Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,
Master and Slave.
Observe in this letter—
I. The exquisite courtesy of the Apostle. The manner of the Epistle teaches us as well as its matter. He offers to pay the debt of Onesimus for him, or to make up what he had taken, out of his own slender purse. Onesimus must pay what he owed. It would be a poor beginning in his new Christian life to attempt to evade his obligations. "Put that on mine account," says St. Paul. And then he adds, as if this were not sufficiently businesslike for a Christian, "I, Paul, have written it with mine own hand; I will repay it." This principle condemns all attempt to slip off, or shuffle over, any social or commercial engagements on the score of Christian claims or exclusiveness.
II. Note the destination of Onesimus after he had been converted to Christianity. He is bidden to return to his master. True, St. Paul writes a beautiful letter for the runaway slave to present when he gets back; but back he must go. St. Paul is kind, but firm. Onesimus, being now a Christian, must return to the post which he had deserted. Surely here we may learn something about the social duties of the Christian, and especially of any one who has been newly impressed with Christian truth. The more worldly our business is, the more do we want good Christians to be engaged in its management. God is with us in many ways, and yet I do not know that He ever specially visited any one who had forsaken a clear duty without a clear call to do so, though it were professedly to serve Him better. Wherever we are, God is. Wherever we work, He works. There is no greater mistake than to think that we are kept from God by our business.
H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 326.
Philemon 1:15Social Power of the Gospel.
I. We see here, first of all, what sort of results St. Paul expected to flow from the reconciling and combining force of the Christian faith. In nothing does Christianity differ more profoundly from some philosophies which seem to have a superficial resemblance to it, than in this: it does not allow a man to think of himself as an isolated unit, while forgetful of other men: it does not allow a class to entrench itself in its privileges or excellences, and to ignore the claims of other classes; it does not allow a race to stiffen itself in its prejudices, and to forget that other races are also members of the human family, and to gifts and endowments that are all their own. It may be asked, Did not St. Paul beg Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom? It must be answered, No, he did not. He hinted at this, perhaps, when he expressed his confidence that Philemon would do more than he was asked to do. But he did not prefer a formal request to this effect; much less did he insist on it. The Apostles addressed themselves to the strictly practical task of lodging the Christian faith and life in the minds and hearts of masters and slaves alike: confident that, in time, the faith would act as a powerful solvent upon such an institution, by creating a new estimate of life.
II. We may note here how entirely for the time being, St. Paul's interest is concentrated on a single soul. He writes as though there were no person in the world to think about except Onesimus, and, relatively to Onesimus, his master Philemon. The world, depend upon it, is not saved by, abstract ideas, however brilliant; it is saved by the courageous individualising efforts of Christian love.
III. Let us note how a Christian should look at the events of life; at the commonplace and trivial events, as well as at those which appear striking and important. Every such event has a purpose, whether we can credit it or no; a purpose to be made plain in the eternal world, in the mysterious state of existence which awaits every one of us, when we have passed the gate of death. To St. Paul the future life was as clear as the shining of the sun is in heaven: and, therefore, he naturally wrote to Philemon, "Perhaps Onesimus was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou mightest enjoy him for ever." And yet remark that "perhaps." St. Paul will not encourage us in a rash and presumptuous confidence, when we endeavour to interpret in detail God's providence in this life by the light of the next. St. Paul saw, as far as most men, into the purposes of God; yet, when he would interpret God's design in respect of a given human life, he reverently adds "perhaps."
H. P. Liddon, Advent Sermons, vol. ii., p. 98.
And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
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 an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:
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.
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?
If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
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.
Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.
But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;
Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.