Philemon Lesson

Love

The book of Philemon was written in AD 60-61 by the apostle Paul. It is one of four “Prison Epistles” (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians being the other three) written by Paul while in jail.

Philemon was a convert of Paul’s and Paul commends him for his faith throughout the book. Philemon’s story is a story about brotherly love and forgiveness. As you study Philemon, look for similarities between what Paul is doing for Onesimus, and what Jesus did for us. There are three similarities that we will point out as part of today’s lesson.

  • Paul advocates for Onesimus with Philemon the same way that Jesus will advocate for His followers on the day of judgment.

Paul: “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” – Verses 15-16.

Paul: “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” – Philemon verse 18.

Jesus: “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” - 1 John 2:1.

Jesus: “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” – Mathew 10:32. 

  • Onesimus was condemned by law but saved by grace. As followers of Jesus, we too are saved by grace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9.

  • Paul requested that Philemon show Onesimus mercy in the same way that Jesus shows us mercy.

“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” – Philemon verses 15-16.

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” - Titus 3:5.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” - 1 Peter 1:3.

Onesimus was a runaway slave that had fled from his owner, Philemon. Slaves leaving their master was considered a serious crime under Roman law, and Onesimus could have faced severe punishment, or a painful death if he were caught.

Paul had gotten to know Onesimus while in prison and liked him very much. Paul did not see Onesimus as a runaway slave, but rather as a brother in Christ. Paul writes to Philemon offering to pay him any debts that Onesimus owes him.

The book of Philemon is a book about brotherly love, grace, and forgiveness. Think about how Paul helped Onesimus out in his situation:

  • Paul embraced that Onesimus came to him and did not judge him. He showed compassion and not judgement. He refers to Onesimus as his own child. “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus.” – Verse 10.
  • He sees Onesimus’ worth. “Who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.” – Verse 11. Four of the most powerful and impactful words that we can say to somebody are, “I believe in you.” That is something that we all need to hear.
  • He sends Onesimus back where he needs to be, despite selfishly wanting to keep him close by. “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.” – Verse 12-14. 
  • Paul advocates for Onesimus. 
  • Paul has confidence and trust in God that others will do their part to execute God’s plans for Onesimus. “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.” – Verse 21.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is a great example of somebody doing God’s work and showing their love for God through their obedience to His will.

We all need people to be in our corner to help us through life’s ups and downs. Paul believed in Onesimus. He was willing to put himself out there for him and to advocate for him. His belief in Onesimus no doubt changed Onesimus’ life forever.

As great as Paul was, we have an advocate that is even greater. Jesus loves us and wants to advocate to His Father on our behalf. All that He asks of us is that we love Him, believe in Him, and work to keep His commandments.

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How can you apply what you have just learned?

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How can you apply what you have just learned?

Reply
G.R.
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I'm amazed by how many barriers are broken down in such a short letter. Wealth (Philemon), gender (Apphia), Slave/Free (Onesimus), justice, love, grace, acceptance all in 25 verses. With Paul's plea of overcoming these barriers, among the firmest in ancient Greece/Rome, through Christian love, I have to conclude that there is no barrier in modern culture that should not be addressed in the same spirit.

In some relationships, we may find our role similar to that of Philemon. Perhaps well within our modern rights and society to uphold a barrier or impose justice and judgement on someone else. In some ways, perhaps we are like Onesimus facing the understandable or even justifiable (by Earthly standards) judgement of others and just hoping to experience the Christian love and grace of another. In still other cases, we may find ourselves with an opportunity to act as Paul did, gently reminding others that God's grace and Christ's sacrifice reconciles and unites us all, regardless of wealth, gender, status, ethnicity, nationality or any other label, as equal "partners" in salvation.

Paul's words in verse 17: "welcome him as you would welcome me... charge it to me" are the embodiment of living as Christ lived. I pray that I grow in my ability to see situations where I can offer this endorsement to those who need to feel reconciled and received in Christian love and that I more ably advocate for even the least of these.

Reply
John
G.R.

Amen! Wonderfully articulated!

Reply
John

If we look for the good in people, we bring out the best in them, and ourselves.

Reply
Mustang

We all need someone like Paul to believe in us, advocate for us and help us to become the Christians that we are capable of being.

God created us in His own image which means that we are valuable. Not some of us, all of us.

And just like Paul helped out a person in need in Onesimus, we too should help out those that unexpectedly enter our lives and have needs. All for the glory of God.

Reply
James A Guillory
Mustang

Very good word Mustang!!
And you are right we all need someone like Paul to Believe in us and we all need to be somebody like Paul to believe in other Christians and to encourage them!!

Reply
Michael
James A Guillory

Amen!

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