The letter of Paul to Philemon was written at the same time as Ephesians and Colossians. Philemon himself was not only the host for the church in Colossae but most likely served as the pastor as well. The story behind this letter is only known through what is stated in the letter itself. It would appear that Onesimus was a runaway slave (vs 11, 15, 18), who upon being converted to faith in Christ through Paul (v 10), wants to be restored to the community of believers he had wronged (v 18). Paul is writing to Philemon, who was also one of Pauls converts (v 19) and is apparently Pauls good friend as well as the legal owner of Onesimus (v 16).
The purpose for Paul writing this letter is to appeal to Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him back into fellowship, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. In a time when slaves were dealt with harshly, Paul asks Philemon to give up his legal responsibility against Onesimus and operate according to the Kingdom of God: to love, forgive and restore. This letter appeals to all believers to operate under the same Kingdom principles.
1. First, Paul sees the positive in Philemon (vs 4-7).
Thankful for his love and faith (v 5).
Prays for a full blessing (v 6).
Thankful for his reputation as one who loves God and loves people (v 7).
2. Second, Paul seeks reconciliation for Onesimus (vs 8-11), and willingly takes on his debt (vs 18-20).
Confident in Christ to order you (v 8).
For loves sake, I appeal
Pauls appeal will ask for four things on behalf of Onesimus:
- Spare his life (v 15).
- Set him free (v 16).
- Cancel his debt (v 18).
- Send him back to me (v 13).
3. Third, Paul is genuine with Philemon (vs 11-17).
This isnt Paul the apostle, it is Paul the brother:
He is sincere about his love and concern for Onesimus.
Pauls positive recommendation (v 11).
My very heart (v 12).
I wished to keep with me (v 13).
Accept him as you would me (v 17).
Paul is emphasizing that Onesimus is now living up to his name: he is useful to me, proven worthy of leadership in the church;
Honesty with each other is the basis for strong, loving relationships.
4. Finally, Paul believes in Philemon (vs 21, 22).
Confidence that Philemon will do what is consistent with his faith in and love for Christ (v 21).
Confident in their continued friendship and the hospitality of Philemon (v 22).
1. Are you thankful for the positive qualities of others? Being grateful to the Lord for the people He has placed in our lives is the foundation upon which Christian community is built.
Praise God for their strengths and positive qualities.
Pray a blessing on them.
Body, labor, emotions, social, spiritual
2. Who do you need to forgive? Despite Pauls offer to bear the cost of Onesimus debt, Philemon still had to bear the cost of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is bearing the pain of anothers offense against us.
Forgiveness is extending mercy: holding back what that person justly deserves, just as God has done for us through Christ.
Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.
Forgiveness is refusing to use that hurt against that person in the future (cf. Jer 31:34).
3. From whom do you need to seek forgiveness?
Onesimus took a great risk in placing himself at the mercy of Philemon.
Jesus tells us to seek forgiveness.
4. Who else needs to be involved in the restoration process?
Paul included the church in his appeal for forgiveness and restoration (v 2; Col 3:11).
When there is broken relationship between two people, often others are involved or affected by it.
Who have you confided in? Close friends often take on our offense so when we forgive, we need to include them in the restoration process.
Hebrews 12:15, See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.