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 (Manna 20)
Bible Study on Philemon
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1.      AUTHOR

Paul (1, 19).


Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the church in Philernon’s house (1-2).

3.      PURPOSE

Philemon was a wealthy man brought by Paul to believe in the Lord. Philemon had a servant named Onesimus. Onesimus absconded to Rome where he met Paul, repented and believed in the Lord. Later, Paul sent him back to Philemon. Fearing that Philemon might misunderstand the true intention of Onesimus’ conversion, Paul wrote this epistle to Philemon appealing him to forgive and once again receive Onesimus.

4.      PLACE

A prison in Rome (1, 23; cf Col 4:10). Together with the epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, those epistles are called collectively “The Prison Epistles”.

5.      DATE

Circa 63 AD.

6.      CONTENTS

This is a personal epistle. Nonetheless the message is good for the church as a whole. It shows the love in the early church. Paul addressed his fellow Christians as beloved brothers, fellow workers, fellow soldiers, partners and fellow prisoners (1,2, 17,23). Paul called a runaway slave a beloved brother of his very heart (16, 12). Paul also wanted Philemon to treat Onesimus the same way as he had treated him. Paul wanted Philemon to forgive the debts owed by his slave as he would forgive the debts owed by Philemon to him. This epistle also discusses the master-slave relationship. Slavery was an institution in both oriental and occidental societies. The mission of the apostles was to preach the gospel and witness for Christ. They would not interfere with political matters. Although Paul did not condemn slavery in this epistle, by sending him back to Philemon and requesting Philemon to treat Onesimus well was an indication that to Paul there was no class distinction. In Galatians 3:28 he wrote: “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It was reported that President Lincoln of the United States of America set free some five million black slaves after reading this epistle.

7.      OUTLINE

Part One - Introduction (1-3)

1.      Author (1)

2.      Addressees (1-2)

3.      Salutation (3)

Part Two - Paul’s Thanksgiving Prayer For Philemon (4-7)

1.      He thanked God for his love and faith (5)

2.      He thanked God for his good deeds (6)

3.      His joy (7)

Part Three  - Paul Pleaded For Onesimus (8-19)

1.      Paul need not use authority (8-9)

2.      Onesimus was a child of Paul during his ministry in prison (10)

3.      The change in Onesimus (11)

4.      Onesimus was the very heart of Paul (12)

5.      The respect of Paul for Philemon (13-14)

6.      The wonderful arrangement of God (15-16)

7.      The friendship of Paul and Philemon (17)

8.      Paul was willing to repay Philemon on behalf of Onesimus (18-19)

Part Four - Paul’s expectation of Philemon (20-22)

1.      His confidence in Philemon (21)

2.      His request to Philemon (22)

Part Five - Conclusion (23-25)

1.      Greetings (23-24)

2.      Benediction (25)


1.      “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer.” (1)

Paul felt that being a prisoner of Jesus Christ was his greatest honour. He did not regard his imprisonment for the sake of Christ as something shameful. He even exhorted Timothy saying, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the affliction of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim 1:8). And he boasted about it (cf 2 Tim 2:9; Eph 3:1, 4:1). To be sent to prison for the sake of Christ is a blessing: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad : for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12). It will be shameful for one to be sentenced to imprisonment on account of murder, stealing and other acts of wickedness. If we suffer because we are Christians we bring glory to the name of God (1 Pet 4:14-16).

Philemon was a zealous believer who loved the Lord very much (5-7). Paul referred to himself as a prisoner of Christ in this epistle to evoke the compassion of Philemon towards Onesimus for whom Paul was appealing on behalf. Timothy was his fellow worker (2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1).

2.      “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer. And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house.” (1-2)

This epistle was addressed to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the church in Philemon’s house.

3.      “Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (3)

This is the form of salutation Paul often used in his epistles (cf Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:2).


Paul in his prayers gave thanks to God on account of Philemon’s faith and love. “I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers.” Paul often prayed for the believers (Rom 1:9-10; 1 Cor 1:4; Eph 1:16,3:1; Phil 1:3-4; Col 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Thess 1:3). He also requested the believers to pray for him (Eph 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 3:1). In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “1 exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, inter cessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1). Here, Paul emphasizes the importance of intercessary prayers. In our prayers we should remember others or to pray for one another (Jas 5:16). Praying for others is an indication of concern on our part and God will be pleased to grant our requests.

1.      “Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints” (5)

Paul thank God for I us love and faith. The one who informed Paul accordingly could be Epaphras (cf Col 4:12) or Onesimus himself.

2.      “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” (6)

Paul thanked God for His good deeds. Paul wished that Philemon would he effective in communicating his faith.

Some do works of charity to gain fame and some to win praises of others like the Pharisees in those days. The heavenly Father will not reward those who do charity with such motives. The Lord Jesus told us: “Take heed that ye do your alms before men, to be seen of them : otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven ... lint when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth : That thy alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Mt 6:1-4)

3.      “For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” (7)

Paul was overjoyed on hearing the good deeds done by Philemon. lie also felt greatly comforted on learning the faith and love of Philemon. Paul had great concern for the believers’ faith, love and conduct (cf 1 Thess 3:6-10; Phil 1:25-26; 2 Tim 1:3-4). The greatest joy and comfort of a minister comes from knowing that the believers have strong faith, great love and good conduct. Paul wrote in 2 Thess 2:20, “Because the bowels of the Saints are refreshed by thee, brother” Philemon’s love not only made Paul joyful and comforted, all the saints were refreshed as well.


Here Paul pleaded with Philemon to once again receive Onesimus. Paul gave an account of the change in Onesimus from being “unprofitable” to “profitable”. Paul also assured Philemon that he would repay any debt owed by Onesimus.

1.      “Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (8-9)

Paul, as the apostle of Christ, could actually use his authority to command Philemon to receive Onesimus but because Philemon was such a kind person who loved the Lord so much, Paul need not exercise his apostolic authority to bring Philemon under submission. He rather urged him to accept Onesimus. Paul pleaded with Philemon saying, “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were necessity, but willingly” (14). If we could learn to make requests rather than to give order in our daily lives, we will find greater satisfaction in the result.

2.      “1 beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” (10)

Paul has used the expression “my son” four other times in the gospel (1 Cor 4:17; Phil 2:22; 1 Tim 1:2; lit 1:4). Since Onesimus was a child of Paul begotten in prison, their relationship must have been intimate. Could Philemon have remained indifferent now that Paul had personally appealed to him.

3.      Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me.” (11)

Onesimus” means “profitable”. His name at first seemed inappropri­ate. lie absconded from his master and probably took some money with him. That was why Paul said that in the past he was useless to Philemon but now that he was converted he would he useful to both Paul and Philemon. Whatever we may be in the past (Rom 6:17; Eph 2:1-3,4:17-19), now that we are blessed by the Lord we must walk in the Spirit and bear the fruit of light.

We were once servants of sin; now we are servants of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). We did not believe God, yet we have now obtained mercy from Him (Rom 11:30). We indulged in the lust of the flesh and were by nature the children of wrath but now we have obtained mercy to become children of God (Eph 2:3-6). We were without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of God but we are now reconciled with Him and are able to come before Him (Eph 2:12-18). We were our old self but now we put on the new man (Eph 4:22-24). We were in darkness but now we walk in the light of the Lord (Eph 5:8). We were defiled, unrighteous but now through the Spirit of God we are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 6:9-11). We were enemies of God but now we are reconciled with I—Tim (Col 1:21-22).

4.      “Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels” (12)

Such a term was never used by Paul to describe other fellow workers. After believing in the Lord there must have been a great change in Onesimus and Paul had a high regard for him.

5.      “Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.” (13-14)

Philemon obtained much spiritual edification from Paul. Paul could very well have decided to keep Onesimus to serve him but he did not wish to do it without Philemon ‘ s consent. Whatever we do we should seek the opinion of others. We should not take it for granted that as ministers in the church we have all the authority to do things according to our wish. We must consult lest we be misunderstood.

6.      “For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 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?” (15-16)

7.      It may seem a bad thing for Onesimus to have absconded from Philemon, but to Paul he reckoned it as a wonderful arrangement of God. For it was through his escape that he had a chance to be converted. Therefore, Philemon only suffered a small loss now that Onesimus had gone back to him a totally changed person.

Paul wrote that Onesimus was no longer a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother. He became a member of Christ’s body, a spiritual brother. For, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

8.      “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (17) It is evident that Paul and Philemon were very good friends.

9.      “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 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.” (18-19).

Onesimus probably stole his master’s money. Paul was willing to repay Philemon whatever Onesimus had taken from him. Paul was a man of love. In his heart he was filled with the love of Christ. Let us imitate Paul as Paul imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1).

Paul had assured Philemon of Onesimus’ worthiness.

Even though Philemon helped Paul physically (5-7, 22) the spiritual instructions Paul had given to Philemon were worth much more. Philemon was still indebted to Paul a great deal. Philemon was fully aware of this. Therefore, Paul said, “Albeit I do not say to thee, how thou owest unto me.”


“Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord; refresh my bowels in the Lord.” Philemon could not reject Paul’s request. Paul’s request was not for his own gain but for the new believer Onesimus. Surely t3hilemon would accept Paul’s request.

1.       “Having confidence in thy obedience! wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” (21)

Paul convinced that Philemon would accede to his request and so he wrote this letter. Paul also believed that Philemon would do more than he had requested him. In Paul’s other epistles, he has also written:

 a.      To the church in Rome, he said, “1 also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able to also admonished one another” (Rom 15:14-15).

 b.      To the church in Corinth, he said, “I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all” and “I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things” (2 Cor 2:3, 7:16).

 c.      To the church in Galatia, he said, “I have confidence in YOU through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded; but he that troubleth you shall hear his judgment, whosoever he be” (Gal 5:10).

 d.      To the church in Philippi, he said, “Being confidence of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

 e.      To the church in Thessalonica, he said, “And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you” (2 Thess 3:4).

2.      “But withal prepare me also a lodging : for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.” (22)

The friendship between Paul and Philemon was very intimate indeed. Otherwise, Paul would not have made such a request. “For I entreat that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.” Paul was a man of faith. He was not only confident that his own prayers would be answered, he also believed that his request for others to pray for him would be effectual (cf Eph 6:19; Phil 1:19; Col 4:3-4; 2 Thess 3:1-2).


1.      “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus. Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.” (23-24)

Besides Paul there were five others who greeted Philemon namely:

 a.      Epaphras who was a member of the Colossian church, a faithful deacon, a man of prayers, fellow bond servant and prisoner of Paul in Christ Jesus (cf Col 1:7, 4:12).

 b.      Marcus alias John (Ac 12:12, 25), cousin brother of Barnabas (Col 4:10). Paul and Barnabas separated because of Marcus during one of his missionary journeys (Ac 15:36-39). Now once again, Paul found Marcus very useful (2 Tim 4:11). Mark later became a co-worker of Peter also (1 Pet 5:13).

 c.      Aristarchus who came from Thessalonica (Ac 27:2), a fellowprisoner of Paul (Col 4:10), a faithful worker who had sailed with Paul to Rome (Ac 27:2).

 d.      Demas who was originally working with Paul (Col 4:14) but later forsook Paul because he became worldly (2 Tim 4:10).

 e.      Luke, the writer of gospel and The Acts, a physician who loved the Lord very much. He was also one of Paul’s beloved co-workers (Col 4:14). When Paul was imprisoned in Rome about to be martyred only Luke remained with him (2 Tim 4:11).

2.      “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” (25)

These are words of benediction often used by Paul (cf Rom 16:20; Gal 618; Phil 4:23; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 3:18).



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