Philemon Survey

Philemon Survey

Pr Edi Giudetti






We would take our family on bushwalks now and again. Each time we went away camping or on special trips. Sometimes those journeys would be through beautiful rainforests and sometimes through bushland.  Recently my daughter and I went Hiking through the stunning Wilsons Promontory, so much to see, so many wonderful views.


But imagine the Rainforests with the largest and oldest trees. If you go early in the mornings or just after the dew has settled, you see beautiful spiders webs glittering with the sun behind it.  You’d walk along river banks down low in the valleys and hop over the rocks that poke out to get across the other side, see the water falls at the head of the river. You’d walk along tall cliff edges, not too close, but close enough to have your breath taken away by the height of the cliff and the colour of the cliff faces.


But imagine as you take your walk on a relatively obscure path that, just at the right time and just with the right angle of sunlight, you see something sparkle ahead.  It is bright enough to grab your attention and sparkles often enough to hold your gaze.  If the light was any different you would not have seen it, if the time of day was different you might have missed it, if you weren’t looking in the direction you might certainly have walked right past.


That is the Book of Philemon in the wonderful scope of the Bible. A diamond that often goes unnoticed by many, because the topic seems just a little too simple on the surface.



Acknowledgment Of A Faithful Man



1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, 2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: 3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, 5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; 6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.


A most wonderful introduction to this letter, not only does it demonstrate the passionate and faithful greeting of a like-minded lover of God, but also speaks volumes of the character trusted to be that which accurately describes the recipient.


Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timoth your brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,


Yes, this is another of the letters of Paul written from a prison cell. It is believed it was written from Rome, his first captivity in about 60-62 AD. Though it is not certain, nor does precisely which imprisonment give much light on the nature of the letter. Enough for us and Philemon to know that Paul was a prisoner when he wrote the letter.


unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,


Philemon was a justified man, beloved of Paul and a fellow laborer for the word of God and the Gospel of Christ. Paul trusted that he knew the value of the Gospel personally. Verse 19 indicates to us that Philemon was saved by Christ through the ministry of Paul himself.


So if this is the case, Philemon himself would have personal knowledge of the change that can come upon a man when he is born again. When the sin nature that was the defining attribute of a lost man, was forgiven by a holy God through the shed blood of Christ.


Now, Philemon is “dearly beloved” and acknowledged to be a “Fellow Labourer”. Verses 3 and 4 tell us that the letter was never intended to be a private letter. Many think the letter to be private, but these two verses tell otherwise even though the ongoing correspondence is directed specifically to Philemon himself.


2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: 3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Here two others are noted, at the end of the epistle Paul sends greeting to another five people.  He writes “Grace to you”, remember that the words You, Your, Yours are plural pronouns, here Paul is greeting “the church in thy house”.


By the names of Archippus, Epaphras and Oneisimus both greeted and acknowledged in the letter written by Paul to the Colossians, we can conclude with a degree of certainty that Philemon and the Church in his house lived in Colosse.


Grace to you and peace”, wonderfully we see both the gentile and the Jewish style of greeting by the apostle, the Gentiles say “grace to you” when greeting and the Jews greet with Shalom, peace. This being the typical greeting of the Apostle in his letters to all united in Christ.


4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, 5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;


A man who has love and faith toward the Lord Jesus will doubtless have it toward all saints. This is the acknowledgement of a faithful man who loves Christ and loves the brethren of Christ. John tells us that this should certainly be typical, in fact it is the truest sign of one who has past from death to life;


14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. (1 John 3:14)


The more we love the Lord Jesus the more we come to love those who love him. Philemon clearly is such a man, so great a love does he have for the Lord and the brethren that his reputation came to the hearing of Paul;


5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in youin Christ Jesus.


The communication of Philemon’s faith (Thy faith) would become effectual, in other words it has an outward effect upon others by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you That is, the Church, the word now changed to the plural form from ‘Thy’ to ‘You’, in Christ Jesus.

And continuing of verse 7,


7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.


Can you see how important it is to know precisely who it is that is being referred to in the Bible?  If all you had was the modern rendering of you, you, you and your or yours, you would lose the specific changes in the passage that speak to the outward effect of the faithfulness of one person to many. You would lose the accuracy of the dedication.


Philemon was a transformed man whom the Lord had saved from sin and who now loves the Lord. He loves the Lord so greatly that the reputation of the love he has for the saints in the Church who gather in his house has had an effect on themand that effect has reached the ears of ‘Paul the aged’.


So Paul acknowledges the faithfulness of this man, concluding his greeting with “7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.”



Intersession For A Transformed Man


Now we have the most incredible appeal from the most transformed man of all, Paul (The Little one. For that is the meaning of his name), to another transformed man Philemon (The Loving one), about yet another transformed man, Onesimus (The Useful one).



8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin (Charge/Order/Command) thee that which is convenient, 9 Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech (Implore/request/plead) thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.


The authority of the Apostle Paul is no small thing and it is certain that he has the weight of authority well upon himself to be bold enough to command Philemon in the matter he writes him. Paul does not do this to lord over Philemon as many think, he writes this that Philemon might know Paul’s thoughts toward him are not that which would require a command, though Paul has the authority, Paul wants Philemon to know that he knows his loving nature will be enough,   Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee;


10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:


Onesimus must have come to Paul, even in prison, and heard the Gospel of Christ.


This is one of the reasons why the first captivity of Paul is the most likely setting of the Letter, for his prison in Rome was under containment in his own hired house (Acts 28:30) when many would have had access to him and made use of the opportunities to meet the apostle of Christ there.


All those who have been saved under the ministry of Paul he refers to as his children in the faith, Paul speaks of Onesimus as his son, begotten of him, even in his bonds.


11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: 12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: 13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:


Now we witness the past character of the man Onesimus; there was a time when Onesimus was unprofitable to Philemon, a time when the cost of retaining him was greater than the profit of him.


Clearly the “Useful one” was not useful enough before he left him.


It is clear also, by the petition of Paul, that due to the lack of usefulness and profitability of Onesimus in the past, there was every chance that, the now transformed and loving one, Philemon, may rightly have rejected his service of Onesimus to him.


Paul does not use a “tactic” here as many think, I do not believe Paul is lying in order for Philemon to receive Onesimus. Paul considers Onesimus a genuinely changed and profitable servant for the sake of the Gospel.


We can be confident in this because as I mentioned earlier, Onesimus is written of in the book to the Colossians, in chapter 4:9 Paul says that “Onesimus is a faithful and beloved brother”




Philemon 14


14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. 15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;


Paul now stands in the gap as a mediatorand confirms to Philemon that this man, a man once unprofitable, a man who Philemon would never have taken back, is a changed man, a transformed man, a man now profitable, and a man now viable and worthwhile who’s new value…. has competing retainers!


“Profitable to thee and to me” says Paul, “whom I would have retained with me” ‘because he ministered to me in my bonds’ he says.


if you wont have him, I certainly will”


What can make such a change in a man? What can transform a man to go from unwanted to competed for? But know this that we are speaking of three transformed men and not only one.


Paulwas the worst of sinners by the testimony of the Bible.


Philemona wealthy man, the type whom Jesus said it would be more likelyfor a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one such as him to enter the kingdom of God.


And now Onesimus, a young servant who fled from his master for whatever reason, (Perhaps theft) “departing for a season”, unprofitable when present but now having competing beneficiaries;


What is it that can change people like this?


It is the Gospel of Christ that can have and does have such an effect.  When a soul has moved from death to life,  when a heart has been broken by the knowledge of sin and an awareness that Judgment is looming,  when the spirit of God has come in and washed the man clean and then abides in the heart of him, change is evident.


Jesus spoke of the fruit of life as the external evidence of the nature of the tree.


Turn to Luke chapter 6:43-45


43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.


James also speaks to this, turn to James 3:7-12


7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8But the tongue can no man tame;it isan unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweetwaterand bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? socanno fountain both yield salt water and fresh.


Both James and the Lord tell that the true nature of a soul is evident by its outward manner. There must be evidence of distinction in the heart for the mouth to betray that which is within the heart.

Clearly a change has occurred, a change so great in each of these men that it is admitted by them as genuine. What Paul testifies to Philemon about Onesimus, he is expecting Philemon to acknowledge as genuine, because Philemon was transformed by that same spirit of God.


This is why we ask of the testimony of others, as Christians we long to hear and be encouraged about the journey of those also changed by Christ through the Gospel of Christ. So amazing it is to see where many have come from, from what life they had departed and how they are returned.


Paul says;


perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;


Many have children who also have departed, left the home and the care of loving parents. Some have departed from the faith, some departed from all that is good.


It is only our prayer that could secure them, only our love for them and our intersession for them before the Lord that would have them also transformed, that we should receive them forever.


How wonderful the thought, Paul comforts Philemon that there was perhaps a reason his servant departed, a reason that lasted a season so that he should receive him for ever.  What Onesimus had intended for evil, God had transformed to good! Paul returns to Philemon what was once profitless, but now profitable.


There was a time you and I also had no value to God, our lives affected others away from God. Our mouths and lives blasphemed his name and we encouraged others likewise. WE ALL HAVE AN AFFECT ON OTHERS.


Now many are confirmed reprobates because of our godless witness.


So too however was both Paul, Philemon and Onesimus, now look at the value of their witness and service to others!


16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?


To have under our employment a brother BELOVED of Christ must be a great joy. Especially If both the master and the servant grow in their Love for the Lord, how great is their service to one another?


Brokered By A Redeemed Man



17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. 18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweththeeought, put that on mine account; 19 I Paul have writtenitwith mine own hand, I will repayit: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. 20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. 21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you. 23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers. 25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christbewith your spirit. Amen.


Consider what is being said by Paul here


17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. 18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweththeeought, put that on mine account; 19I Paul have writtenitwith mine own hand, I will repayit:



The deal that Paul had set himself to broker he had no intention of losing. It was a deal “too good to refuse”.  There would be no loss to Philemon and there would be no actual cost to Onesimus. Paul, as the broker of the arrangement and the mediator between Philemon and Onesimus, was willing to bare the full cost of the transaction in order to secure reconciliation.


Are you getting a hint of a theme?  Though Paul is willing to pay the cost of reconciliation between these two estranged parties, there remains to be two obstacles for a successful transaction to occur.


  1. The willingness of the Master to forgive.
  2. The humility of the servant to repent.


One needs to show grace and the other sorrow.


Do you see what is going on here? Does this form of transaction remind you of anything?


In this obscure single chapter book to which most people overlook and some question its position in the canon of Scripture, we have a standard of mediation and reconciliation that mirrors the Gospel. We have Paul taking the position of Christ willing to pay the cost of any debt owed to Philemon, who can be considered in the position of God (The Loving one), on behalf of Onesimus the sinner in need of a saviour.


18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweththeeought, put that on mine account; 19 I Paul have writtenitwith mine own hand, I will repayit:


God and man are estranged, separated from one another because of mans sin. Man has departed from God for a season but without reconciliation it would be for ever. Man has no way to return to God without a mediator between God and Man.


The debt owed by man to God for his sin is infinite. The sin nature of man is so far removed from the holy nature of God that the two are irreconcilable, there is no chance whatsoever that a compromised ground can be found.


That is the predicament of man.


God made man upright, says King Solomon, “but they have sought out many inventions”. (Eccl 7:29) Man was made in the Image of God, perfect and pure, holy and dependent on God absolutely. Man had it all and was in need of nothing, nothing that is, but to take the place of God and be his own master.


His departure from God became an eternally wide valley that could not be bridged. There could be no reconciliation by man, his nature of sin infinitely removed him from the holy nature of God. All that awaited man was death and judgement for his sin.


18If he hath wronged thee, or oweththeeought, put that on mine account;


Man had wronged God, man owed God everything but there was none with the means to repay. Certainly none could stand for others. None could pay for themselves let alone for another.


14 Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliverbuttheir own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD. (Ezek 14:14)


God making clear that if any man was perfectly righteous, he could deliver none but himself.  The value of man as man is finite, no man could repay God that which is owed by another.


Unlike the case for Onesimus, that case for man would be hopeless. Many mediators have stood up, pleading to God and the gods for help. Many priests have stood, many prophets, many wise men and gurus, but their own sin was enough to disqualify even themselves.


An infinite separation requires and infinite redeemer. But, to have a multitude of infinitely separated soulsto redeem would require none other than God to redeem them. And even if that were possible, God would need to be willing to accept reconciliation.  And even if that were available, man would need to be broken of spirit and contrite of heart to even seek reconciliation.


This all seems quite impossible. Yet here in this letter to Philemon such an example is given us in a temporal and limited form. A loving and faithful Master. A willing and able Mediator. A contrite and broken servant.


In the eternal realm is there such a reality to which this was its reflection?



John 3:16-18


16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


The Master of all creation is loving. The mediator of all mankind is willing and able. The only question that remains is, are there any contrite of heart and broken of spirit desiring to be reconciled? That is a choice for the individuals of mankind to make. The provisions are there, the choice is their own.



The servant who fled from Philemon, and perhaps stole from him also, was changed, transformed. Not because of his sinful separation from his master, but because he knew his sin identified him as separated from God.


We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.  Our fallen nature is made evident by our sin, the law was given to us that we might be able to measure our lives against Gods standard, it was given that we might know we are sinners.


Turn to Romans chapter 3:19-20 as we let the Lord explain through is words


19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.


Can you see part of the purpose of the Law? It is to stop our mouths that we do not try to justify ourselves. Friends the greatest danger man is in is due to his stubborn reasoning for sin. Justifying yourself does not make you just. Excusing your sin will never excuse your sin.


There are those who think they have eternal life this very day who are damned and the more they justify themselves while damned, the more they seal their damnation.  The more good works they think they do to be justified by God, the more unjust they are.


20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the lawisthe knowledge of sin.


Onesimus knew that his behavior against his master was due to his sin before a holy God. When he discovered through the preaching of Paul that he might be saved from sin, he repented and gave his life to Christ and was changed.


Paul was not offering to the master a man that was the same as he was when he fled.

Now the man is humbled and changed, not because of his love for the master Philemon, but because of his love for Christ.




Now for you


Turn back to 1 Timothy 2:3-8


3 For thisisgood and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5Forthere isone God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ,andlie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. 8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.


Paul was the mediator of a man already redeemed. He presented to Philemon a man first reconciled to God by the mediation of Christ, who first paid the infinite debt Onesimus owed to God, before Paul could offer reconciliation of Onesimus to Philemon.


Do you hear the Gospel in this sparkling jewel?


How wonderful it would be that through one of the smallest book of the Bible, you might see Christ.






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