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An Argument Of The Book Of Philemon

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Message Statement:

Being Encouraged By The Reports Of Spiritual Effectiveness In Philemon’s Life, Paul Requests Of Him To Graciously Receive His Runaway Slave, Onesimus, As A Fellow Believer And Partner In The Gospel Ministry In Accordance With The Love That He Has Shown To Other Believers And The Grace Which He Has Received From Christ

I. Introductory Greetings: After introducing himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus and Timothy as a brother in Christ to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the church in Philemon’s house, Paul prays that they all might experience grace and peace from God their Father and their Lord Jesus Christ 1-3

A. Paul: Paul introduces himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus1 1a

B. Timothy: Paul introduces Timothy as their brother (in Christ)2 1b

C. Recipients: Paul writes to Philemon whom he identifies as a beloved fellow worker, to Apphia whom he describes as their sister, to Archippus whom he describes as a fellow soldier, and to the church in Philemon’s house 1c-2c

1. Philemon: Paul writes to Philemon their beloved fellow worker3 1c

2. Apphia: Paul writes to Apphia their sister (in Christ)4 2a

3. Archippus: Paul writes to Archippus their fellow soldier5 2b

4. The Church: Paul writes to the church in the house (of Philemon) 2c

D. Prayer: Paul prays that they all might experience grace (unmerited favor) and peace from God their Father and their Lord Jesus Christ 3

II. Thanksgiving and Intercession for Philemon:6 Paul regularly gives thanks to God for Philemon because he has heard of Philemon’s love for the saints and faith toward God, prays that Philemon’s generosity will lead him into a deeper, experiential knowledge of God, and informs Philemon that his acts of love have brought joy and comfort to Paul himself  4-7

A. Thanksgiving: Paul regularly gives thanks to God for Philemon because he has heard of Philemon’s love for all of the saints and his faith toward the Lord Jesus  4-5

1. Statement of Thanksgiving: When Paul regularly remembers Philemon in his prayers, he gives thanks to his God 4

2. Reason for Thanksgiving: The reason Paul gives thanks to God for Philemon is because he has heard of Philemon’s love for all of the saints and his faith toward the Lord Jesus7 5

B. Intercession: Paul prays that the Philemon’s generosity (fellowship), which arises from his faith, will effectively lead him into a deeper, experiential understanding (ἐπίγνοσις) of every blessing (all the good) that belongs to believers in Christ (εἰς Χριστόν) 6

C. Transition:8 Paul informs his brother Philemon that he gives thanks for him because he has received much joy and comfort from Philemon’s love because the hearts of the saints have been deeply refreshed through him 7

1. Paul informs his brother Philemon that the reason he gives thanks for him (vv 4-5) is because (γάρ) he (too) has received much joy and comfort from Philemon’s love 7a

2. The reason Paul has received joy and comfort from Philemon’s love is because (ο῞τι) the hearts (τὰ σπλάγχνα) of the saints have been deeply refreshed through him9 7b

III. Paul’s Plea for Onesimus: Paul appeals to Philemon on the basis of his loving treatment of the saints and on behalf of Onesimus who has undergone a significant spiritual transformation in Christ that Philemon would receive Onesimus as a fellow believer and Paul’s partner in the ministry  8-20

A. An Appeal Based Upon Love: In view of the loving deeds of Philemon10 Paul does not command him to do what is required with Onesimus, but as an ambassador11 of Christ who is now12 His prisoner13 appeals14 to Philemon for love’s sake15 on behalf of16 his (spiritual) child17 Onesimus whom he begot while in prison 8-10

B. A Commendation of Onesimus: Paul commends Onesimus as being one who has been transformed from being useless to useful, as being Paul’s very heart, as being helpful with the gospel during Paul’s imprisonment, and as being transformed from Philemon’s slave to Philemon’s and Paul’s brother in the Lord 11-16

1. Paul’s Love for Onesimus: Paul affirms that Onesimus has been transformed from being useless to useful to both Philemon and Paul and that he is Paul’s very heart 11-12

a. He Is Useful: Paul affirms that Onesimus was previously useless to Philemon, but now he has become useful to both Philemon and to Paul18 11

b. He is Dear to Paul: Paul affirms that Onesimus, whom he is sending back to Philemon, is Paul very heart19 12

2. God’s Plan for Onesimus: Paul affirms that he would have liked to have kept Onesimus to have helped him with the gospel during his imprisonment, or that perhaps Onesimus was separated from Philemon for a short time in order that he might be re-united with him forever, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ 13-16

a. A Desire For Onesimus’ Help: Paul affirms that he would have liked20 to have kept Onesimus so that he could have helped21 him with the gospel during his imprisonment as Philemon’s representative,22 but that he would not do such a thing without his consent so that Philemon’s favor might be spontaneous and not forced 13-14

b. A Transformation from Slave to Brother: Paul suggests that perhaps the reason (γὰρ) that Onesimus was separated from Philemon for a short time was in order that23 he might have him back forever, not as a slave, but as a beloved brother24 as he is to Paul and much more to Philemon25 15-16

C. A Request to Philemon:26 Paul requests of Philemon to welcome Onesimus as he would Paul, to charge Onesimus’ debt to Paul’s account, and to thus provide some benefit in the Lord by refreshing his heart through the good reception of Philemon 17-20

1. Welcome Onesimus: Paul concludes in view of Onesimus’ change (above, ου῏ν)27 that if Philemon considers Paul to be his partner,28 then he should welcome Onesimus as he would Paul29 17

2. Charge Onesimus’ Debt to Paul:30 Paul urges Philemon to charge any debt which Philemon may owe him to Paul’s account31 knowing that he will pay it32 and that Philemon owes33 Paul his very life besides34 18-19

3. Refresh Paul’s Heart: Paul expresses his desire to receive from Philemon some benefit in the Lord,35 that is--to have his heart refreshed36 in Christ with the good reception of Philemon 20

IV. Conclusion--Final Remarks and Greetings: After Paul declares his confidence that Philemon will not only obey God in this request, but will do even more than what is requested, He urges Philemon to prepare for his coming visit, sends greetings from those with him, and prays that they will experience God’s grace  21-24

A. A Declaration of Confidence: Paul writes as one confident of Philemon’s obedience,37 and that he will do even more than Paul has requested38 21

B. Planned Visit: Paul urges Philemon to prepare a guest room for him because he hopes that he will come to him39 in answer to the prayers of Philemon, his household and the church40 22

C. The Sending of Greetings:41 Paul sends greetings from his fellow-prisoner Epaphras, and from his co-workers Mark, Aristarchus, and Luke 23

1. Epaphras: Paul sends greetings from Epaphras his fellow-prisoner42 in Christ 4:23a

2. Mark: Paul sends greetings from Mark his co-worker43 23b

3. Aristarchus: Paul sends greetings from Aristarchus his co-worker 23c

4. Luke: Paul sends greetings from Luke his co-workers 23d

D. Benediction: Paul prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be with spirit of Philemon and those with him44 24


1 Paul is truly a prisoner as he writes for the gospel, and especially for Christ’s sake. Paul does not include his apostolic title in this letter because he does not intend to appeal to that authority in his request (vv. 8-9). Rather he intends to touch his friends heart--thus, a prisoner.

2 See Colossians 1:1. Timothy was with Paul during much of the Ephesian ministry (Acts 19:22; 2 Cor. 1:1) and thus may have been acquainted with Philemon there.

3 He was a co-worker with Paul commissioned by God for the task of missionary preaching.

4 She may have been Philemon’s wife.

5 Paul often used this term to describe himself and his co-workers (cf. Epaphroditus in Phil. 2:25). Perhaps he had been an important assistant in missionary labors and have even walked through persecutions and trials (cf. Col. 4:17).

6 O’Brien notes well that “This whole passage prepares the ground for the request that is to follow, a point that may be discerned not only in its general emphasis, but also in the repetition of specific words from the thanksgiving throughout the rest of the letter (Wlies, Prayers, 219). As Knox (Philemon, 19) has aptly remarked: ‘It is the overture in which each of the themes, to be later heard in a different, perhaps more specific, context is given an anticipatory hearing.’ Terms (or their cognates) such as prayer (προσευχή, v 4,cf. v 22), and love (ἀγάπη, v 5, cf. v 9), fellowship (κοινωνιά, v 6, cf. v 17), good (ἀγαθός, v 6, cf. v 14), heart (σπλάγχνα, v 7, cf. vv 12, 20), refresh (ἀναπαύω, v 7, cf. v 20) and brother (ἀδελφέ, v 7, cf. v 20) reappear in the body of the letter” (Philemon, p. 276).

7 Verse 5 may be an example of chiasmus, an a b b a pattern:

Love

    Faith

    Christ

People

8 With the use of “my brother” Paul is not longer reporting his intercessory prayer, but speaking directly to Philemon through a direct address. This emphasis upon Philemon’s love is a transition from the thanksgiving paragraph to the main purpose of the letter set forth in verse eight--to love Onesimus.

O’Brien notes that, “In this simple transition important ideas from both the thanksgiving and the body of the letter are mentioned (or anticipated), e.g. “love” (vv 5, 9), “comfort” (cf. vv 9, 10), “heart” (vv 12, 20), “saints” (v 5), “refreshed” (v 20), and “brother” (v 20).

9 Paul has met some of those who were refreshed by Philemon, and can identify with those whom he had not met (cf. Col. 2:2).

Because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by Philemon Paul will latter urges Philemon to refresh his heart in Christ (v. 20).

10 The conjunction is “therefore” (Διὸ) probably referring to the reason for thanksgiving which Philemon has given above (e.g., his love).

11 The term is πρεσβύτης which could be a reference to Paul’s age (an old man), or could be a reference to Paul’s ministry as an “envoy”, or “ambassador” (see 2 Cor. 5:20 and Eph. 6:20, “for which [gospel] I am an ambassador [πρεσβύτης] in chains”).

12 The term employed for “now” (νυνί) is a more emphatic adverb than (νῦν) and might suggest that Paul’s imprisonment has only just begun at the time he wrote. This would place Philemon early in Paul’s first Roman imprisonment.

13 Paul’s point is that he is appealing as one who has also been asked by the Lord to suffer loss for his faith. His request to Philemon is in congruence with the outworking of service to Christ.

14 The term is παρακαλῶ.

15 Again this love probably points to the love previously referred to (esp. due to its article, διὰ τὴν ἀγάπην; cf. vv. 5-7).

16 The preposition used is περί meaning “on behalf of” (cf. 1 Cor. 16:12; 2 Cor. 12:8; 2 Thess. 2:1) rather than “about,” or “with reference to”. Paul is interceding on Onesimus’ behalf rather than making a request about him.

17 Here Paul uses the a term to emphasize descendency (τέκνος). Paul is identifying Onesimus as a spiritual child, but not with the idea of a legal, adopted son, but as though he were Paul’s own flesh and blood. This is a strong emotional tie. Paul often uses this imagery with the entire community (1 Cor. 4:15; cf. Gal. 4:19), with Timothy (1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 1:2), and with Titus (Titus 1:4).

It is significant that if Onesimus was Paul’s “son” than that made him Philemon’s brother. Paul will make this explicit later.

18 This contrast is parallel with Paul’s earlier description of himself:

Paul--ambassador to prisoner

Onesimus--useless to useful (α῎χρηστον--ευ῎χρηστον).

This is also a play upon Onesimus’ name which itself means “profitable” or “useful” (cf. BAG, p. 570).

19 O’Brien suggests that “my heart” could be rendered “my very self.” Therefore, Paul’s sending of Onesimus is like sending back himself (Philemon, p. 293).

20 This is an expression of Paul’s personal preference.

21 This help was ministry (διακονέvω).

22 “on your behalf”. Here Paul assumes that Philemon would have liked to have performed this service for him had it been possible.

23 O’Brien writes, “God’s activity is implied in the passive εχωρίσθη (‘he was separated from’) and therefore the purpose *ñÿ clause which follows signifies the divine intention” (Philemon, p. 286).

24 This is the same description which Paul uses of Philemon (ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπητόν, vv 7,20).

25 God’s providence has made these wrongs work for good (cf. Gen. 45:4-8; Rom. 8:28).

26 Paul mentioned the fact of his request of Philemon for Onesimus in verse 10. Only here does he actually spell out its content ...” (O’Brien, Philemon, p. 298).

27 With the “therefore” Paul is returning to the main theme of the letter after parenthetical remarks about Onesimus.

28 The term is κοινωνόν referring to their fellowship with God’s son, Jesus Christ, into which they have both been called (cf. Col. 1:9).

29 See verse 12 again. Onesimus should at least be treated as a fellow Christian and perhaps as Paul’s colleague or partner.

30 Here Paul guards against the possible hindrances which Philemon might have to properly receiving Onesimus.

31 Paul is saying, “Put it on my bill.”

32 When Paul writes, “I, Paul, write this in my own hand, I will repay it,” he is presenting a signed IOU.

33 Paul is making a play on words: προσοφείλεις (“you owe [besides]”) corresponds to ὀφείλει (“[if] he owes,” v 18).

34 The strength to do what is right is discovered in our own need of grace. Therefore, to forget is to destroy others, and to remember is to give life to others. Forgiveness is the reflex of redemption!

35 Or in a Christian way.

36 Paul is requesting that Philemon act in accordance with his past acts for the saints, but this time on his behalf (see verse 7).

37 The term is ὑπακοή meaning “obedience” rather than “readiness” or “willingness” (cf. the cognate in Col. 3:20, ὑπακούω). The sense is not that Philemon will obey Paul (cf. vv. 8-9), but that he will obey God (cf. Heb. 5:8; Rom. 5:10).

There is a play on thoughts here; Philemon, the master, is being asked to receive Onesimus by obedience to his Master--God (cf. Rom. 6:16; Col. 4:1).

38 Perhaps the “more” is that Philemon will return Onesimus to Paul for the ministry of the gospel as Paul mentioned before (cf. v. 17). There is not good evidence of manumission since the legal side of slavery is never brought up in the letter.

39 Obviously, this will enable Paul to see for himself how Philemon chooses concerning Onesimus.

40 The “your” is plural, προσευχῶν ὑμῶν.

41 See the parallel list in Colossians 4:10-14.

42 Although this could be a figurative description of one taken captive by Christ, it is probably descriptive of one who is in prison with Paul. It seems that Epaphras is sharing Paul’s confinement.

43 This term, συνεργοί, for fellow-workers was already used of Philemon himself (v. 1). These are those involved in the task of proclaiming Christ as those commissioned by God (O’Brien, Philemon, pp. 307-308).

44 Note that they “your” is plural (ὑμῶν). This probably has specific reference to those whom he greeted in verses 1-2 above.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines