Calvary Chapel Cherry Creek (old)

Philemon vs 1-25


Written about 62 A.D. by Paul the Apostle (which we know from the first word in the first verse, “Paul”) during Paul’s time of house arrest in Rome (therefore considered a prison epistle).  Most likely it was written at the same time as the Epistle to the Colossians as both letters were carried by the same messengers and also Philemon was a member of the Colossian church.  Actually, Onesimus is also named in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians in Chapter 4 as a “faithful and beloved brother.” 


He was obviously a wealthy man as this letter is written to Philemon from Paul regarding one of Philemon’s run-away slaves, Onesimus.  As such, this is a very personal letter as within it Paul does not make any explicit statement of doctrine or exhortation to Christian living.


Interesting bits about the book:  It’s quite symmetrical

        3 verse introduction, 3 verse conclusion (Trinity?)

        5 people named in the introduction, 5 people named in the conclusion (Torah, Pentatuch?)…25 verses which is 52

        The 5 names in the intro add to 33 letters while the 5 names in the conclusion add to 32.  (Crucified in 32 AD at age 33?)

        One Chapter, 25 Verses, 445 Words in the KJV.  445/5=89.  (445*5)/89 = 25

        It is one of 5 one-chapter books in the Bible:  Obadiah, 2 John, 3 John and Jude.

        It is one of 21 epistles in the Bible…21 being 3*7 of course or 7+7+7

Most would agree that the general theme of this Epistle is “forgiveness.”  I would certainly say that it is a key theme > and truly the act and attitude of forgiveness shines brightly throughout the Bible.  We are commanded to forgive…we are expected to forgive…and I would submit to you that for the reborn, alive and aware follower of Christ, forgiveness is completely natural.  Why?  Because we have been forgiven much! 


But I would also offer that there is a second important theme to this book as we will see a runaway slave returned to his master however will see him welcomed as a beloved brother as Paul puts it.  And so I believe a second very important underlying lesson or theme of this short book is that absolute equality exists within the family of God.  We may have different roles and there is order within those roles but for real the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  We are all sinners, saved by grace, and grafted into the family of God.  We are all brothers and sisters, and we are all partakers of the same inheritance.


A wonderful little letter, a powerful book…so let’s get into it.



Paul, the one who founded the church that Philemon attends, the one who most likely even led Philemon to faith, identifies himself right off and says “I am a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”  In the Greek, the word Paul uses here is “desmios,” which can also be translated “captive.”  So he says I am a  captive of Jesus!  And man I just love that!

        <> We are captured by His grace!  Formerly Paul and we were captured in our sin, trapped in disgrace but the Bible says that He made an open spectacle of Satan at the cross and Jesus led captivity captive! 

        <> Remember where Paul is!?  Locked-up by Roman officials, on house arrest…but what does he say?  Hey, I’m in this situation, this place, for God’s glory!  I’m not locked down, I’m locked ON to God’s will!  I am His prisoner, not the states!  And from that he derives GREAT strength!



So this was a personal letter but not a private letter as Paul also addresses some other homies and the group that gathered there in Philemon’s house to fellowship.



A typical Pauline greeting as he envokes both the Jews and the gentiles…grace (charis) as the gentiles would say, and peace (shalom) as the Jews would say…both by and from and through God the Father and the Lord Jesus.


V4 – V9

So Paul says here something I believe is quite powerful.  That while he has the apostolic authority from Jesus Christ Himself…he is a minister of the truth of Jesus…he desires to not make a command of Philemon but would rather allow Philemon the free will of choice.  For love’s sake, Paul says…

V10 - V11

Paul calls Onisemus, his “son”…and who is also a son in the faith to Paul?…Philemon…you see, equality in the Lord.  Different roles, yet equal in family.



Now at this time in the Roman Empire there were as many as 60,000,000 slaves.  Imagine an army of 60M!   And so when a slave deserted or disobeyed, any sign of rebellion really at all, would be dealt with harshly and that kept the slaves in a state of subjection and fear.  So Paul here appeals strongly by saying, “I’m sending you back my own heart.”


And then he adds V13.  Hey, having him here is like having you here bro. 



“Good Deed by compulsion,” is an interesting thought.  One could debate that a compulsory good deed is an oxymoron.  By Biblical definition, there is only One who is good and that is God.  And therefore a good deed could by explained as a deed unto God…as Paul would write to the Colossians in Col 3:17, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of Jesus unto God.”  So how do you do that begrudgingly?  How can you be forced into a good deed?  Well, I would say that you can’t.  You can be forced to comply, but a good deed is a matter of worship.


1 John 3:18 says, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”  So it’s interesting here because what Paul is really saying is while I could command you, and your obedience would be acceptable, your love and brotherhood in this matter would be God honoring!


V15 – V16

So Paul, the same author who wrote Romans 8:28 says here perhaps this was God’s plan all along…so that God would be glorified in the equality of His people, the salvation of Onesimus and the growth of Philemon!  No doubt this pained Philemon…made him nervous…what if they all run away?  What if they all revolt?  But remember in Acts 5…the apostles counted it means for rejoicing to suffer for the Lord’s name sake!  Why?  Because Jesus said, blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you for My sake because great is your reward in heaven!  (Matt 5, Luke 6)  Do we believe that?  Does that not fill us with strength and endurance and purpose!?!


V17 – V18

Paul, taking on the offense of his brother…taking the debt of pain onto himself.  Quite Christ-like.  Is that your heart towards those who have offended?  Even if they haven’t repented, have you forgiven?  Have you prayed for them so deeply that you’ve even made supplication for them as the Holy Spirit commands (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6)?  God, please forgive them, put that on my account.  That is Biblical forgiveness…that is to be close to the very heart of Christ.


A true and holy manifestation of the Holy Spirit…a fruit of the Holy Spirit…not in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth!  So unnatural for us…yet oddly…the only thing that will free us from our pain, our condemnation that we have pronounced upon them!  The perfect law of liberty as the Bible calls it…


But notice, the debt remained.  Paul did not say forgive the debt and forget it…he said put it on my account.  Saved or unsaved we have an obligation to make right our debts.  Even if that debt was B.C.  So many talk of what they’ve done, the mistakes that they’ve made and then they dismiss them as “oh well that was before I was saved.” 


We have an obligation to do all that we can do to make it right!  The world sits and waits and watches and searches for a reason to discredit the righteousness of Christ and we don’t even make it hard for them! 


So go, go and make it right.  Go and apologize, go and repay your debt of offense…and see if a God honoring door for ministry is not opened for you…and see if God’s humility and love and righteousness is not proven through you!  See if your own walk does not grow…


V19 – V21

It appears that Paul actually led Philemon to the Lord.  Joy and refreshing Paul says…that is the outcome of walking in the spirit…of obeying the command of Christ to love, man.  Joy and refreshing.  But so often we just want them to pay, don’t we?  Pay what you owe!  You know, the flip side of what we just talked about.  There’s that guy or that gal that so offended and they never humbled themselves and maybe even today you’re still around them and they completely turn their nose up to you as if YOU offended THEM!  And that just burns doesn’t it?


But check this out…the next time you want them to pay, remember that Jesus is in love with them…and He calls out from the cross, put that on my account!  Remember that and allow the Holy Spirit to work…



I can’t wait to see you bro!  Prepare a guestroom so that when I come, you and I and Onesimus and all of the family of God can rejoice together in the joy and strength of the Lord!  Fellowshipping in the Spirit!


V23 – V25

A powerful and personal letter to us today regarding the love, security and acceptance that is to be ever present within the family of God.  That forgiveness is more than an apology and a hand-shake but an act of worship…a time of communion with God Himself…a time of fellowship with Jesus Christ.  And also that of equality!  That we are all of one fold, one flock, brothers and sisters in the Lord and in that we should be as family to eachother. 


So one question before we part tonight.  Who are you?  Some of you are like Onesimus tonight…you need to do what’s right.  Open your heart and make it right!  Such a great example for us he is!  If he hadn’t of dealt with his offense we wouldn’t be talking about it tonight!  His life wouldn’t have mattered…but he did deal with it, he did do what was right and therefore we see and have and learn eternal profit tonight thousands of years later!  His life mattered!


Some are Philemon.  And tonight you need to hear this, you need to receive this…you have no right under Jesus Christ to hold this debt.  You need to resolve to receive that person.


Others, some of you, are like Paul.  Looking to make peace.  Willing to get involved, get your own hands dirty, bear the burdens of not those that are convenient but those that are truly burdened!  Walking moment to moment with eyes to see and ears to hear what it is that God is concerned with, not with what it is that pertains to you yourself. 


Blessed are the peacemakers, for yours is the Kingdom of heaven.  You are the children of God the Father, truly.


Who am I?  Well, honestly I’d say at times I’m all three.  I need forgiveness, I need to forgive and I make peace…but with this wonderful short personnal little book, we see how we ought to be…in light of the glory and grace and goodness of the Lord.


He paid the price, He satisfied our debt….and He receives us to Himself unconditionally…so do what’s right…do what’s right…honor the King…in Jesus’ name.

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