The Epistle of Paul to Philemon

Verse by verse Commentary 





This Epistle to Philemon is written from Paul to him when Paul was in prison. It was in his first prisonship at Rome because we can read in Philemon verse 22 the following words of the apostle Paul: But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.  In verse 24 we read that Demas one of the fellow servants of the Lord was with Paul in Rome. In II Timothy 4 verse 10: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica" Demas is a example that he left the Gospel of the Grace of God and having loved this present world more than God and the Gospel the of the Grace of God. This has consequences and this happens a lot nowadays with believers. 

The theme in this epistle is the runnaway slave Onesimus and Paul writes that this slave came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ at Rome and Paul send him back to his master Filemon and gives Filemon instructions how to handle now with Onesimus which became a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ. Normally when a slave runned away from his master he had to be punished by his master. A slave was the property of the master. However Philemon was a believer in Christ, a beloved brother in Colosse. So Paul writes in this letter to him that Philemon has to have a lot of patience with Onesimus and that he has receive his slave now as a brother in the Lord back. 

Philemon 1

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

Verse 1: On the moment the apostle Paul wrote this epistle to Philemon he was in Rome and in the prison with bonds.  The apostle Paul is not alone, his son in the faith Timothy, Luke and Epaphras were with him. Who was Philemon? Philemon was a probably a Bible teacher in Colosse and this man was a fellow brother of the apostle Paul. From the Scripture we can conclude that he Philemon was not only a brother of Paul. There was also friendship between these two men. For this you can read in verse 20 : Yea brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. In Colossians 4 verse 9 we read that Paul send to Philemon the runaway slave Onesimus back and he must tell Philemon how it was with Paul in prison.

Philemon 2

 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:

Verse 2: Who was Apphia? First she was beloved and that Paul and his fellow laborers loved this sister very much in the Lord. Probably she was the wife of Philemon. Tradition says that later Philemon, Apphia and Archippus were stoned to death at Laodicea because of the Gospel of the Grace of God and their faith in Christ. The other person here named is Archippus. Archippus was the fellowsoldier. He was probably also a Bible teacher because in Colossians 4 verse 17 we read: And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.The task Archippus had should not be taken lightly. Archippus was in the ministry so he made known Gods Word and the Word of His Grace Acts 20:32. Probably Archippus losed the courage to continue and here in the verse of Colossians he is admonished to continue and that he may fulfil it. To fulfil just as the apostle Paul till the end of this life here on earth. Archippus was a fellowsoldier and so my brothers and sisters if we all believe the Gospel of the Grace of God Romans 16:25-26, Acts 20:24 we are too are fellowsoldiers from each other. 

And to the church in thy house: Philemon had a local church in his house. All who came to this church Paul salute them!  A house in that time in general was bigger than most houses now. What is the advantage of a church in the house of someone is that you have not to hire a place so there are low costs. 

Philemon 3

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 3: In all his epistles the apostle Paul begins with these words Grace and peace. Not of men because men does not know what Grace and  peace is. No, they came from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Why men from nature cannot know Grace and peace is that we are all sinners because of Adam's fall Romans 5:12. Alone God gives us Grace and Peace through His Son Jesus Christ. To the saints at Thessalonica he wrote: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Under this Dispensation of Grace Ephesians 3:1-3 we have a God of Grace and Peace.God not declare war to this world. No not yet. This will be in the future when He will again let His Prophetic clock run again. We live now under Gods Grace, His love through His Son Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through  our Lord Jesus Christ.  This gives us rest and we have rest in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is really great my dear brothers and sisters!

Philemon 4

 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

Verse 4: What a great verse of the apostle says here to Philemon. This let you see that prayer very important is. What a example for us believers. Paul thanked God and made mention of Philemon always in his praying to God. Making mention of a person with Name and that is very important also for us to do. To mention the Names of persons we know and pray to God for them. And to let them know that we pray for them. This is the sign what the apostle Paul gave Philemon. In these words you see the love (agape) from God in it. Sometimes we forget to pray for somebody we know and our prayer to God is most of the times not complete. The apostle Paul is our example in this. In I Thessalonians 1 verse 2 we read: We give thanks go God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers

Philemon 5

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

Verse 5: The apostle Paul heard from Philemon and that was good news. Philemon was a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ and he had a good reputation under people. Probably the apostle Paul heard from Philemon through Onesimus and through Epaphras that he had love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and toward all saints. This is love is the Agape, the love of God. Philemon trusted the Lord everyday so brothers and sisters it is not only salvation but it is also what do you as believer in daily life. Your walk! Your patience and love toward others. From ourselves we have no patience and love but thank our God He can work in us through His Word of Grace so that we with the power of God can have this patience and love towards other people. 

Philemon 6

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

Verse 6: It is the community of faith or the comunication of the faith in Christ to other brothers and sisters. That this become effectual by the acknowledging! Acknowledging of what? Acknowledging of every good thing which was in Philemon in Christ Jesus. This was the wish of the apostle Paul for Philemon but also it is a wish for us. This wish is like a prayer. It has also to do with growing in the spiritual life. When God is working in us through His Word then the love of God comes out and this has effect on people. It was already in the life of Philemon and we see it in the next verse. 

Philemon 7

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

Verse 7: The apostle Paul and his co workers in Rome have great joy and comfort because of the love of Philemon he had. The love here is the love of God, the agape The love which Philemon had for others, other believers because the hearts or bowesl of the saints were refreshed of the love of Philemon. Philemon had a lot of influence on other saints. This was really powerful that this has a great effect upon others. From the Greek word Dunamis. Probably this was the reason, if the apostle Paul get released from prison, that  he asked Philemon  of a lodging. We too my brothers and sisters can live like Philemon  and this would be great for the Body of Christ. We have to be lead by God's Spirit by His Word of Grace and to follow Paul as he followd the Lord Jesus Christ. And put on the new man: And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.  Ephesians 4: 22-24. In Colossians 3 verse 10 we read: And have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge ater the image of Him that created him.  Gods's Word of Grace  plays always a roll in it. 

Philemon 8

Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient

Verse 8: Because Philemon had so much love for other believers and maybe also for unbelievers at Colosse Paul was very happy and he had much boldness in Christ to enjoin Philemon that which is convenient. Paul wasn't afraid to tell his brother in much boldness this all. The theme of this was Onesimus which is the subject of this epistle to Philemon. The runaway slave of Philemon who came through the Gospel of the Grace of God which Paul  told him became a believer in Christ and now Onesimus became a brother in the Lord . So this was more than a slave which was he before. This slave or servant Onesimus send Paul back to Philemon his master. It was to admonish Philemon Onesimus just like with so much love as he to deal with as he dealt with other believers. For us as believers in Christ we can a lot learn from this man Philemon and also how the apostle Paul admonished him. 

Philemon 9

Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

Verse 9: It was the love of Christ what drove the apostle Paul and he rather beseeched Philemon. Litteraly Paul begged Philemon because he was in prison and He Paul the apostle of the Gentiles called himself aged or old man. Probably he was in his sixties! With such a turbulent life what Paul had a person like him became very old when he was 60 years old. The circumstances in that time when he lived were worser than the circumstances we live in now. The average age of a Dutch man is now 80 years old. For a woman it is higher namely 83. Still there are countries in the world where the average age is lower because of bad health or war etc. He Paul was a prisoner of Jesus Christ. That's why he was in prison in Rome. In 2 Timothy 2: 8 and 9 we read:

Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:

Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. 

The apostle Paul was in prison in Rome and an old man at the moment he writes this epistle. The circumstances in prison were bad in that time and this is to compare with a prison in South America.

Philemon 10

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

Verse 10  This is the subject of this letter: Onesimus the servant of Philemon. Onesimus was the runaway slave of Philemon. He fled from Colosse to Rome and there he met Paul the apostle and Paul told him in prison the whole Gospel of the Grace of God and all the council of God. Onesimus became a believer in Christ. This moment Onesimus became to believer in our Lord Jesus Christ must have been very special! Onesimus learned in that time a lot of Gods Word and became a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was build up in the spiritual life through Gods Word and Paul in his bonds could tell him everything of Gods Gospel of Grace Acts 20:24. Onesimus was a useless slave and became useful servant and brother in Christ.  Paul begged Philemon to listen to him about Onesimus and that he would receive him back as a brother and eternal! 

Philemon 11

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

Verse 11: Onesimus was a slave from Philemon. Before he became a believer in Christ he was dead in trespasses and sins like other unbelievers and not profitble for his master. He,  probably,  was not obedient to his master and he runned away from his master and fled to Italy to Rome. How he got in Rome we don't know. In the time when Paul was on earth people could by feet travel, or on a donkey or camel and by ship when it was a very big trip on the Middle Sea. Probably Onesimus went on a ship and travelled on this manner to Rome. There in Rome he met Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ and became also a believer just like Paul by Grace alone, by Faith alone and in Christ alone. From a unprofitable person he became profitable for the first place for the Lord and then Paul and Philemon. Onesimus became a brother in the Lord. He was changed and he did what Colossians 3 verses 23 and 24:And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. Onesimus made these words of the Word of God his own. And now he could serve his master Philemon. And so brothers and sisters we too who live 2000 years later could make these words ourselves and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and not men. 

Philemon 12

Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Verse 12: The apostle Paul send before he wrote this epistle to Philemon Onesimus back to his Master Philemon. The wish of the apostle Paul was that Philemon would receive Onesimus his slave and servant again in the Lord because Onesimus was a believer now and send back to Philemon. Onesimus was now profitable not only as servant but more he was a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ and was profitable in the Work of the Lord Ephesians 2:10. Paul wanted to say to Philemon receive now Onesimus and became not angry at him. Love Onesimus with the love of God. This let you see that we in Christ are all equal.  What does it mean mine own bowels? For the apostle Paul means this that it was very deep for him. He loved so much this servant Onesimus. We as brothers and sisters we learn a lot of this. We can too receive each other in Christ our Lord if we come together in Biblestudy or local church. 

Philemon 13

Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

Verse 13: Paul wanted Onesimus to keep longer in prison. Why? Because Onesimus could  help Paul in the Gospel of the Grace of God to spread it and even in jail. Onesimus became a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ and he was no longer a servant and slave of sin but a servant or doulos from God. He became profitable  and especially for the Gospel of the Grace of God. Without God man is unprofitable but in Christ he becomes profitable. We, before we were in Christ, we were in Adam and unprofitable. We were slaves of sin. He had ministered unto Paul in the bonds of the Gospel. Which Gospel? The Gospel of the Grace of God. Acts 20:24. 

Philemon 14

But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

Verse 14: This verse let you see that Paul wanted good appointments with someone. You see here without thy mind would I do nothing. The apostle Paul did nothing without consultation. Without consultation it did not work out. Philemon get back or receive his servant/slave back not under duress but voluntary. Philemon was not forced to receive Onesimus back. Paul asked him to receive Onesimus as a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ. Consultation between believers and surely in a local church is very important and the apostle Paul is a example of this what we see here. 


Philemon 15

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

Verse 15: Philemon's slave or servant Onesimus was a runnaway slave for a short time. He didn't to serve his master anymore. For this you could be punished as slave. When he runned away or fled from his master he Onesimus was a unbeliever. But in prison in Rome he met Paul the apostle and Paul tells him everything about the saving Grace of God and the whole Gospel of the Grace of God. Onesimus became a believer and Philemon could now receive his servant back forever, eternally. What a feast this must have been when Philemon saw his servant Onesimus back. 


Philemon 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?

Verse 16: The apostle Paul send Onesimus back to his master Philemon and on that moment not as a servant but above a servant: a brother beloved. He was a brother beloved first for Paul but not only for him, much more for his master Onesimus. What a great day this must have been when Onesimus came back to his master Philemon as beloved brother. What can we learn from this? We too are new men in Christ my dear brothers and sisters and God can use us too as He used Onesimus. He, Onesimus was not only in the flesh but also in the Lord. Now he could do things according Colossians 3 verses 23 and 24: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.  Let this also work in us my dear brothers and sisters.

Philemon 17

If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. 

Verse 17: From this verse we see here that Philemon and Paul had a good relationship with each other as brothers in Christ. Paul asked Philemon to count him as a partner. What does that mean a partner? A compagnon. This let us see that there was a close relation between them. Philemon was a brother and real friend of Paul and had received Paul as brother. So the apostle Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus the same as he received Paul.  This could be very difficult for Philemon because what happened in the past with Onesimus but through God's power he could do it. He could all things forget and forgive all wrong things done by Onesimus. 

Philemon 18

 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;

Verse 18: The apostle Paul guaranteed Onesimus and therefore he send him back to Philemon his master in Colosse. If he, that is Onesimus hath wronged thee: was he quilty because of stealing or something else than Philemon could put that on the account of Paul. We don't know what exactly had happened in that time but the apostle Paul quaranteed Onesimus for what he had done wrong. What a commitment my dear brothers and love the apostle Paul had for toward Philemon and his former slave Onesimus. He loved them both with the Love of Christ. The agape. This is something for us to learn from and learn such a attitude to have for others we know. 

Philemon 19

I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

Verse 19: The apostle Paul wrote this epistle by himself. What Onesimus did wronged his master Philemon Paul tells Philemon that he would pay it. He stood guarantee for Onesimus and Paul didn't want that Philemon had to pay the costs of possible damage. You see here again the love of the apostle Paul. The love of Christ, the agape. His whole life he served our Lord Jesus Christ and in his whole life it was in the sign of Christ.  Acts 20:24. 

Philemon 20

Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

Verse 20: A very good relationship the apostle Paul had with Philemon. The apostle Paul said that he may have joy of Philemon , his brother in the Lord. Philemon could encourage Paul because Paul was in prison so the apostle Paul asked him to refresh my bowels. It is tender mercy. He asked Philemon to pray for him. This is for us a example to follow my brothers and sisters that we pray for each other. 

Philemon 21

Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

Verse 21: Paul has so much confidence in Philemon's obedience that he would receive his servant Onesimus back in the Lord as brother and this is above a slave. Onesimus was a runaway slave and not profitable but now in the Lord he became profitable. The friendship was so good between Paul and Philemon that the apostle Paul trusted and knew that Philemon should do that: to receive his servant back as a brother and more than this. Maybe he had a feast prepared we don't know but that he should do more that was for sure. 

Philemon 22

But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

Verse 22: What a close relation the apostle Paul had with Philemon in our Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon and others of his local church at home were prayer constantly for the apostle Paul for his freedom: release from prison. Paul knew very well and he trusted and hoped through their prayers this would be reality and that he see them again soon that's why he asked Philemon to prepare a lodging for him. Paul had never been in Colosse and he longs to see his fellow brothers and sisters there in Colosse and to encourage them with God's Word of Grace Acts 20:32, Romans 16:25-26 and that he also may be encouraged. 

Philemon 23

There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;

Verse 23: Who was Epaphras? Epaphras was the one of the saints at Colosse and he had teached the saints there the Gospel of the Grace of God. We read Colossians 1: 7 and 8: As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

Epaphras came to Rome and find the apostle Paul in prison and probably he became also a prisoner at that moment in Rome because here the apostle Paul said he is my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus. Philemon got greetings from him through this epistle of the apostle Paul.

Philemon 24

Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

Verse 24: More greetings from fellowlabourers, brothers in the Lord of the apostle Paul who greet Philemon through this epistle. Also these 4 brothers greet Philemon. Marcus was the nephew of Barnabas who also is called John . Aristarchus came from Ephesus Acts 19:29. This man travelled with Paul to Rome and he was too a fellowprisoner of Paul Acts 27 verse 2. Demas was a fellow brother, labourer who later left the Gospel of the Grace of God  and went to Thessalonica because he loved the world more than God and His Word. 2 Timothy 4 verse 10 and Luke who was the doctor who stayed with Paul till the end of his life in Rome 2 Timothy 4 verse 11. 

Philemon 25

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Verse 25: This is the end of this small epistle. All the epistles of the apostle Paul end like this. Under this Dispensation of Grace Ephesians 3: 1-3 whereunder we live now almost 2000 years God gives His Grace and Love through His Son Jesus Christ and this will be with our spirit. Amen.  We can say heartily Amen to this.