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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Philemon 1

Verse 1

Phm 1:1. According to Thayer and Strong, and some commentators, Philemon was a resident of Colosse, and was converted to Christianity by Paul. Timothy is not mentioned as of any authority, but as an associate of Paul. His name is joined by way of friendly interest in Philemon and endorsement of the epistle. Paul calls himself a prisoner of the Lord because his imprisonment was caused by his service to Him. Philemon is designated fel-lowlaborer because he was working for the Lord in the same cause as was the apostle.

Verse 2

Phm 1:2. Apphia is described by Thayer merely as "name of a woman." Some commentators say she was the wife of Philemon and that Archippus was his son. The suggestion is given by the next phrase, church in thy house. In early times the congregations in some places were small, and had their services in the homes of the brethren. Or, the whole congregation may have consisted of the members of one household, if there were as many as two disciples in it (Mat 18:20). If Philemon's wife and son were disciples, they might well have composed the church in his house.

Verse 3

Phm 1:3. This is a familiar salutation of Paul, which he used in most of his epistles. See the comments on it at 1Co 1:3.

Verse 4

Phm 1:4. The next verse shows what it was for which Paul thanked the Lord. Since the faithfulness of Philemon was a help to the apostle, he would consider it as a blessing, and it is stated in Jas 1:17 that all good things come from God.

Verse 5

Phm 1:5. Love as used here means 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. Faith means one's practice of the ordinances of the Lord's commandments.

Verse 6

Phm 1:6. The fellowship that Philemon had with others concerning the faith, had the effect or was tending to have a good effect on them. It would be manifested by their acknowledgment of the good example that he set before them.

Verse 7

Phm 1:7. Love in this passage is from a Greek original that means to be interested in the welfare of others. This is borne out by the rest of the verse, for it speaks of the refeshing that Philemon had brought to the saints, which means the Christians. Bowels is used to mean the intellectual part of the saints, from the ancient theory that the affections were seated in the intestines.

Verse 8

Phm 1:8. Paul was an apostle and had the authority to enjoin (or order) Philemon to do what was desired for him to do, had he thought it necessary to use that strong a form of speech.

Verse 9

Phm 1:9. Because of his love for Philemon, the apostle preferred to use a milder basis for his instruction, namely, his age and also his situation. Respect for age should incline Philemon to heed the request of Paul. Also, his imprisonment would indicate his sincerity which should prompt Philemon to heed the request.

Verse 10

Phm 1:10. The special request referred to in the preceding verses was concerning Onesimus. He was a slave of Philemon, but not the most satisfactory kind of one. (See next verse.) He had run away from his master, and in some way had come to Rome and fallen into the company of Paul. The apostle taught him his duty to the Lord and induced him to obey it. On this principle he calls him his son, in the same way he referred to Timothy as his son (1Ti 1:2).

Verse 11

Phm 1:11. Servants are commanded to obey their masters (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22). The teaching Paul gave Onesimus, therefore, would include his duty to his master. That would explain why he would be now profitable to Philemon, and also to Paul because of being in fellowship with him.

Verse 12

Phm 1:12. In keeping with his duty as a part of the life of a Christian slave, Onesimus returned to his master at the instruction of Paul. Thou therefore receive him is a kindly commendation. Mine own bowels. A child is brought forth from the bowels of his parents, and since that part of the human anatomy is used figuratively of mental and spiritual matters, Paul uses it here to signify that Onesimus had been begotten by him in the sense that he had brOught him to obey the Gospel.

Verse 13

Phm 1:13. I would have retained. Had Paul felt free to follow his personal desires, he would have kept Onesimus with him as a helper in his struggles for the Gospel under the handicap of imprisonment. Had such a thing been done, Paul would have considered the service the same as if it was coming from Philemon.

Verse 14

Phm 1:14. Such a service, however, would have been equivalent to taking some benefit from Philemon without his consent, and the apostle would not do anything like that.

Verse 15

Phm 1:15. This could not mean that Onesimus left his master with the motive of some advantage to him. A slave who had been unprofitable would not likely be that much interested in the welfare of the man from whom he was fleeing. The meaning is as if it read, "Perhaps it will turn out to be an advantage to you, after all, for him to leave, for now the way that things have happened, he will be a better servant than ever."

Verse 16

Phm 1:16. Not now as a servant. Onesimus was to continue as a servant to Philemon, but not in that relation only. He was to be regarded as a brother also, which was a spiritual relationship, and far above that of an earthly servant. Especially to me is said because Paul was the one who converted him to Christ. Yet because of prior relations, he was to be appreciated by Philemon all the more, both as a servant in fleshly or temporal matters, and as a brother in the Lord.

Verse 17

Phm 1:17. On the ground that Philemon would agree to all these considerations of relationship, Paul asks him to indicate his recognition of the partnership by accepting Onesimus back into his love the same as if he were the apostle.

Verse 18

Phm 1:18. If he hath wronged thee. A slave would have many opportunities for doing wrong to his master by taking some of his possessions (Tit 2:10). Whether that is meant here, or only the wrong he did by his "up-profitable" service (verse 11), we do not know. But in either case, Paul was offering to make it up to Philemon. Put that on mine account. Whatever was the obligation that Onesimus owed his master, Paul agreed to have the debt transferred to his account against Philemon.

Verse 19

Phm 1:19. This obligation or account of Paul against Philemon was not a material one, but a moral one due to what he owed the apostle for having led him into the service of salvation. AIbeit I do not say, etc. This unusual sentence is a sort of explanation, to assure Philemon that what he said was not for the purpose of reminding him of his indebtedness (morally) to the apostle for his conversion to Christ.

Verse 20

Phm 1:20. Let me have joy of thee. This he could do by receiving Onesi-mus in the way that Paul requested. Such an act of cooperation would constitute a refreshing or encouragement for the bowels or heart of the apostle.

Verse 21

Phm 1:21. Do more than I say. Not that Philemon would go beyond and add to the inspired word of the apostle, for that would be wrong (Rev 22:18). But it means he would even be more thoughtful in good deeds than Paul was requiring.

Verse 22

Phm 1:22. Paul had hopes of being released and permitted to go out among the churches, and the testimony of history indicates that it was accomplished. In view of such an experience, he asked that Philemon make provision for his lodging.

Verse 23

Phm 1:23-24. The names mentioned are of some brethren who were with Paul. They were either in chains also, or were otherwise engaged in defence of the Gospel. As Paul was writing this letter, these brethren joined in friendly greeting to Philemon.

Verse 25

Phm 1:25. Grace is the favor of Christ, which. Paul wished to come to Philemon. With your spirit. This is significant, for a true Christian is bound to have unpleasant experiences as it pertains to his body (2Ti 3:12); yet he may be comfortable and refreshed in spirit all the while. (See 2Co 4:16.)
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Philemon 1". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.