Kraig Josiah Rice
Devotional Bible Commentary On

written by
Kraig J. Rice

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 1) An Introduction to this Bible book of Philemon
 2) Who was Onesimus?
 3) Money and Finances
 4) The church began in homes

NLT stands for New Living Translation.   MKJV stands for Modern King James Version.
Many words on this web page are color coded:

The words of God are in red that symbolize His shed blood.
The words of Scripture are in purple that symbolize royalty.
A devotional commentary is different from an exegetical commentary. In a devotional commentary like this one I can give the application of a verse rather than just the interpretation of a verse.

An Introduction

Who wrote this book?
Paul the Apostle wrote this bible book as a letter to a personal friend.

What are some things that we know about Philemon?
Actually, not much is known about him. Philemon was probably a gentile who was saved in Ephesus while Paul was there preaching and teaching in the school of Tyrannus for 2 years. People came from all over Asia Minor to hear him
(Acts chapter 19). While in Ephesus Paul may have visited the city of Colossae but it is not recorded that he did. Since Onesimus was from Colossae
(Colossians 4:9) it is assumed that Philemon also lived there.

Philemon was most likely the pastor of the church at Colossae that met in his house. Paul refers to him as "our dearly beloved" and "fellow laborer." Philemon was a Christian man full of love and faith
(verses 4 and 5). He had money- he was wealthy enough to own at least one slave and possibly many more. His large villa or estate (his mansion) was large enough to contain many church members as they worshipped together on Sunday and possibly throughout the week. His place was a hub of activity and influence for Christ.

This letter is addressed to Philemon, Apphia and Archippus. Apphia may have been a prominent female leader in that congregation or possibly the wife of Philemon. Archippus could have been the pastor of the congregation, however, in that case, the church members would have met at his house. It is more likely that Archippus was a close friend of Philemon or possibly his son. Either way, he was a good church leader at Colossae who Paul refers to by name.

Philemon's name in Greek means "friendly." He lived up to his name. This letter to Philemon is linked to Paul's letter to the Colossians because the church at Colossae was probably pastored by Philemon.

When and where was this book written?
This bible book is one of Paul's prison letters because it was written by him when he was in prison in Rome. It was written in about 61 or 62 A.D. It was hand carried by Tychicus to it's destination.

Why was this book written?
Paul writes this letter to re-unite a runaway slave by the name of Onesimus to his master, Philemon, who owned him. In other words Philemon is praised and asked to take back Onesimus. Also the purpose of this letter was to teach brotherly love.

What was the historical setting in those days when this book was written?
Human slavery is a universal evil. Satan influenced men to start it a long time ago. Ancient Greece and Rome allowed it. Rome had 2 servile wars fighting against it's own slaves. It is estimated that there were 60 million slaves in the Roman empire when Paul wrote this letter.
The Roman Emperor Nero ruled from AD 54-68.
Paul and Peter were martyred (executed for their faith) in AD 65.

The Bible book of Philemon has 1 chapter with only 25 verses:
Verses 1-3: Paul's greeting to Philemon
Verses 4-7: Paul's appreciation for Philemon
Verses 8-22: Paul's requests for Onesimus
Verses 23-25: Paul's closing remarks

The theme of this book:
Jesus Christ is our Lord and Master because we are His love slaves.

Where was Colossae located? Colossae was a city located near Laodicea and Hierapolis in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).

The Colossian church must have been a very good church- full of love, sound doctrine, full of power, with a strong missionary and evangelistic outreach. Why? Because this church is NOT one of the 7 churches with problems mentioned by the Apostle John in
Revelation chapters 2-3. However, the Colossian church did have some problems mentioned by Paul in
(Colossians chapter 2).

Colossae lies in ruins today.

Who was Onesimus? He was a gentile slave who ran away from his master, Philemon, in Asia Minor. He probably stole money and valuables before he left. Where did he go? He went to Rome. Rome had a population of 1 1/2 million inhabitants in that day. I imagine he wanted to experience the lure and excitement of the big city. But, like the prodigal son, he ran out of money and was broke. All of the parties he went to did not give him peace in his heart. Sometimes our intentions are good but then something negative happens to us- it could be that it was "a Holy Spirit coincidence" that sometimes comes our way to help point us in the right direction. Onesimus has no job and no legal papers to work (citizenship papers), but he is hungry and has other physical needs. Maybe he got sick and needed doctor Luke to help him. Maybe he was robbed and had everything taken away from him. It could be that the local Christians had a soup kitchen, fed him, helped him, and introduced him to Christ.

After his conversion, he is welcomed into the Christian family there as a brother in Christ. Paul was under arrest and whether Onesimus was a specific convert or general convert of Paul's is not known. But we do know that Paul came to love him as a brother in the Lord. He becomes Paul's "son in the faith." He is Paul's friend but what is Paul to do with him?

Onesimus needs more than Paul can provide and Paul has been sharing what little he has but it is time for a change. Then Paul does a wonderful thing that is good for them both. He sends Onesimus back to his owner, Philemon, who is now a Christian. Philemon can properly take care of Onesimus and supply all of his needs. Paul uses his influence as a church leader to appeal to Philemon to accept Onesimus back and not to punish him. And I assume Paul kept Onesimus long enough to disciple him in the faith
(Philemon verse 19).

The name Onesimus in Greek is spelled Onesimos and means "profitable." He is not only Philemon's slave but the presence of Christ in him makes him much more valuable. He is now also a brother in Christ. A saved person in those days was very rare. If something is rare it has more value.

What rights did Onesimus have? Under Roman law he did not have any. Therefore, Philemon could have Onesimus sold to be a gladiator, whipped (flogged), have him crucified, or kill him at will. But Philemon does not do any of these things. He accepts Onesimus back and treats him with Christian love and kindness. We know this because Philemon keeps this letter and shares it with other Christians to influence them to treat their slaves with Christian love and kindness. And because of this, God the Holy Spirit allows this letter to be placed in His holy bible.

Onesimus was given his freedom by Philemon. He may have purchased his freedom or it may have been a free gift. Church tradition holds that, later on, Onesimus became a church bishop in Berea. It is a "rags to riches" story and God gets the glory for it.

A Look At A Few Verses

Philemon verse 5:
The life of Philemon was a wonderful testimony. He loved Christ and others. He was faithful to other believers.

Matthew Henry stated:
"Jesus Christ finds us, and by His grace works a change in us, and then intercedes for us with the Father, that we may be received into His favour and family again, and past offences may be forgiven."

Philemon verse 9:
Paul was aged. We are not sure how old Paul was at that time but a good guess might put him at 55 to 65 years old. That was a good age at that time as the general lifespan of a person in those days was only 35-45 years old.

Philemon verse 10:
"My plea is that you show kindness to Onesimus. I think of him as my own son because he became a believer as a result of my ministry here in prison."

Matthew Henry stated:
"Paul kept Onesimus till his conduct proved the truth and sincerity of his conversion. He wished to repair the injury he had done to his master, but fearing the punishment his offence deserved might be inflicted, he entreated the apostle to write to Philemon. And Saint Paul seems no where to reason more beautifully, or to entreat more forcibly, than in this epistle."

Philemon verse 17:
I see here a nugget of truth on imputation. What is that? Christ took our place on the cross in substitution. You and I should have been on that cross suffering for our sins but, instead, He took our place. Our sins were imputed (or taken by Him). He received death that we might receive life. There is also a lesson here on freedom- not necessarily freedom from physical slavery but freedom in Christ- and that is freedom from sin, freedom from a guilty conscience, and freedom to love and serve God as much as you want to.

"How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ. Long ago, even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the wonderful kindness He has poured out on us because we belong to His dearly loved Son. He is so rich in kindness that He purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven. He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. God's secret plan has now been revealed to us; it is a plan centered on Christ, designed long ago according to His good pleasure. And this is His plan- at the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ- everything in heaven and on earth"
(Ephesians 1:3-10). NLT

"But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account"
(Philemon verse 18).

Paul makes himself personally responsible for the money and valuables that Onesimus allegedly stole from Philemon and his family. He asks Philemon to charge their value to his credit account. Of course, Philemon knows that Paul is in prison and has no way of physically paying him back. But then we can never pay Christ back for the salvation that we owe Him. It is a debt that can never be paid. Unconditional love is like that- it keeps on giving and giving with no thought of repayment.

But that brings up an interesting question. Where did Paul get his money? One time Jesus made this statement:
"...go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money..."
(Matthew 17:27). I believe this is what Jesus is teaching us in this true story:
If you need money, go fishing for the souls of men as an evangelist- be a fisher of men and God will give you the funds that you require. And, if you need money, pray it in. Believe that God will meet your needs and He will. The time for miracles is now. Jesus prayed in the money He needed. I believe Paul did also.

I believe God the Holy Spirit influenced certain individuals to donate money to Paul. Doctor Luke, Mark, and others, no doubt, donated to him. And I believe the church at Philippi donated money to him.

Let me illustrate this point. One time a former bible college professor of mine came to our church. He was going to Africa to teach in a bible college there. He presented his ministry and financial needs to the congregation and an offering was taken for him. Shortly thereafter as I was driving an 18 wheeler truck I had a vision. In the vision I saw him on his knees by himself in his bedroom (his prayer closet) praying for the finances that he needed. At the bottom of this vision I saw an amount of money- it was $300.00. At that instant I knew that God wanted me to send that amount of money to him. However, I was not sure how much money was in our ministry's checking account. When I got home from work I looked and found that we had $316 or so in our account. My wife and I agreed to send the $300 to him and we did. I enclosed a nice note with the cheque and he sent me back a personal thank you note. We felt good that God trusted us to be faithful with finances that we had dedicated to Him. And that is probably one way that God financially provided for Paul while he was in prison.

Paul worked as a tent maker at Corinth and also at Ephesus with Aquila and Priscilla
(Acts chapter 18).

Philemon verse 19:
Paul had led Philemon to the Lord. How could Philemon ever repay Paul for that?

Philemon verse 21:
Philemon was encouraged to live up to Paul's expectations of him.

Philemon verse 22:
"...also prepare for me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I shall be granted to you" (Young's translation).
Evidently Philemon had been praying for Paul to be delivered from prison. If this was Paul's first confinement in Rome, tradition reveals to us that he was released. God is a God Who hears our prayers and Who answers our prayers.

Philemon verse 23:
This verse states that Epaphras was Paul's fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus. He is mentioned because Philemon probably knew him. It is probable that Epaphras was saved under Paul's ministry at Ephesus and was thought to be a Colossian also imprisoned in Rome.

Philemon verse 24:
Doctor Luke was with Paul- Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Mark also wrote the gospel that is named for him.

Did the Apostle Paul ever mention Epaphras, Tychicus, and Onesimus in any of his other writings? Yes:
"We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth, as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit"
(Colossians 1:3-8).

"Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here"
(Colossians 4:7-9).

Did the Apostle Paul write any other prison letters (epistles)? Yes. There were other prison letters that Paul wrote that we have in the New Testament. They are Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians.

For about 200 years the early Christian church met in homes. A home church always begins in a person's heart around the family altar. From there it grows.

The bible had something to say about the rich class and the poor class who were now brothers in Christ. Philemon and Onesimus seem to fit into that category:
"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others? For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, "You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor" -well, doesn't this discrimination show that you are guided by wrong motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn't God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Are not they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? And yet, you insult the poor man! Isn't it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren't they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? Yes indeed, it is good when you truly obey our Lord's royal command found in the Scriptures: "Love your neighbor as yourself." But if you pay special attention to the rich, you are committing a sin, for you are guilty of breaking that law. And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God's laws. For the same God who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." So if you murder someone, you have broken the entire law, even if you do not commit adultery. So whenever you speak, or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law of love, the law that set you free. For there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. But if you have been merciful, then God's mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you"
(James 2:1-13). NLT

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