more abundantly, but with them all it must be in the spirit of St. Paid himself: ‘1 can do all things through Him that strengtheneth me.’

Verse 7

Philemon 1:7. For I had much joy. Alluding to the time when news of the state of Colossæ, and of the church there, was brought to him in his imprisonment.

and comfort. The support and solace derived from the news enabled him to bear his present sufferings the better.

in thy love; in hearing of the various acts of love which had been shown towards all the Christian congregation.

because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed. Whether it be the provision which Philemon had made for the Christian worship at Colossæ, or some help which he had bestowed on the poor of the church, or aid under some greater sufferings, of which we have no account, to which St. Paul here alludes, we are not told; but if we might judge from the verb employed, which implies a lull or temporary repose, it would seem as though some trouble were in St. Paul’s mind which had been allayed, but yet might rise up again. To aid in such a case, rather than to such help as a rich man might give through his wealth, the strong language of the text seems to apply.

by thee, brother. A very touching portion of the appeal. The apostle lays aside, as in the greeting, all the authority which his position as evangelist and missionary would have given him, and speaks to Philemon, whose conversion seems to have been St. Paul’s own work (Philemon 1:19), on the level of common Christian brotherhood. No course could have been chosen more likely to move Philemon; no course more like the pattern of Christ, who washed His disciples’ feet, to teach them humility toward each other. If Paul thus deal towards Philemon, how must he behave toward Onesimus?

Verse 8

Philemon 1:8. Wherefore. Here St. Paul expresses confidence that his prayers for Philemon will not be unanswered. God will show to him what his duty in this matter is, and so the apostle does not command.

though I have much boldness. He does not ignore the right which he had to speak with authority, he only waives it for the time, that what Philemon does may be done of his free will.

in Christ. Thus he marks the ground on which he would have been confident, had he thought it best so to be. His voice of authority would have been used in the name of Christ, he would have spoken as one specially sent to guide and direct.

to enjoin thee. He uses no weak word to indicate what he might have done. It is that which is employed of our Lord’s commands to the winds and waves and to the unclean spirits, and bespeaks an order which may not be disputed.

that which is convenient. Conduct suitable and becoming the Christian character. So in Ephesians 5:4 he speaks of levity of conduct as unbefitting the followers of Christ, and in another place (Colossians 3:18) uses the same argument in urging on wives sub-mission to their own husbands. In modern language convenient has lost somewhat of its old sense, which marked the harmony of things put side by side.

Verses 8-22

The Apostle’s Petition and Arguments in support of it, vv. 8-22.

St. Paul lays aside any claim which he might have been bold to make, and entreats that Onesimus may be taken back again. He makes this petition as an ambassador for Christ and a prisoner in His cause, and also because Onesimus has become his spiritual son. He asks that he may be received as himself, and states how glad he would have been to retain him, but preferred to send him back, that he might become even dearer to Philemon than he was to himself. He also undertakes to make good what Philemon has lost through his slave, and expresses a hope that his release from prison will soon enable him to come to Colossæ.

Verse 9

Philemon 1:9. Yet for love’s sake. This might mean Philemon’s love towards Paul, which from what is said in this letter may well be supposed to have been great, and such as the apostle could appeal to, but it seems more consonant with the tone of the whole Epistle to understand it of Paul’s love to Philemon, as if he would say, ‘For the love I bear you I lay aside all authority, and beg you to be moved by that love alone.’

I rather beseech. The character of the Gospel spirit, in meekness to forego a right rather than to insist on it.

being such an one as Paul an ambassador. The apostle now sets forth some grounds for his appeal. The rendering of the A. V., ‘Paul the aged,’ seems hardly a fitting reason to bring forward to Philemon, who himself, from his position, may be supposed to have been not much younger. Nor can St. Paul have been so old as to justify the use of such words. At the death of Stephen, not thirty years before, he is spoken of as ‘young’ (Acts 7:58), so that he must have been most likely between fifty and sixty when he was first imprisoned at Rome. The word usually rendered ‘aged’ differs but by one letter from that meaning ‘ambassador,’ and there seems to be evidence to warrant us in believing that in a dialect of Greek one form would stand for the other. But the most weighty reason for the rendering given above is St. Paul’s own language, Ephesians 6:20, an Epistle written at the same time as this letter to Philemon, in which he speaks (using the verb from which our noun is derived) of himself as ‘an ambassador in bonds.’ Thus the connection of ideas is the same as in the verse before us, and as Christ’s ambassador St. Paul could plead with much more force than by any allusion to his own age. The same verb, joined with the word here used for beseech, is found in 2 Corinthians 5:20, ‘We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.’

and now also. St. Paul was under all circumstances Christ’s officer, but there is now an additional ground why his entreaty should be granted, a prisoner of Christ Jesus. See on Philemon 1:1.

Verse 10

Philemon 1:10. I beseech thee for my child. He puts the tenderest word in the forefront of his petition, and speaks of the fugitive slave as his child, before he mentions him by name. This touch of the language can only be preserved by ranging the English words in the same order as the Greek.

whom I have begotten in my bonds. Conversion is so often spoken of in the New Testament as a new birth, that it is not surprising that the apostle employs the figure in speaking of one who had been won to Christ by his ministry. Having called him his ‘child,’ he now explains the spiritual relationship, a tie stronger for such a man and at such a time than any links of natural kinship.

Onesimus. The name is Greek, and signifies ‘profitable.’ The Jews, as may be seen all through the Old Testament, were specially regardful of the meaning of names, so we need not wonder that when he writes the name, the sense which it had , and how aforetime the bearer of it had not corresponded to it in his character, should at once come into his mind, and furnish the thought which follows in the next verse.

Verse 11

Philemon 1:11. Which in time past was to thee unprofitable. Alluding not only to the loss which Philemon had suffered by his slave absconding, but also to the bad service which a disaffected slave, ready to run away as soon as an opportunity offered, would have rendered to his master for a long time before. The word for ‘unprofitable’ is only a synonym of that which would be derived from Onesimus, so that this verse is rather an allusion to the meaning of the name, than a play upon words, though of the latter, in respect of names, the Jews were very fond. See on Philemon 1:20.

but now profitable to thee and to me. The returning runaway would come back in the spirit which St. Paul inculcates elsewhere, teaching that Christian slaves should count their own masters worthy of all honour (1 Timothy 6:1). The world, even the Christian world, was not advanced far enough to see that slavery was utterly repugnant to the spirit of Christianity. St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:21) only exhorts to contentment under the slave’s condition, and he does not meditate that Philemon should do more for Onesimus than treat him with the kindness of a brother in the faith. Men were a long while in learning the lesson against slavery, even good men finding no wrong in it, provided slaves were well cared for. So to Philemon Onesimus is to be profitable in a temporal sense; the profit to St. Paul was that which elsewhere (Romans 1:13) he calls ‘fruit,’ the result of his missionary labours, which he considered the crown, and glory, and joy of his life.

Verse 12

Philemon 1:12. Whom I have sent back to thee in his own person. This is the rendering of the most authoritative text. The Greek of the later MSS. has been corrected, after some errors of scribes had crept into it, by the addition of the word for ‘receive him’ from Philemon 1:17. But the oldest texts made a good sense. No doubt the discipline of Onesimus’ return was food both for master and slave, to the latter that he might have an opportunity of making some amends for his previous wrongdoing, and might show that his Christianity was worth the name and was already fruitful in ripe actions; to Philemon also it was a benefit that he should be called on to exercise forgiveness for a serious wrong, while the more tender conduct which would be shown towards Onesimus in the future, would do something, if not much, toward loosening the bonds of any other slaves among the congregation at Colossæ.

even my very heart. See on Philemon 1:7. Some, taking the literal rendering of the Authorised Version, have considered this expression as equivalent to ‘my own child.’ But St. Paul everywhere else uses the word rendered ‘bowels’ for the seat of the feelings and emotions, so that it is better to interpret the words here as an expression of deep affection.

Verse 13

Philemon 1:13. Whom I would have retained with me, St. Paul inserts the pronoun emphatically: I personally would have liked to do this. And the rest of the language is also indicative of much desire: ‘I was in the mind to hold (or keep) him unto myself.’ The spiritual father had become much bound unto his child in Christ, and the parting was not acceptable.

that in thy stead, for the apostle feels sure that if Philemon himself could have been near, there would have been no lack of zeal in him to do whatever might be needed for his father in the faith. And it is worth while to notice how St. Paul, without saying so, hints that his thoughts had been oft carried back to Philemon in his communion with Onesimus. What the one did the other would have done. It would be interesting to know what it was which led the slave to seek out St. Paul. That he should go to Rome is not to be wondered at. It was, as in our own day London is, the place to which all grave offenders would make their way. But it may be that on reaching the capital city, he sought out or was found by some of those Christians whom he had known in Colossæ. From them he would hear of the apostle, whose work could nowhere be done in a corner, and of whose teachings in Asia he no doubt had heard, though he had not then been moved by them. Whatever the agency through which he was guided to St. Paul, it is clear from this verse that the apostle had become much attached to his convert, and had found his service helpful in his need.

he might hare ministered onto me in the bonds of the gospel. How many wants a prisoner in St. Paul’s condition would have may be conceived when it is remembered that day and night alike he was chained to the soldier who was his guard. This it is which causes the apostle to speak so often of his ‘chain.’ A man thus hampered, and yet, in spite of bodily infirmities, full of zeal for the cause on behalf of which he was suffering, and through the care of all the churches, needing to send frequent lettersof counsel and advice, must have found deep consolation in the presence of an attached disciple, able and willing to do whatever work might be necessary. And we need not confine in our thoughts the services of Onesimus to mere acts of kind attention to the bodily needs of St. Paul. Slaves in that age, we know, were not unfrequently well taught, and it may be that Onesimus could help the apostle in that labour of writing which from some reason or other he clearly found painful to himself, and performed whenever possible by an amanuensis. Yet, though he here speaks of his bonds as making a servant needful for him, it is not that he is sorrowing over or ashamed of his chain. It is bondage ‘of Christ,’ and so in all that he may have to bear, he is prepared to rejoice that he is counted worthy to suffer in such a cause.

Verse 14

Philemon 1:14. but without thy mind. The con-sent of Philemon should first be gained, and St. Paul will not so far influence his Judgment in the matter, as to write while Onesimus is with him, and ask that he may remain, for then it would appear as if he put some constraint upon the master.

would I do nothing; in this particular business. He had done Philemon the service of persuading his slave to go back to him, but of that he says nothing. To found a claim on his own labours was the last thing in his mind.

that thy goodness. The kind act of suffering Onesimus to attend on St. Paul in his imprisonment. It can, however, hardly be thought the apostle expected the servant to be sent again to him from Colossæ. His imprisonment seems too near its close (see Philemon 1:22) for this. He can therefore only be speaking hypothetically, and meaning ‘that which would have been a kindness on thy part, had it been possible for it to be done,’

should not be as it were of necessity. Once more by his language St. Paul implies that he is sure of the love of Philemon. He knows that he would be ready to do him any kind act, but to the eye of the world, if St. Paul had kept Onesimus in Rome, and merely written to announce what he had done, it would have seemed as though no choice was left to the master as to what he should do. It would be as it were of necessity.

but willingly; and now, as there is no opportunity for such willing kindness, the other kindness toward Onesimus will be freely given in its stead.

Verse 15

Philemon 1:15. For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season. This more literal rendering brings out the force of the apostle’s words more fully. St. Paul sees in the whole event something more than chance, something guided by God for good. He says not therefore ‘he ran away,’ but as though it had been by some other power than his own ‘he was parted from thee.’ At the same time also, with the tenderness of a loving advocate, he by this word seems to lighten somewhat the gravity of the offence, and to represent Onesimus as more worthy of forgiveness. And in like manner the rest of the language is strongly in contrast with the clause which follows: for a season’ is rendered literally (Galatians 2:5) ‘for an hour,’ and the idea of the shortness of the separation is prominent in the words here.

that thou shouldest have him for ever. The thought is not merely (as Authorised Version) of taking him back again, but of having, holding, and enjoying. A fresh and stronger bond should be established. Onesimus should no longer be the chattel for which so much money had been paid, and from whom a due return was sought, but should be invested with a new interest as a brother in Christ, a partaker of the same grace with his master. And the word rendered ‘for ever’ is found in that sense nowhere else in the New Testament. It is the word so often rendered eternal and everlasting, and we may almost feel sure that the apostle was guided in his choice of it by the thought that now the interest felt by the master in his servant would be no mere temporal bond, but one which would stretch away into the world to come. Just so does St. Paul write of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:14), ‘Ye are our glorying in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Verse 16

Philemon 1:16. No longer as a servant. He could no more be looked on as the mere slave, as before. It was not necessary that his freedom should be given to him, that might or might not be done, as seemed best to Philemon, but having been called in the Lord, he has become, though a bond-servant, the Lord’s freeman. And this is to be free indeed. And the master, being himself a brother in Christ, can no longer think of Onesimus as a slave.

but above a servant. The Christian master was to render to his slaves under all circumstances that which was just and equal (Colossians 4:1); but now that Onesimus had become a believer, he was lifted, in the eyes of the apostle, to a higher level, and his master would admit his greater claims to consideration, because in return the slave who was a Christian was a better servant than any other would ever be. His work was labour for a brother, and so would be zealously cared for, and in return his position in point of affection and trust would be higher than his fellows.

a brother beloved, specially to me. For St. Paul has already called him not ‘brother,’ but by the tenderer name of ‘child.’

but how much more unto thee. He already in thought anticipates the result of Philemon’s act of forgiveness. He knows how an act of Christian love, bestowed as he is sure this will be, makes the recipient an object of still greater affection; and so, though he has rated his own love for Onesimus most highly, he describes Philemon’s as greater still.

both in the flesh, in those temporal relations, which now, instead of being strained as in former times, will become a labour of love, for the slave will strive ever to show his sense of the forgiveness.

and in the Lord. For the spiritual bond of brotherhood in Christ was now added to the ties which existed between master and servant.

Verse 17

Philemon 1:17. If thou count me therefore a partner. It has been usually accepted that the apostle uses ‘partner’ here in the same way in which (2 Corinthians 8:23) he speaks of Titus as his partner and fellow-labourer in the mission to the Corinthians: a sharer in the same Christian privileges, and a helper in the same Christian work. But there occur in this passage so many words which savour of mercantile language, that it seems not unlikely that St. Paul, who was at one time a partner with Aquila and Priscilla, had held some business relation towards Philemon, and that there were money dealings between them, a debtor and creditor account. If this were so, he could with greater confidence add the remainder of the sentence.

receive him as myself. The verb in classical Greek is not uncommonly used of the acceptance of any one as a colleague or partner, and so St. Paul would be asking that Onesimus should be put on the same footing as himself, having previously been taken by the apostle as a ‘child’ of his own. The child might fitly be a sharer in the same matters as his lather. To take this as the sense, seems more appropriate to the context than to suppose the apostle merely to say, ‘If thou holdest me as a fellow-labourer in Christ, take him back into the same fellowship.’

Verse 18

Philemon 1:18. And if he hath wronged thee. The slave setting forth on such a long journey as that from Colossæ to Rome must have needed no small amount of money, and it may well be that Onesimus had carried off in his flight money of his master’s as provision for his journey. The offence of the unjust steward, who had appropriated his master’s income (Luke 16:8) is described by the same word. It seems used euphemistically when the mention of actual ‘theft’ is not convenient.

or oweth thee aught. If we suppose some such false entries in the slave’s accounts as are spoken of in St. Luke’s narrative, we can understand that St. Paul, out of tenderness to Onesimus, might speak of the defalcation, which perhaps had been discovered after his flight, as a debt due from the slave to the master.

put that on mine account. St. Paul would scarcely have said this if there bad been no business concerns between him and Philemon. It is not as if he had said ‘hold me responsible.’ The word in the original refers to an actual reckoning, and the next verse bears out that sense.

Verse 19

Philemon 1:19. I Paul write it with mine own hand. Up to this point, the apostle had probably used his amanuensis; but that the transaction may be formal and secure, he attaches his own signature to what has been written, and so transforms the Epistle into a bond.

I will repay it. It is no mere ofter of himself as security for the slave’s future good conduct, and that in time he shall, by his working, clear off the loss he has caused: St. Paul would at once by his own payment set Onesimus free from such debt.

that I may not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. He might have urged the larger debt which Philemon owed to him for his conversion to the faith of Christ, should be held to far outbalance the loss inflicted by Onesimus. But this he will not press, though by a delicate reference to it, he gives force to the appeal which he is making. On St. Paul’s connection with the Colossian church see the Introduction. It appears probable that Philemon’s conversion was wrought by the apostle’s preaching at Ephesus, for St. Paul seems up to this time not to have been in Colossæ. And he speaks to Philemon of his ‘own self,’ that he may remind him how paltry the consideration of money gain or loss must be in comparison of the salvation of that which alone of man is to know immortality.

Verse 20

Philemon 1:20. Yea, brother, let me have Joy of thee in the Lord. In this verse St. Paul apparently makes playful allusion to the name of Onesimus. He employs the Greek verb from which that name is derived, and the words might be literally rendered, Met me be profited by thee.’ It is as though he would put the matter thus: ‘Onesimus is now about really to deserve to be called “profitable.” He owes much, and by his loving service he will make payment. Thou also art greatly my debtor, be thou to me an Onesimus, and let me have profit from thy love.’

refresh my heart in Christ. See on Philemon 1:7. St. Paul employs the same words which there he used of the kindness that Philemon showed to the Colossian congregation. That was by his liberality. The apostle therefore adds ‘in Christ’ to his own petition, signifying that Christian love to him will be counted as of equal value with those kind services which his riches enabled Philemon to perform towards his fellow-Christians.

Verse 21

Philemon 1:21. Having confidence in thy obedience, I write unto thee. In the use of the word obedience, he once more implies that he had the right to command, though he does not use it. Had he commanded, Philemon would have obeyed; what will he not do, when the apostle’s language takes the form of a request?

knowing that thou wilt even do more than I say. Such is the service of love, specially of Christian love, which after the example of Christ gives itself freely to serve the beloved.

Verse 22

Philemon 1:22. But withal prepare me also a lodging. It must have appeared to the apostle that his release was near at hand when he wrote these words. So we may place the date of the Epistle in A.D. 63. He did not need much preparation to be made for him , that he adds this clause, but that Philemon may be moved with joy at the prospect of a speedy visit, and also be the more zealous to do everything which St. Paul desires, that he may find nothing failing when he arrives.

for I hope that through your prayers. Prayer was from the first (Acts 12:5) the Church’s resource when Christ’s messengers were cast into prison. And as God had heard them in the case of St. Peter, so St. Paul feels that they will be effectual on his behalf also.

I s hall be given unto you. So he ascribes his expected release already to the grace of God.

Verse 23

Philemon 1:23. Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, saluteth thee. Epaphras belonged to Colossæ (Colossians 4:12), and had brought word to St. Paul of the condition of the Christians there. From the terms in which St. Paul speaks of him elsewhere (Colossians 1:7), he appears to have been closely connected with the congregation at Colossæ. Why the apostle calls him ‘fellow-prisoner’ is not clear. In writing to the Colossians (Colossians 4:10) he uses the same expression concerning Aristarchus. But the term is different from that employed when he calk himself a prisoner. It does not necessarily imply ‘bound’ as St. Paul was. Therefore it seems probable that the word is used of these friends because they voluntarily shared the imprisonment of the apostle, and so in fact were captives as much as he. It is not unlike St. Paul thus to magnify the service rendered to him. Or it may even be that, for zeal in his cause, they had been subjected to some sort of restraint. This, however, is not so probable as the former reason, because it is unlikely that those who were imprisoned for his sake would be put in the same ward, which is evidently implied in the text

Verses 23-25

Salutations and Benediction, vv. 23-25.

The salutation of one whom they knew and who had laboured among them heads the list. The others who are mentioned may have been known by name if not by face. The benediction had become by this time a fixed Christian form of prayer. Here it includes with Philemon his family and the church.

Verse 24

Philemon 1:24. And to do Mark. Doubtless the John Mark who on the first missionary journey had turned back and left Paul and Silas. He had not ceased, however, to work in Christ’s cause, and the apostle’s displeasure had passed away, for Mark had become profitable to him for the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

Aristarchus. A Macedonian of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2) who accompanied Paul to Rome, and who appears to have devoted himself to the apostle’s service through the whole imprisonment.

Demas, mentioned like the rest in the Colossian Epistle, but at a later time (2 Timothy 4:10) described as deserting St. Paul for the love of the world.

Luke, elsewhere (Colossians 4:14) called ‘the beloved physician.’ He travelled much with St. Paul, and may have been necessary to the apostle by reason of his bodily infirmities.

my fellow-labourers. By his own efforts and by those of his companions, St. Paul made it apparent that, even though he were a prisoner, the Word of God was not bound. We often regard the two years at Rome as a time when the apostolic work was stayed. It may well have been the most fruitful period of the apostle’s life, for from his own lips the Roman soldiery learnt the story of the Cross, while the self-sacrificing zeal of his Christian companions was ready to undertake any duty that would prove them deserving of the name of fellow-labourers.

Verse 25

Philemon 1:25. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. While the salutations are offered to Philemon alone, the apostle’s own blessing is invoked over him and his, and the whole church as well, to whom the letter at the outset refers.

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Philemon 1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.