1: Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, 2: And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: 3: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4: I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, 5: Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; 6: That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7: For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. 8: Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, 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. 10: I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: 11: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: 12: Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: 13: Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 14: But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. 15: For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 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? 17: If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. 18: If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 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. 20: Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. 21: Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. 22: But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you. 23: There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 24: Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers. 25: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
This little letter is included in the NT Canon by the Holy Spirit to show the effectiveness of the Gospel among the slaves of the empire. Paul begins by taking the lowest place calling himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ and he writes it with his co-worker Timothy. It is addressed to Philemon who is a dear brother of Paul and a partner in the work of God. He probably lived in Colossae. This man has a slave called Onesimus. This slave ran away from Philemon and came into contact with Paul who led him to Christ. And so Paul is now sending Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter. Paul begins in the usual way with greetings and with an assurance of his prayers. Eventually Paul gets around to the point of his letter. He says I am writing to you on behalf of my son in the faith Onesimus (whose name means helpful or profitable) who l have made a convert while l was a prisoner. Here Paul makes a play on words which Jews loved to do. He says he was ‘un-profitable’ Un-Onesimus to you but now he is ‘profitable’ Onesimus both to you and me. Paul says simply – l am sending him back to you – receive him as if you were receiving me. This is very interesting because Paul never undermined the practise of slavery which was very common in the Roman Empire. We do not have any opinion expressed by Paul one way or the other except that he says if a slave can be free then he should try to be free. Rome never came into conflict with Christianity over slavery. Paul says l would have kept him with me but l did not want to do anything without your permission. I want you to do what l had in mind, willingly and not grudgingly. Paul says he might have left you for a while but now he is restored to you forever but not just as a slave but as a brother, loved and especially loved by me. (In the empire slaves had no rights whatsoever they were not classed as citizens at all and could be beaten or killed by the master with impunity. But they could be also treated well and trusted a great deal and some masters married their slaves as concubines. But the children were slaves too and had no right to sonship or the inheritance. They wore no shoes – this was a sign of slaves. Slavery was permitted in Israel of Jews. If a Jew was bankrupt he could sell himself into slavery, although on the jubilee (ever 50 years) all Jewish slaves were all set free and all land leased was returned to the rightful original owner. All land in Israel was bought on lease. And every family had an inheritance of land.) Paul next comes to his appeal. He says; if you count me a partner receive him as myself. Paul never spoke against slavery but he did something wonderful, he showed that slavery was no barrier to blessing and that not only could slaves be saved but when they did they became as much a child of God as any other believer. Paul is saying to Philemon, he may still be your slave but he is now also your brother. Then Paul goes on to say, if he owes you anything – (as he did,) then put his debt on my account. (Isn’t this what the Lord Jesus did for us?) This is not just tokenism. Paul really did expect to have to pay the debt of Onesimus. Paul says, I am writing this in my own handwriting – l will repay his debt. And he says l will not remind you of the debt you owe me, because you owe me your whole life. So Paul says, Let me have joy in the Lord, in your response and may my love for you be refreshed in the Lord. I am confident in your acquiescence to what l have written, because l know that you will go beyond what l ask. Please prepare me lodgings because l trust that through your prayers l will be able to visit you. Lastly Paul ends with personal greetings and blessings.