The Epistle to Philemon

John Mitchell, Cardiff

Category: Exposition

The Epistle to Philemon can be viewed analytically in the following way:

The Date

The Epistle was written at the same time as the letter to the Colossians, namely, AD 62.

The Circumstances

Onesimus, a slave of Philemon who was a prominent member of the assembly at Colossae, v. 2, had in some way, probably by robbery, v. 18, wronged his master. This runaway slave came in contact with the apostle Paul who was a prisoner in Rome and the result was that Onesimus was converted to Christ. For some short time it appears Onesimus rendered some service to Paul, vv. 11-13, but the apostle felt he should return to Philemon and hence the writing of the letter.

The Reason for Writing

Paul desires Philemon to receive and forgive Onesimus and reinstate him on an entirely new plane, v. 16. Paul bases his appeal on Philemon's grace and love, vv. 5-9, and although he hints at his right of request, vv. 19-21, Paul uses the language of one beseeching, vv. 3-10. The apostle shows careful reasoning by mentioning his own circumstances, v. 9, and the hope of visiting Philemon shortly, v. 22. The letter is, of course, a personal note and has not in mind the teaching of doctrine.

The Epistle can be viewed

Personally-showing Paul's fine character.
Providentially-God behind and over all.
Practically-high principle-the test of brotherhood and hospitality.
Evangelically-Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, 1 Tim. 1. 15.
Socially-Christianity, in the ultimate, does away with slavery.

An analysis of the letter

1) Paul's introduction, vv. 1-3

The writer and readers, vv. 1 and 2
The benediction - i) to you ii) from Father and Son, v. 3.

2) Paul's commendation, vv. 4-7

Thanksgiving for Philemon's love, w. 4-6; The fact of it, w. 4-5;
The reason for it, v. 6; The purpose of it, v. 6.
Results of Philemon's love, v. 7.
Paul's joy because saints refreshed.

3) Paul's supplication, vv. 8-9

Paul's right-boldness, v. 8.
Paul's reasoning-love, v. 9.

4) Paul's intercession, vv. 10-14

a) The entreaty, w. 10-12

i) Beseeches, because begotten, v. 10.
ii) Past (unprofitable) and present (profitable), v. 11.
iii) I sent-you receive, v. 12

Do - receive
How - as myself.

b) The exercise, vv. 13-14

i) I would have retained but, v. 13
ii) not without your permission, v. 14.

5) The situation, w. 15-17

The way of providence, v. 15.
Progression-servant, above a servant, a brother beloved, v. 16.
Partnership, v. 17.

6) The basis of reception, vv. 18-21

I owe you, v. 18.
You owe me, v. 19,
Possibility of love, v. 20.
Expression of love (more than), v. 21.

7) Paul's expectation, v. 22

The hope of liberation
The request for accommodation
Preparation-lodging
Intercession-prayer
Realization-given unto you

8) Paul's conclusion, vv. 23-25

Fellow prisoner, v. 23 hence
Fellow labourers, v. 24
The blessing-the Biesser-the blessed, v. 25.