Whom I have sent again: you therefore receive him, that is, my own bowels:
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: