This person is only mentioned in this letter. Apparently the local church at Colossae met in his home. Paul's comments to him imply that he personally knew this man. Epaphras, not Paul, started the church in Colossae cf. However, it is remotely possible that Paul did not know him personally cf. Knox postulate that Archippus was the owner of Onesimus, and that Philemon was the local pastor enlisted to help encourage Archippus to have mercy on his runaway slave.
He uses this characterization several times cf. It was used in Koine Greek b. The Church chose this term because it was used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, written as early as b. This term translated the Hebrew term qahal which was used in the covenant phrase "the assembly of Israel" cf.
The NT writers asserted that they were the "divinely called out ones" who were to be the People of God in their day.
Christians assert that the Church of Jesus Christ, not modern rabbinical Judaism, is the true interpreter and fulfillment of the OT Scriptures. These "house churches" followed the Jewish pattern of local synagogues scripture readings, prayers, songs, etc. The Greek text is ambiguous as to which of the two men mentioned in vv. God chose family terms to reveal Himself to fallen humanity cf. Hosea as passionate, faithful lover, Hosea 11 as loving father and mother.
Paul followed this pattern thanksgiving for readers, cf. Intercessory Prayer at Col. Apparently Epaphras had brought him information about the developing heresy at Colossae cf. The Greek term pistis is translated into English in three ways: In several passages it is difficult to determine which is meant cf.
NT Faith at Col. This is not a reference to a sinless lifestyle, but to believers' forensic legal position in Christ. It is always plural except in Phil. To be saved is to be part of a family. This term reflects an OT usage for corporate Israel as a holy people cf. Although the term "saints" relates to the believers' standing in Christ, it is not incidental that the root word is "holy.
Believers are predestined to "holiness" cf. In Paul's writings wisdom and knowledge are not separated from ethical living, but form a unified whole cf. There are two clear options of interpretation in these translations: He had heard of their love and faith for Jesus and His followers v. This is possibly related to the OT sacrifice of these specific body parts on the altar cf. The ancients located the emotions in the lower viscera or abdomen cf.
For Paul it relates to Christian love cf. This reflects Paul's apostolic authority. However, Paul preferred to use encouragement and tactfulness vv. Onesimus has been changed from a slave to a brother in Christ v. Paul uses this wordplay to appeal to Philemon. Bruce's translation of this section in Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, is very helpful in seeing the word play:. I know that in former days you found him quite unprofitable, but now, I assure you, he has learned to be true to his name - profitable to you, and profitable to me" p.
It also affirmed the legal rights of slave owners cf. Paul felt deeply for his converts. This surely reveals the pastoral heart of Paul, as does his tender yet firm treatment of Philemon. He often refused help from those he preached to because false teachers accused him of financial exploitation. Yet as the years went by he was able to receive help from some of the churches he ministered to. This help was in two specific ways. Observe this is a rule of thought. It is not for us men a rule of action.
A Daily Bible Study in 7-Day Sections with a Summary-Commentary, Paul wrote to Philemon while still imprisoned, and accompanied by Timothy. May my choices be obedient so Your blessings flow through me to others. rather as a consequence of blessings that flowed to and through him to others. This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are 1bTo Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, 2 and to Apphia our sister, and . There are two clear options of interpretation in these translations: (1) things . This also shows that believers must face the consequences of their actions.
Look at Onesimus as an instance of Divine grace. Were there no free men, that God must elect a slave? Were there none of the educated and polite, that He must needs look upon a barbarian? Were there none among the moral and the excellent, that infinite love should fix itself upon this degraded being, who was now mixed up with the very scum of society? The Lord is a Sovereign, and doeth as He pleases. Let us admire that marvellous electing love which selected such a one as Onesimus!
How unlikely he appears to become convert. He is an Asiatic slave of about the same grade as an ordinary Lascar, or heathen Chinee. He was, however, worse than the ordinary Lascar, who is certainly free, and probably an honest man, if he is nothing else. Some of us, I have no doubt, are quite as wonderful instances of Divine election and effectual calling as Onesimus was. The Lord hath done it; and unto the Lord be honour, world without end.
I am a prisoner verse 1 2. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you someone serving in a leadership role, official or unofficial, whom He would like to encourage and support. This thought is continued into this verse. How would you adjust your practice of mentoring to lead and model rather than instruct and control? Do you realize that some of these things may indeed be God working things out for your benefit? Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers 15 For perhaps he therefore departed or, was parted.
The grace of God was conspicuous in the character which it wrought in Onesimus upon his conversion, for he appears to have been helpful, useful, and profitable. What wonders the grace of God can do! Many plans are employed in the world for the reformation of the wicked and the reclaiming of the fallen, and to every one of these, as far as they are rightly bottomed, we wish good success; for whatever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, we wish them God speed.
But mark this word--the true reforming of the drunkard lies in giving him a new heart; the true reclaiming of the harlot is to be found in a renewed nature. The lowest strata of society will never be brought into the light of virtue, sobriety, and purity, except by Jesus Christ and His gospel; and we must stick to that. Let all others do what they like, but God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. A very interesting instance of sin overruled. The Lord must have Onesimus in Rome to hear Paul, and the sin of Onesimus, though perfectly voluntary on his part, so that God had no hand in it, is yet overruled by a mysterious providence to bring him where the gospel shall be blest to his soul.
Now, I want to speak to some of you Christian people about this matter. Have you a son who has left home? Is he a wilful, wayward young man, who has gone away because he could not bear the restraints of a Christian family? It is a sad thing it should be so, but do not despond. You do not know where he is, but God does; and you cannot follow him, but the Spirit of God can. Many a sailor boy has been wild, reckless, Godless, Christless, and at last has got into a foreign hospital.
Ah, if his mother knew that he was down with the yellow fever, how sad her mind would be, for she would conclude that her dear son will die away at Havannah or somewhere, and never come home again. But it is just in that hospital that God means to meet with him. A sailor writes to me something like that. I want to speak to you. I have got something that is very precious to me here. I was a wild fellow, but reading this packet of sermons has brought me to the Saviour, and I am dying with a good hope through grace.
Now, when I am dead and gone, will you take these sermons and read them, and may God bless them to you. And will you write a letter to the man that preached and printed those sermons, to tell him that God blessed them to my conversion, and that I hope He will bless them to yourself? You do not know, dear mother, you do not know. The worst thing that can happen to a young man is sometimes the best thing that can happen to him.
Our text may be viewed as an example of relations improved. Perhaps Philemon had not quite found out that it was wrong for him to have a slave. Some men who were very good in their time did not know it. John Newton did not know that he was doing wrong in the slave trade, and George Whitfield, when he left slaves to the orphanage at Savannah, which had been willed to him, did not think for a moment that he was doing anything more than if he had been dealing with horses, or gold and silver.
Public sentiment was not enlightened, although the gospel has always struck at the very root of slavery. No doubt he may have been an excellent master, and have trusted his servant, and not treated him as a slave at all, but perhaps he had not regarded him as a brother; and now Onesimus has come back he will be a better servant, but Philemon will be a better master, and a slave holder no longer. He will regard his former servant as a brother in Christ. Now, this is what the grace of God does when it comes into a family.
It does not alter the relations; it does not give the child a right to be pert, and forget that he is to be obedient to his parents; it does not give the father a right to lord it over his children without wisdom and love, for it tells him that he is not to provoke his children to anger, lest they be discouraged; it does not give the servant the right to be a master, neither does it take away from the master his position, or allow him to exaggerate his authority, but all round it softens and sweetens. There was much weight in that remark.
Everything in the house goes better when grace oils the wheels. The mistress is, perhaps, rather sharp, quick, tart; well, she gets a little sugar into her constitution when she receives the grace of God.
The servant may be apt to loiter, be late up of a morning, very slovenly, fond of a gossip at the door; but, if she is truly converted, all that kind of thing ends. She is conscientious, and attends to her duty as she ought. The master, perhaps--well, he is the master, and you know it. But when he is a truly Christian man--he has a gentleness, a suavity, a considerateness about him. The husband is the head of the wife, but when renewed by grace he is not at all the head of the wife as some husbands are.
The wife also keeps her place, and seeks, by all gentleness and wisdom to make the house as happy as she can. Some years ago I was talking with an aged minister, and he began fumbling about in his waistcoat pocket, but he was a long while before he found what he wanted. God Almighty bless you! I thought he would be the stay of my old age, but he disgraced himself, and he went away from me, and I could not tell where he went, only he said he was going to America.
He took a ticket to sail for America from the London docks, but he did not go on the particular day that he expected. Father, I am here in America. I have found a situation, and God has prospered me. I write to ask your forgiveness for the thousand wrongs that I have done you, and the grief I have caused you, for, blessed be God, I have found the Saviour. I did not sail for America the day I expected. I went down to the Tabernacle to see what it was like, and God met with me.
The Lord call him by His grace. The great idea underlying the present turn of thought is, that in every event of life, good or bad, God has not only an interest, but a meaning or purpose through it, all His own. There is not merely a general superintendence of Providence over the affairs of men, but a Providential agency at work in the very midst of them. Very different, no doubt, is the Divine agency from the human, with which it mysteriously mingles. Not more distinct is the Lord of all from the works of His own hands, than is His providential government distinct from what it regulates; yet moving freely in the midst of His creation, He no less freely interlaces human agencies with His own.
Hence we continually see results issuing from trivial matters which the actors in them never contemplated. An encouraging view of the providence of God. The minuteness of its operation. The beneficence of its operation. A view of the preeminence of spiritual relationships. Christianity does not weaken any of the bonds of our civil or other earthly relationships. Personal Christianity exalts and ennobles all other relationships.
Spiritual relationships are preeminently over all others. Mark that the apostle entitleth the shameful running away of Onesimus, the servant of Philemon, by the name of a departure. If we will speak properly, a departing is one thing, a running away is another thing. For albeit everyone that runneth away departeth; yet everyone that departeth runneth not away from his master, because he may depart by consent either having leave and licence, or that the time of his service is expired. So a little before Philemon 1: This was not done in regard of the offence because it was small, but in regard of his repentance because it was great.
We may observe that Christian religion doth more strongly bind all persons to their particular callings and maketh the knot greater than it was. For that which he speaketh here of a Christian servant, even a brother, is true of all callings in the family and commonwealth. For as a faithful servant is more than a bare servant, so a Christian king is more than a king; a Christian master is more than a master; a Christian father is more than a father; a Christian husband is more than a husband; so on the other side a Christian wife is more than a wife; a Christian subject is more than a subject; and so of all the rest.
For albeit in the commonwealth and private family it be necessary that some should be superiors and other inferiors; and that this disparity and inequality among men be the ordinance of God; yet in the kingdom of God and in Christ Jesus there is no distinction. But in how much a deeper and truer sense!
To be with him not only for time, but in eternity, in the eternal communion of saints. Why count up the weeks and months? Since he left Onesimus had obtained eternal life, and eternal life involves eternal interchange of friendship. His services to his old master were no longer barred by the gates of death. The reasons of this doctrine are apparent, to settle our hearts and consciences therein. The infinite wisdom and unsearchable power of God, who, as the apostle teacheth, bringeth light out of darkness, and worketh by contrary means, such as men count foolishness, as to save men by the foolish preaching of the gospel, that is, which is esteemed among the wise men of the world no better than foolishness.
It is the pleasure of God to confound the wisdom of man that cannot attain to great matters but by great means 1 Corinthians 1: God disposeth of all things as pleaseth Him, and oftentimes crosseth the devices of men. He expresseth His wonderful love, making all things that fall out in the world to serve His Church.
This doctrine serveth for reproof, for comfort and for obedience. For it serveth to reprove and convince sundry persons, that either know not or knowing do abuse this providence of God whereby He taketh care of all things that are in the world and directeth them to a right end. This doctrine serveth greatly to comfort us both in prosperity and adversity, and that for the time to come we should repose our whole hope in God. We know that He can moderate and will moderate the rage of the devil and the malice of wicked men that they shall not hurt or hinder their salvation.
This should be a very strong reason unto us not to be unmeasurably dismayed when offences and great evils break out among us as oftentimes it falleth out, whereby many are ready to shrink back, and others are much disquieted to see the Church of God so troubled. We are not to think it strange or to forsake the faith through these scandals, for God would not suffer any evil to come to pass unless out of that evil He were able to bring good, and out of that sin to bring forth righteous ness to the glory of His great name, and for the salvation of His dear Church.
This will keep us that we do not rage against second causes, that we do not mutter and murmur against God, that we seek not revenge against our enemies. This must not make us do evil that good may come of it, which we are forbidden Romans 3: In vain, therefore, is it for us to assay any such thing. Their heads and hands work not so fast but God works as fast.
When they go and strive one way He sets them a work another way; as the sun going in his own proper motion one way is every day, by the violent circumvolution of the heavens, turned another way: As in a boat, when the rowers go with their faces striving towards the east, they set the boat going apace towards the west. This is the work of the Lord, who knoweth how to catch the wise in their own wiles, and it must be marvellous in our eyes.
Let not, then, the power and policy of all the Achitophels and Machiavels in the world, combining themselves against the gospel, dismay us; for God hath His oar in their boat, He hath a special stroke in all actions whatsoever, and can easily overreach and make stark fools of the wisest by making their own counsels and endeavours like Chushais, to overthrow those intentions which they seem to support.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport. Bibliography Exell, Joseph S. For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him for ever;. By this Paul affirms that perhaps the whole unfortunate event of the flight of the slave was providential, after all. Did not Joseph say to his brothers in Egypt, "God did send me before you to preserve life" Genesis That thou shouldest have him forever In the case at hand, both meanings are appropriate.
Barry believed that "It is better to take it in the absolute sense of fellowship in the life eternal. All other rights reserved. Bibliography Coffman, James Burton. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season , The apostle in this clause seems to soften this business of Onesimus in running away from his master; he calls it not a running away, but a departure, an absence from him, and that but for a little while; and suggests that the hand of God might be in it; that there was an overruling providence that attended it, such as was in Joseph's going down into Egypt; and that this separation of Onesimus from his master, for a short time, was in order that they should come together again, and never part more, as follows:.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: So Joseph in Genesis The same Greek as in Matthew 6: Copyright Statement These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship. This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed. Bibliography Jamieson, Robert, D.
Old adverb, in N. For perhaps I sent him back, for , if I had kept him, I might have defeated the purpose for which he was allowed to be separated from you for a time. A humble 'perhaps' often grows into a 'verily, verily' - and a hasty, over-confident 'verily, verily' often dwindles to a hesitating 'perhaps. Not only does he avoid the word ran away , which might have irritated Philemon, but he also uses the passive voice, not the middle, separated himself , as an intimation that Onesimus' flight was divinely ordered for good.
See 2 Corinthians 7: The former is suggested by was parted , and would fain have kept: The latter is preferable. Copyright Statement The text of this work is public domain. His plans from Rome included pressing on towards Spain — not in the direction of Colossae. Despite its brevity, the letter raises some profound questions about the relationship between slave and master when both of them had converted to Christianity. Paul had previously stated in Gal 3: But the issues were complex. Nowhere does Paul ever call for the abolishment of slavery.
Though this offends modern sensibilities, it is a true reflection of life in the first century. Slavery was an integral part of the Roman Empire; Christianity was a young, untested new religion. Had Christians advocated slavery's demise, they would have been summarily snuffed out. Yet Paul was not oblivious to the problems associated with slavery. He does preach about Christian love. He mentioned in a number of letters that Christians must love and care for each other apart from any societal distinctions.
This activity was always to be rooted in the example of Christ's love and was to be motivated by the Holy Spirit. In like manner, he also addressed the slaves, entreating them to obey their masters and to serve them with a loving attitude. Slaves were still slaves and did not have the freedom to do whatever they wished. Yet, it is also true that not all masters were kind to their slaves.
It has been said that no slaves were ever "happy" and that they all prayed to be set free. It's a generalization that can be neither affirmed nor denied. But in this case, we know that Onesimus ran away. Because the laws were so onerous against runaways, we have to assume that he had a good reason for doing so. The risks were great in that runaway slaves typically had nowhere to go. Harboring them was prohibited by law. Law-abiding people would avoid helping them out of fear of the consequences if they were found out.
There could be huge penalties in the form of fines for anyone assisting runaway slaves. Since all the laws were meant to protect the investment of the slave owner, the runaway was essentially outside the law. Frequently their only recourse was to try to become invisible in a large city, oftentimes joining gangs in order to survive. As an outlaw, they could be beaten, robbed, raped, starved, or killed by any one at any time. And yet, slaves did have two options for a better life. One was to go to the home of a free and possibly high status person; the other was to go to the temple where refuge was permitted.
Scholars think Onesimus might have attempted the first alternative. It is possible that he sought out Paul in order to claim asylum. If Paul was in prison, this would again stretch the laws of the land because Paul was severely limited in his ability to help. Paul was under an obligation to report to Philemon and to intervene on behalf of his slaves. The "patron" was also required to pay all of the slave's debts and to reimburse the master for any financial losses incurred since the slave ran away.
If someone had higher social standing than the master, it was likely this intervention would succeed. If slaves happened upon someone who was not a "patron" in relation to their master, they took a great risk. They might be turned in to the law by the individual or sold to a new master.
This was usually done in an expedient manner so the individual would not be accused of aiding and abetting the slaves. It appears that Paul might have been acting along these lines; however, he also had a secret weapon at his disposal. It is likely that Onesimus showed up at his doorstep pleading for asylum. During his time with Paul, he learned about Christianity and was baptized and converted.
Along with this conversion came a transformation of character. Out of gratitude, Onesimus became very useful to Paul, though there are no specific details on what he actually did for him. Nonetheless, Paul became very fond of him, calling him "son" and "fellow worker. Since Paul converted both Philemon and Onesimus, it means that in this case both master and slave would have been transformed. Paul then advocated reconciliation between them, a reconciliation that had its roots in Christian love.
He pleaded the case of Onesimus to Philemon, tactfully praising Philemon's great love and faith for the Lord as well as all the saints. Paul is essentially inviting Philemon to practice the Christianity he professed to all. Yet, he refrains from giving a direct order. He understands full well that he could order obedience on the part of Philemon, but not effect a change in attitude. Philemon could comply with the letter, but not the spirit of the law — in this case, the law of Christian brotherliness.