Philemon 1:16
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?
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(16) Not now as a servant, but . . . a brother beloved . . . in the Lord.—In these words we have at last the principle which is absolutely destructive of the condition of slavery—a condition which is the exaggeration of natural inferiority to the effacement of the deeper natural equality. (1) The slave—the “living chattel” of inhuman laws and philosophies—is first “a brother,” united to his master by natural ties of ultimate equality, having, therefore, both duties and rights. (2) But he is also a “brother beloved.” These natural ties are not only strengthened by duty, but made living ties by the love which delights indeed to respect the rights of others, but is not content without willingness to sacrifice even our own rights to them. (3) Above all, this is “in the Lord.” The slave is bought by Christ’s blood, made a son of God, and therefore a brother to all who are members of the family of God. To reject and to outrage him is a rejection and outrage towards Christ. Compare St. Peter’s striking comparison of the sufferings of the slave to the passion of the Divine Sufferer (1Peter 2:18-24). They suffer with Him, and He suffers in them. It has been proved historically that only by the aid of this last and highest conception has the brotherhood of love too slowly, indeed, but yet surely—assumed reality. (See Introduction.)

Specially to me, but how much more unto thee?—St. Paul first emphasises his own love for Onesimus, which, indeed, breathes in every line of the Epistle; but then goes on to infer in Philemon a yet greater affection—a natural love towards the nursling of his house, a spiritual love towards the brother “in the Lord,” lost and found again.

1:15-22 When we speak of the nature of any sin or offence against God, the evil of it is not to be lessened; but in a penitent sinner, as God covers it, so must we. Such changed characters often become a blessing to all among whom they reside. Christianity does not do away our duties to others, but directs to the right doing of them. True penitents will be open in owning their faults, as doubtless Onesimus had been to Paul, upon his being awakened and brought to repentance; especially in cases of injury done to others. The communion of saints does not destroy distinction of property. This passage is an instance of that being imputed to one, which is contracted by another; and of one becoming answerable for another, by a voluntary engagement, that he might be freed from the punishment due to his crimes, according to the doctrine that Christ of his own will bore the punishment of our sins, that we might receive the reward of his righteousness. Philemon was Paul's son in the faith, yet he entreated him as a brother. Onesimus was a poor slave, yet Paul besought for him as if seeking some great thing for himself. Christians should do what may give joy to the hearts of one another. From the world they expect trouble; they should find comfort and joy in one another. When any of our mercies are taken away, our trust and hope must be in God. We must diligently use the means, and if no other should be at hand, abound in prayer. Yet, though prayer prevails, it does not merit the things obtained. And if Christians do not meet on earth, still the grace of the Lord Jesus will be with their spirits, and they will soon meet before the throne to join for ever in admiring the riches of redeeming love. The example of Onesimus may encourage the vilest sinners to return to God, but it is shamefully prevented, if any are made bold thereby to persist in evil courses. Are not many taken away in their sins, while others become more hardened? Resist not present convictions, lest they return no more.Not now as a servant - The adverb rendered "not now" (οὐκέτι ouketi), means "no more, no further, no longer." It implies that he had been before in this condition, but was not to be now; compare Matthew 19:6, "They are no more twain." They were once so, but they are not to be regarded as such now; Matthew 22:46, "Neither durst any man, from that day forth ask him any more questions." They once did it, but now they did not dare to do it; Luke 15:19, "And am no more worthy to be called thy son," though I once was; John 6:66, "And walked no more with him," though they once did; see also John 11:54; John 14:19; John 17:11; Acts 8:39; Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 2:19. This passage then proves that he had been before a servant - δοῦλος doulos - a slave. But still, it is not certain what kind of a servant he was. The word does not necessarily mean slave, nor can it be proved from this passage, or from any other part of the Epistle, that he was at any time a slave; see the Ephesians 6:5 note, and 1 Timothy 6:1 note. The word denotes servant of any kind, and it should never be assumed that those to whom it was applied were slaves. It is true that slavery existed in the heathen nations when the gospel was first preached, and it is doubtless true that many slaves were converted (compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 7:21), but the mere use of the word does not necessarily prove that he to whom it is applied was a slave. If Onesimus was a slave, there is reason to think that he was of a most respectable character (compare the notes at Colossians 4:9), and indeed all that is implied in the use of the term here, and all that is said of him, would be met by the supposition that he was a voluntary servant, and that he had been in fact intrusted with important business by Philemon. It would seem from Plm 1:18 ("or oweth thee ought"), that he was in a condition which made it possible for him to hold property, or at least to be intrusted.

But above a servant, a brother beloved - A Christian brother; compare the notes at 1 Timothy 6:2. He was especially dear to Paul himself as a Christian, and he trusted that he would be so to Philemon.

Specially to me - That is, I feel a special or particular interest in him, and affection for him. This he felt not only on account of the traits of character which he had evinced since his conversion, but because he had been converted under his instrumentality when he was a prisoner. A convert made in such circumstances would be particularly dear to one.

But how much more unto thee - Why, it may be asked, would he then be particularly dear to Philemon? I answer, because:

(1) of the former relation which he sustained to him - a member of his own family, and bound to him by strong ties;

(2) because he would receive him as a penitent, and would have joy in his returning from the error of his ways;

(3) because he might expect him to remain long with him and be of advantage to him as a Christian brother; and,

(4) because he had voluntarily returned, and thus shown that he felt a strong attachment to his former master.

In the flesh - This phrase is properly used in reference to any relation which may exist pertaining to the present world, as contradistinguished from that which is formed primarily by religion, and which would be expressed by the subjoined phrase, "in the Lord." It might, in itself, refer to any natural relation of blood, or to any formed in business, or to any constituted by mere friendship, or to family alliance, or to any relation having its origin in voluntary or involuntary servitude. It is not necessary to suppose, in order to meet the full force of the expression, either that Onesimus had been a slave, or that he would continue to be regarded as such. Whatever relation of the kind, referred to above, may have existed between him and Philemon, would be appropriately denoted by this phrase. The new and more interesting relation which they were now to sustain to each other, which was formed by religion, is expressed by the phrase "in the Lord." In both these, Paul hoped that Onesimus would manifest the appropriate spirit of a Christian, and be worthy of his entire confidence.

In the Lord - As a Christian. He will be greatly endeared to your heart as a consistent and worthy follower of the Lord Jesus. - On this important verse then, in relation to the use which is so often made of this Epistle by the advocates of slavery, to show that Paul sanctioned it, and that it is a duty to send back those who have escaped from their masters that they may again be held in bondage, we may remark that:

(1) there is no certain evidence that Onesimus was ever a slave at all. All the proof that he was, is to be found in the word δοῦλος doulos - doulos - in this verse. But, as we have seen, the mere use of this word by no means proves that. All that is necessarily implied by it is that he was in some way the servant of Philemon - whether hired or bought cannot be shown.

(2) at all events, even supposing that he had been a slave, Paul did not mean that he should return as such, or to be regarded as such. He meant, whatever may have been his former relation, and whatever subsequent relation he may have sustained, that he should be regarded as a beloved Christian brother; that the leading conception in regard to him should be that he was a fellow-heir of salvation, a member of the same redeemed church, a candidate for the same heaven.

(3) Paul did not send him back in order that he might be a slave, or with a view that the shackles of servitude should be riveted on him. There is not the slightest evidence that he forced him to return, or that he advised him to do it, or even that he expressed a wish that he would; and when he did send him, it was not as a slave, but as a beloved brother in the Lord. It cannot be shown that the motive for sending him back was in the slightest degree that he should be a slave. No such thing is intimated, nor is any such thing necessary to be supposed in order to a fair interpretation of the passage.

(4) it is clear that, even if Onesimus had been a slave before, it would have been contrary to the wishes of Paul that Philemon should now hold him as such. Paul wished him to regard him "not as a servant," but as a "beloved brother." If Philemon complied with his wishes, Onesimus was never afterward regarded or treated as a slave. If he did so regard or treat him, it was contrary to the expressed intention of the apostle, and it is certain that he could never have shown this letter in justification of it. It cannot fail to strike any one that if Philemon followed the spirit of this Epistle, he would not consider Onesimus to be a slave, but if he sustained the relation of a servant at all, it would be as a voluntary member of his household, where, in all respects, he would be regarded and treated, not as a "chattel," or a "thing," but as a Christian brother.


16. No longer as a mere servant or slave (though still he is that), but above a servant, so that thou shalt derive from him not merely the services of a slave, but higher benefits: a servant "in the flesh," he is a brother "in the Lord."

beloved, specially to me—who am his spiritual father, and who have experienced his faithful attentions. Lest Philemon should dislike Onesimus being called "brother," Paul first recognizes him as a brother, being the spiritual son of the same God.

much more unto thee—to whom he stands in so much nearer and more lasting relation.

Not now as a servant; not now merely as a servant.

But above a servant; but as one that deserveth much more kindness than a servant.

A brother beloved; being a Christian (deservedly to be loved.

Specially to me; ) especially of me, who have a spiritual relation to him, as the instrument of his conversion, and as he hath been useful in ministering to me in prison.

But how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? But how much more to thee, to whom he stands not only in the relation of a brother, being converted to the Christian faith, but

in the flesh, as thy kinsman, or thy servant, or one of thy family, or thy countryman, one of the same town and place!

Not now as a servant,.... That is, not only as a servant, for a servant he was, and was to be received as such; his call by grace had not dissolved the civil relation that was between him and his master, though it had added to it something that was above it, and greater than it:

but above a servant; in a higher condition, as the Arabic version renders it, than a servant; not barely considered in that relation, but as being in one much preferable to it:

a brother beloved, specially to me; a brother in Christ, and to be beloved on that account, as he was especially by the apostle, who had been the instrument of his conversion; see Colossians 4:9.

But how much more unto thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord? both in a natural and civil sense, as being of the same nation and country, and as being part of his family, his servant, and now become an useful and profitable one; and, in a spiritual sense, being in the Lord, belonging to the Lord Jesus, to that family which is named of him, being a fellow citizen with the saints, and of the household of God, and therefore must be doubly dear to him.

Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the {h} flesh, and in the Lord?

(h) Because he is your servant, as other servants are, and because he is the Lord's servant, you must love him both for the Lord's sake and for your own sake.

Philemon 1:16. Altered relation which with the αἰώνιον αὐτὸν ἀπέχειν was to take effect, and thenceforth to subsist, between Philemon and Onesimus.

οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον] in this is implied not a hint of manumission, but the fact that, while the external relation of slavery remains in itself unchanged, the ethical relation has become another, a higher one (ὑπὲρ δοῦλον), a brotherly relation of affection (ἀδελφ. ἀγαπ.). Christianity does not abolish the distinctions of rank and station, but morally equalizes them (comp. on ἰσότητα, Colossians 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:2), inasmuch as it pervades them with the unifying consecration of the life in Christ,[77] 1 Corinthians 7:21 f., 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11. To the Ὡς the following ὙΠΈΡ is correlative: not further in the quality of a slave, but in a higher manner than as a slave; ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπ., as a beloved brother, is then the epexegesis of ὑπὲρ δοῦλον. And the latter is conceived of thus: so that he is beyond and above a δοῦλος, is more than such. Comp. Plato, Rep. p. 488 A; Legg. viii. p. 839 D: οὐκ ἔστιν ὑπὲρ ἄνθρωπον; 2Ma 9:8.

ΜΆΛΙΣΤΑ ἘΜΟῚ Κ.Τ.Λ.] belongs to ἈΔΕΛ. ἈΓΑΠ. In that view ΜΆΛΙΣΤΑ has its reference in the relation of Onesimus to his fellow-Christians, with whom he has hitherto been brought into connection; among these it was Paul, to whom he stood most of all—that is, in higher degree than to any other—in the relation of a beloved brother.

πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον σοί] since he is thy property, and does not enter into merely temporary connection with thee, such as that in which he stood with me; see Philemon 1:15.

ΚΑῚ ἘΝ ΣΑΡΚῚ ΚΑῚ ἘΝ ΚΥΡ.] specifies the two domains, in which Onesimus will be to him yet far more a beloved brother than to the apostle, namely, in the flesh, i.e. in the sphere pertaining to the material nature of man, in things consequently that concern the bodily life and needs, and in the Lord, i.e. in the higher spiritual life-sphere of fellowship with Christ. Accordingly, ἐν σαρκί Philemon has the brother as a slave, and ἘΝ ΚΥΡΊῼ the slave as a brother; how greatly, therefore, must he, in view of the mutual connection and interpenetration of the two relations, have him, as well ἐν σαρκί as ἐν κυρίῳ, as a beloved brother! How much more still (πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον) must Onesimus thus be such an one to Philemon, than to the apostle! The two domains of life designated by ἘΝ ΣΑΡΚΊ and ἘΝ ΚΥΡΊῼ—which, connected by ΚΑῚΚΑΊ, exclude the conception of ethical contrast[78]—are to be left in all their comprehensiveness. Influenced by the erroneous presupposition of manumission (see on Philemon 1:15), de Wette thinks in ἐν σαρκί of the family-relation into which the manumitted one enters.

[77] In accordance with this Christian-ideal mode of view we have to leave οὐκέτι absolute, and not to weaken it by μόνον to be mentally supplied (Grotius, Storr, Flatt); comp. on Colossians 3:23.

[78] Comp. Eklund, σάρξ vocabulum ap. Paul., Lund 1872, p. 47 f.

Philemon 1:16. οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον: no longer in the character of a slave, according to the world’s acceptation of the term, though still a slave (see, however, the note on Philemon 1:21); but the relationship between slave and master were in this instance to become altered.—πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον …: i.e., more than most of all (which he had been to St. Paul) to thee.—With the thought of the verse cf. 1 Timothy 6:2.

16. not now as a servant] No more as bondservant. Not that he would cease to be such, necessarily, in law; St Paul does not say “set him free.” But in Christ he was free, an and of kin.

a brother beloved] Cp. 1 Timothy 6:2 for the same thought from the slave’s point of view. These simple words are an absolute and fatal antithesis to the principle, and so ultimately to the existence, of slavery.

“Christianity alone can work these holy transformations, changing a temporal servitude into an eternal brotherhood” (Quesnel).—See further, Introd., ch. 4, particularly pp. 163, 164.

specially to me] Lit., most of all to me. Philemon’s beloved “brother” was Paul’s most beloved “son.”

but how much more] A verbal inconsistency, conveying a thought of noble warmth and delicacy. He had said “most to me”; but after all it is “more than most” to Philemon.

in the flesh] A remarkable phrase, as if slavery were a sort of kinship. This thought appears, as a fact, in combination (and contrast) with the harshest theories of ancient slavery. Thus Aristotle (Polit., i. ii.; see Introd. to this Epistle, ch. 4) writes, “the slave is a portion of his master; as it were a living, though separated, portion of his body.” And again: “he shares his master’s reason, so far as to perceive it.” The Gospel would of course assimilate and enforce with all its power that aspect of the connexion.

in the Lord?] In whom there is “neither bond nor free,” and in whom now master and slave were “one man” (Galatians 3:26-28).

Philemon 1:16. Οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον, no longer as a servant) He had been a servant.—ὑπὲρ δοῦλου, above a servant) This is equivalent to an epithet. But is connected with a brother: above a servant from whom thou art about to derive greater benefit than from a servant. Ὑπέρδουλος is a compound word according to Apollonius, 50:4, de Syntaxi, 100:3; but what it means, or whether it has any relation to the matter before us, I do not know.—ἀδελφὸν, brother) He does not add ὡς, as [which he had used before servant]. He evidently recommends him for a (true) brother.—ἀγαπητὸν, beloved) Love is borne to a brother and a friend, not to a servant.—μάλιστα ἐμοὶ) especially to me, before all others, who are however not excluded.—σοὶ) to thee, even before me: to me and thee are construed with a brother beloved. In the flesh he is ὑπὲρ δοῦλον, above a servant, a freedman (comp. ὑπὲρ, Philemon 1:21); in the Lord, a brother.

Verse 16. - Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved. So great a difference had his Christian calling and profession made to him and to others. Both in the flesh and in the Lord. A hysteron proteron. The apostle is pleading on behalf of Onesimus this new bond of Christian relationship, which was in the Lord, that it should bring about a renewed fullness of personal relation. In the flesh, because "in the Lord." Philemon 1:16Not now (οὐκέτι)

Rev., more correctly, no longer. The negative adverb οὐκέτι states the fact absolutely, not as it may be conceived by Philemon (μηκέτι) However Philemon may regard Onesimus, as a fact he is now no longer as a slave.

Above (ὑπέρ)

Rev., more than. More than a slave - a whole man.

Especially (μάλιστα)

Connect with beloved. Especially to me as compared with other Christians.

How much more (πόσῳ μᾶλλον)

Beloved most to Paul, how much more than most to Philemon, since he belonged to him in a double sense, as a slave and as a Christian brother: in the flesh and in the Lord. "In the flesh Paul had the brother for a slave: in the Lord he had the slave for a brother" (Meyer).

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