Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
ex-cathedra, so as to have dominion over men's faith. He was a brother amongst brethren; he ruled by force of character and by depth of love; he addresses them in words which had not then degenerated into a formula: "Dearly beloved."
I. COMMON WORK. "Fellow-laborer." For Paul believed in work - in hard work. He had "journeys oft;" he returned to confirm the faith of the disciples. He worked in sorrow of brain and sweat of heart, and sometimes in sweat of brow.
II. COMMON CONFLICT. "Fellow-soldier." For all through the ages the Christian has a battle to fight - within himself, and with the world and the flesh and the devil. Men are sustained by the sight of men nobler than themselves risking life and health. In the Crimean War, when a young officer headed his troops, running by their side in the heat of the conflict, a private remarked, "There runs ten thousand a year!" Paul did not direct a campaign from afar; he did not do the dainty work, and leave others to hard fare and dungeons. He "fought a good fight," and in that fight he fell, to be crowned with honor hereafter. How inspiring, therefore, would such a man be to other apostles - "a fellow-soldier!" - W.M.S.
I. THE WRITER OF THE EPISTLE. "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ." He does not describe himself as an apostle, for there was no need here to assert his authority, but as a prisoner, to bespeak the sympathy of Philemon. He was not a prisoner for crime, but for the cause of Christ, and therefore "not ashamed of his chain." Several of his weightiest Epistles were written in prison, as if to show that "the Word of God was not bound." He associates with himself in the address, but with a separate title, the name of "Timothy our brother," who was known to the Colossians (Colossians 1:1), and now in sympathy with himself respecting the object of this Epistle.
II. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THE EPISTLE WAS ADDRESSED.
1. "Unto Philemon our beloved, and fellow-worker."
(1) He was probably a native of Colossae, for his slave Onesimus belonged to it (Colossians 4:9).
(2) He was a convert of the apostle (Ver. 19).
(3) He was an evangelist.
(4) He was a person of mark at Colossae; for the Church gathers in his house; he is able to "refresh the hearts of the saints" both with temporal and spiritual mercies.
(5) It is a sign of the apostle's humility that he places Philemon on an equality with himself as "a fellow-worker." Love bound the two servants of Christ closely together.
2. "Apphia our sister." This name occurs in many Phrygian inscriptions.
(1) She was probably the wife of Philemon. The apostle addresses her because, as the mistress of the household, her consent would be necessary to the reception of Onesimus on a new footing.
(2) She was a true child of God; for she is addressed as "a sister" of the apostle. Therefore Philemon and Apphia were not unequally yoked together.
(3) Mark how ready the apostle is to recognize the graces of the saints, and especially to acknowledge the true place of woman in her household.
3. "Archippus our fellow-soldier."
(1) He was probably the son of this worthy pair.
(2) He was a minister of the gospel either at Colossae or Laodicea (Colossians 4:7); for he is called "our fellow-soldier," as Epaphroditus is called "a soldier of Jesus Christ." The title suggests the idea of conflict and hard service for the truth, with a view to final victory.
4. "The Church in thy house." This does not mean merely the private family of Philemon, though the object of the Epistle has the look of being a matter of strictly private concernment; but the assembly of Christians who met for worship under Philemon's roof. The restoration of Onesimus to his home under new relations would be a matter of profound interest and significance to the whole Church at Colossae.
III. THE SALUTATION. "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (see homiletical hints on Ephesians 1:2). - T.C.
presence of its object. With the Christian thought turns to prayer. There on the throne of the universe is One who can best befriend our dearest friends.
I. THERE WAS BLESSEDNESS IN THE EXPERIENCE. "I thank my God making mention," etc. It was not a prayer touched with sorrow for Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus, or with anxiety about their faith and character. It was the prayer of one who rejoiced that the Christ above could keep them from falling.
II. THERE WAS PURPOSE IN THE PRAYER. Paul remembers its subject-matter. When he heard of their love and faith towards the Lord Jesus, he prayed that their faith might not be merely personal or selfish, but that their religion might be, in the modern speech, "altruistic," which is "otherism" as opposed to "selfism." Paul prayed that the communication of their faith might be effectual, that the light might shine on others so as to guide them, that the fountain might flow into other hearts so as to refresh them. - W.M.S.
I. THE THANKSGIVING. "I thank my God always, making mention of thee in my prayers."
1. Though it is not unlawful to praise men for their graces or virtues, God is first to be thanked as the Author of these dispositions. "We rejoice [or, 'boast'] in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:11). It is the privilege of the believer to speak of God as "my God," according to the tenure of the covenant: "I will be thy God." Therefore the apostle says, "Whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23).
2. The occasion of his thanksgiving. "Making mention of thee in my prayers." It mingled with his daily prayers.
(1) Though a prisoner, the apostle had constant opportunities for secret devotion.
(2) He was always mindful of others in his supplications. Many have no secret prayer; others pray only for themselves; the apostle prays for others. The saints had an individual place in the apostle's heart.
(3) It is right to pray even for those who are the subjects of thanksgiving. The saints are not perfect, and therefore need to be prayed for, that they may enjoy a more abundant life in Christ Jesus (John 10:10).
II. THE CAUSE OR REASON OF THE THANKSGIVING. "Hearing of thy love and of the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints."
1. A good report extols God's Name and recommends religion. "By it the ancients obtained a good report" (Hebrews 11:3).
2. Good men love to hear, as well as report, the praises of good men.
3. We ought to pray fervently for those who enjoy the greatest graces.
4. The graces of Philemon were faith in Christ and love to the saints.
(1) These graces, though distinguished from one another, never exist separately. "Faith worketh by love," and never without it. Love proceeds from faith, even love to the saints (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
(2) The Object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore it is called the faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:26). Faith, as an act of the understanding, sees Christ, and, as an act of will, trusts in him for eternal life.
(3) The objects of love are the saints. Christ is to be loved in the saints, who are to be loved next to Christ. All the saints are to be loved, no matter what their character, disposition, or talents.
III. THE OBJECT OR PURPORT OF THE APOSTLE'S PRAYER. "That the fellowship of thy faith may become effectual in the knowledge of every good thing which is in you unto Christ."
1. The fellowship referred to the kindly offices of sympathy and charity which were the offspring of Philemon's faith. The apostle's prayers had in view the furtherance of Philemon's faith on its practical side. Faith is a bountiful grace, and is communicative in its very nature.
2. The energetic operation of faith
(1) glorifies God;
(2) refreshes the saints;
(3) stops the mouths of malicious men;
(4) and attests the true character of the saints even in the society of hypocrites.
3. The drift of a practical faith is towards a fuller knowledge and appreciation of good in Christian men. "The knowledge of the result and the reward of faith manifesting itself in deeds of love." Insight springs from obedience.
4. The growth of faith in its upward tendency is "unto Christ," as its Goal and final Resting-place, depending as it does upon union with him, and tending to intensify the experience of that union.
IV. THE MOTIVE FOR THE APOSTLE'S THANKSGIVING. "For I had great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints have been refreshed by thee, brother."
1. Whatever causes joy and consolation is just ground for thanksgiving. "For what thanksgiving can we render again unto God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?" (1 Thessalonians 3:9). Thanks ever be to that God who fills our hearts "with food and gladness." The Apostle John found his joy in learning that his children walked in truth (2 John 1:4).
2. The proofs of Philemon's love to the saints.
(1) The apostle rejoices in a love which carries blessings to others rather than himself.
(2) The saints ought to be refreshed in several ways.
(a) By words of consolation, which we can easily extract from the promises of our Lord in the Word.
(b) By our deeds of charity. So the apostle himself was "oft refreshed" by Onesiphorus during his long imprisonment.
(c) By our prayers for the afflicted saints.
(3) The motives that prompt to this compassionate dealing with the saints are
(a) that we herein imitate God, "who comforteth those who are cast down" (2 Corinthians 1:4);
(b) we refresh the bowels of Christ himself;
(c) God will not forget our labor of love (1 Thessalonians 1:3). - T.C.
I. IT IS SOMETIMES WISE TO FOREGO THE EXERCISE OF AUTHORITY. "Wherefore, though I have all boldness in Christ to enjoin thee that which is befitting, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee."
1. Ministers possess authority. They are required to speak with authority. "Charge them that are rich that they be not high-minded."
2. Their authority is not in their own name, but in that of Christ. "I have all boldness in Christ." They are but servants in the Church, as Moses was (Hebrews 3:5); "not Laving dominion over our faith, but helpers of our joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24); for it is the authority of ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).
3. There are limits to this authority. "To enjoin thee that which is befitting." This follows from the fact that Christ gives the command. He can only command that which is befitting. Thus it is right for a believer to do even more than strict law would demand, for he must do what reason and propriety dictate.
II. IT IS THE DELIGHT AS WELL AS THE WISDOM OF MINISTERS TO USE ENTREATY BATHER THAN COMMAND.
1. Ministers often wisely forego their right in prosecuting their Master's work. Christians likewise find it needful to forego the use of things lawful, because their use would be inexpedient. They must not "abuse their liberty" or "hinder the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:12, 18).
2. Love is the principal motive to prompt to this action. "Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee." Not the love of the apostle to Philemon, nor the love of Philemon to him, but love absolutely as a principle held in highest regard by all Christians. It is love that "seeketh not her own."
3. An entreaty derives added weight from the age and sufferings of him who offers it. "Being such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Jesus Christ."
(1) Reverence is due to age. It is "a crown of glory when it is found in the way of righteousness." The apostle was not now old, as the years of a life are reckoned, but he bore the signs of age in exhaustion and weariness and cares.
(2) Ministers are to be regarded with peculiar respect and sympathy on account of their afflictions. The apostle was now a prisoner at Rome for the sake of Christ - "an ambassador in bonds."
III. THE OBJECT OF THE APOSTLE'S ENTREATY. "I beseech thee for my child whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus."
1. Onesimus was the runaway slave of Philemon of Colossae, who had made his way to Rome, and come into contact with the apostle during his imprisonment.
2. He was a convert of the apostle.
(1) The apostle was the instrument of his conversion at Rome.
(2) Ministers ought to use private and casual opportunities of doing good to others.
(3) Though the apostle was a prisoner, the Word of God was not bound.
(4) God often sweetens the afflictions of his ministers by special favors.
3. His conversion became manifest by his better life. "Who was aforetime unprofitable to thee, but now is profitable to thee and to me."
(1) Good men may have bad servants. This Onesimus had been unprofitable, not only as a pilferer, but as an idler. The example of his godly master and mistress had no influence upon his conduct.
(2) Conversion always results in a change of social character. It makes people conscientious in the discharge of all duties incident to their calling. Onesimus was henceforth "profitable" both to Philemon and the apostle.
(a) He was profitable to the apostle. Religious servants are the most profitable. Onesimus gave new joy to the apostle by his conversion, while he waited on him, no doubt, in the ministry of private service and kindness. It is not enough that a sinner cease to do evil; he must learn to do well. We see in Onesimus the practical side of the apostle's counsel, "Let him that stole steal no more, but let him rather work with his hands that which is good" (Ephesians 4:28).
(b) He was profitable to Philemon, in so far as he, in Philemon's stead, did that service to the apostle which his master would have readily done if it had been in his power. He would be yet more profitable to his master in the spirit and conditions of his new service, on his return back to Colossae. - T.C.
I. TRUTH TRIUMPHS IN TIME. Slavery did not fall at once, nor was polygamy destroyed at once. Revolution would have been the cost of any such attempt. Paul left the cross to do its mighty work. The spirit of the gospel made slavery and polygamy alike impossible, because the cross destroys self, teaches us that we are not our own, and emancipates all who are oppressed through a love which gives itself for others instead of holding them in bondage.
II. LOVE IS THE SUPREME COMMAND. He will not enjoin. Men resist orders and commands. They find excuses for inaction, and their pride is hurt. But when love entreats, and when that love is like that of Paul the aged, and Paul a prisoner, and Paul to whom Philemon owed his own self (Ver. 19), we need not wonder that love won the day; so Onesimus would be received back as a servant (a bond-servant), "but above a servant, a brother beloved." - W.M.S.
I. HE DID SEND HIM BACK. "Whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart."
1. Onesimus did not return of his own accord. He might, perhaps, have had some not unnatural misgivings as to the character of the reception he would meet with as a returned slave who had acted a dishonest part, and might have been ashamed besides to appear again in a community where his misdeeds had been made known.
2. The apostle recognized Philemon's right to the restored services of his fugitive slave. The gospel does not abolish civil rights. The conversion of Onesimus did not secure his manumission. Yet the gospel planted principles in society which in due time abolished slavery everywhere. "Wast thou called being bond-servant? Care not for it: but if thou canst become free, use it rather" (1 Corinthians 7:21).
3. He did not even wait till he had received an answer from Philemon as to the terms in which Onesimus would be received back into the Colossian household. He sent Onesimus at once in charge of his two letters, namely, that to the Colossian saints and that to Philemon himself.
4. Yet the apostle acted in the whole matter with the deepest affection for the poor bond-servant. He speaks of him as "his own heart." What account Christianity makes of the meanest classes of society!
II. THE APOSTLE'S EXPLANATION OF HIS CONDUCT AND MOTIVES IN THE WHOLE TRANSACTION.
1. His first feeling was to retain Onesimus about his person to do him the service that Philemon himself would have gladly done. He had now. become profitable, according to the happy significance of his name. But it was not for the apostle to interfere with another man's servant.
2. The true cause of his sending Onesimus was that he would do nothing without the consent of his master. "But without thy mind would I do nothing." But the motive that prompted this determination was that "thy goodness should not be as of necessity, but of free will." If the apostle had kept Onesimus for the sake of the benefit to be derived, from his personal ministration, the whole transaction would have worn a semblance of constraint. We have no right to extort benefits from our friends against their will.
3. The providential aspect of the matter. "For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him forever."
(1) Nothing in this statement extenuates the misdeeds of Onesimus, which God overruled for good.
(2) The acts of the meanest individual in society are included in the sphere of Divine providence.
(3) God makes up for the losses of his saints in his own time and way. Philemon has his once unfaithful servant restored to him on an entirely new footing of advantage.
(4) The restoration of the fugitive slave is to an eternal relationship. The earthly tie is sundered by death, but grace gives an eternity to the holy relationships of earth.
4. The new relation established between master and servant. "Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, most of all by me, but more than most of all by thee, in the flesh and in the Lord." The apostle does not say, "not a servant," but "not as a servant;" for grace did not abrogate the old tie of master and servant.
(1) The brotherhood of saints is common to all the relationships of life. Philemon and Onesimus are now brethren beloved.
(2) Pious servants are to be more regarded, as they are more faithful, than servants without religion.
(3) There are none dearer to ministers than their converts.
(4) There was a double obligation to duty on Philemon's part corresponding to the double tie - that of the flesh and that of the Spirit - by which he was now connected with Onesimus. - T.C.
I. THE FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS. It subsists in the fellowship with the Father and the Son, and derives all its force therefrom. (1 John 1:3.) That fellowship implies that all saints have a common Father (Ephesians 4:6), a common elder Brother (Hebrews 2:11), a common inheritance (Ephesians 2:19; Revelation 1:9), a common grace (Philippians 1:7), a common suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26; Hebrews 10:33, 34). The Holy Spirit is the Author and the Power of this fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:13), as love is the "bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:14). Thus believers become of "one heart and one soul."
II. THE PLEA FOUNDED UPON THIS FELLOWSHIP. "Receive him as myself."
1. It is a genuine plea; for the apostle elsewhere says, "If there be any fellowship of the Spirit ... look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Philippians 2:4). "Love seeketh not her own."
2. Onesimus was now a partner as well as the apostle. Therefore, as the old Puritan says, "Love me, love my partner: one partner receives another, even for a partner's sake." If Philemon loves Christ in the apostle, why not in Onesimus? "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of these little ones, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40). We are to love Christ in the meanest of his servants. - T.C.
I. THERE IS HERE AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE WRONG DONE BY THE NOW PENITENT SLAVE. "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that to mine account." It is evident that Onesimus had frankly confessed his misdeeds to the apostle.
1. Mark the mild language in which the apostle describes them. He does not say that Onesimus robbed his master, as he did not wish either to hurt the feelings of the slave or to irritate the feelings of the master; but simply speaks of a wrong done, of a possible debt incurred. If a sinner is penitent, why should his old sins or follies be thrown in his teeth?
2. Restitution in case of civil injury is a first flying. It is one of the most practical proofs of repentance.
II. THERE IS A RESPONSIBILITY ASSUMED FOR THE DEBT OF ONESIMUS. "Put that to mine account: I Paul write it with mine own hand, I will repay it." The apostle here puts his name, as it were, at the foot of the bond.
1. It was an act of self-sacrificing consideration for Onesimus, as if the apostle would remove every possible obstacle to the restoration of the penitent slave to his Colossian home.
2. Yet it is so put as to imply that Philemon would hardly exact the debt.
III. THERE IS THE STATEMENT OF A MUCH LARGER COUNTER-CLAIM. "Not to say to thee that thou owest to me even thine own self besides."
1. It was a true claim. The apostle had been the instrument of Philemon's conversion.
2. It was an overpowering claim. The blessing that accrues to a man from his conversion cannot be weighed in the balance against all a man's property.
3. There ought to be mercy in the exaction of debts. This is implied in the nature of the apostle's appeal. Onesimus was utterly unable to make restitution, and, if the apostle became his surety, it was with an implied wish that Philemon would take a liberal view of his duty in the matter. - T.C.
have, but in what we are. All things, houses, estates, lands, are outside us. The self is all.
I. INDEBTEDNESS OF PHILEMON. Philemon owed his spiritual conversion, all the rich inheritance in the soul, to the ministry of Paul; and he delicately enough reminds him of this in an indirect form of speech, "Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self." It is one of those touches which show what a true gentleman St. Paul was. There is more than claim of right to counsel him, viz. the modest reminder that, if need be, he would repay any loss that Philemon might have sustained through the detention by Paul of Onesimus.
II. EXPECTATION CONCERNING HIM. "Let me have joy of thee in the Lord." "Refresh me." What by? That which alone can rejoice the heart of a true father in the gospel, viz. Christ's own Spirit in Christ's disciples. The gospel was to be spread, not alone by eloquence or erudition, but by Christ's own religion alive and in action in all who confessed his Name. - W.M.S.
I. CHRISTIANS OUGHT TO AIM AT THE SPIRITUAL GRATIFICATION OF EACH OTHER. It is not well to make the hearts of the righteous sad (Ezekiel 13:22). The apostle had care and anxiety and sadness enough to depress him, and it was natural he should seek some fresh joy from the obedience of his disciples.
II. THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRISTIANS IS A GREAT SOURCE OF REFRESHING TO MINISTERS. The ready obedience of Philemon would revive the drooping spirit of the apostle, and inspire him with fresh vigor. As the refreshing was to be "in the Lord" as the aim of all a Christian's actions, so we see how constantly the apostle rejoiced and gloried in the Lord, and commended his example to his converts and to Christians generally. - T.C.
I. THE MOST WILLING MAY BE FAIRLY URGED TO THE COURSE OF DUTY. The apostle assures Philemon that he does not doubt his obedience, yet he thinks it necessary to stir up his pure mind to a remembrance of his obligations.
1. An obedient people make zealous ministers.
2. A good conscience ensures confidence in the wise and zealous conduct of life. "Credit and a good conscience are shipped both in one bottom."
3. A good heart entitles us to expect a liberal construction of the extent of our duty. The apostle seems here to hint that Philemon might possibly manumit his slave. That the apostle had not demanded; yet it was within the possible scope of Philemon's liberal understanding of his duty to Onesimus.
II. THE APOSTLE BESPEAKS, ON HIS APPROACHING VISIT TO COLOSSAE, A FAVORABLE RECEPTION TO ONESMIUS. "But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I hope that through your prayers I shall be granted to you."
1. The presence of the apostle at Colossae would enable him to see that his expectations had not been disappointed. A Puritan writer says, "Who would not willingly receive Onesimus, coming as Paul's harbinger, to provide him lodging?"
2. The most eminent servants of God need the forayers of the humblest in his Church.
(1) Because they are exposed to many dangers and temptations.
(2) Because they have a responsible charge in God's kingdom.
(3) Because their liberty to preach the gospel is often threatened, if not temporarily destroyed, by wicked men.
(4) The apostle believed in the efficacy of prayer. The prayers of the Colossian household would or might unlock his prison-doors. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). - T.C.
I. A LODGING SEEMS ALL HE EVER HAD. And not always had he that. A prison can scarcely be called a lodging - for, in one sense, when we lodge we have protection and rest, and are at liberty in our onward journey in life. This man gave up friends, country, home, for Christ's sake, and now he is completing his course and gives up dear life itself. Will he ever have this lodging? No; it is the time of his first imprisonment; he is treated as a malefactor, and we know what his end will be.
II. HIS NEXT LODGING-PLACE WILL BE THE GRAVE. But, in one sense, the idea that we associate with this resting-place was not fulfilled in his life. His death was probably one by the lions, or the executioner's axe, or the cross, which would leave even his poor body a prey to cruel bands.
III. HIS LODGING WAS TO GIVE PLACE TO HOME. Soon now, very soon, his words were fulfilled, "I have finished my course... henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." Here the volume of his life, illustrated with so many etchings from his own hands of his pains, forsakements, temptations, and tribulations, now comes to a close. "Finis" is written upon all. Yet it is not Vale, vale, in aeternum vale! that we inscribe upon his aims and hopes. No; it is the catacomb motto, In peace; for henceforth he enjoys the immortal reward, the great peace; he is at rest in God. - W.M.S.
I. SALUTATIONS. These are the expressions of Christian sympathy and kindness.
1. They are the salutations of the apostle's fellow-prisoner. "There salute thee Epaphras my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus."
(2) He was imprisoned at Rome in the immediate society of the apostle.
(a) This was an alleviation to both prisoners, on account of their common faith, their common hopes, and their common interests. Epaphras, as probably the younger man, would be very helpful to the apostle.
(b) The cause of the imprisonment in both cases was "in Christ Jesus." They suffered for the preaching of his gospel.
2. They are the salutations of the apostle's fellow-laborers. "Marcus" (Acts 12:12), once temporarily estranged from the apostle, but now at his side; "Aristarchus" (Acts 19:29, 30; Colossians 4:10); "Demas," whose apostasy was yet future (2 Timothy 4:10); "Luke," the beloved physician and evangelist (Colossians 4:14). The apostle was happily circumstanced, even as a prisoner, through the constant or occasional society of these men.
II. PRAYER. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." It is curious to find no allusion to God the Father in this prayer. If Christ is not God, how can we account for such a prayer? It is a simple but beautiful prayer addressed to the whole Philemon household. - T.C.