Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,
He addresses himself unto Philemon as his dearly beloved and fellow labourer. Now if he was so dearly beloved by Paul he could not but love one by whom he was so much beloved; and if he had that love for Paul, which Paul's love for him challenged as a suitable return of gratitude, he would give him a testimony of his affection by gratifying him in his request. It was a great honour to Philemon to be beloved by so eminent an apostle as St. Paul. It was still a greater honour to be numbered amongst his dearest friends. He could not doubt of the sincerity of St. Paul, when he made these large professions of love and kindness to him. It was not agreeable with the character of the apostle to use these expressions, as empty forms, words of course, and idle compliments; but they came from his heart as well as from his pen. Philemon had found real and undoubted proofs of St. Paul's love to him in the pains he had taken in his conversion to Christ. He had received from him the greatest instances of kindness that one man could receive from another. He had been turned by him from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, and owed to him the means of grace and the hopes of glory. If, therefore, he had any sense of gratitude, any sparks of generosity in him, he must be very desirous to find out some opportunity of making his acknowledgments to one to whom he was so deeply indebted. He could not but with great greediness embrace an opportunity which was put into his hands of obliging one to whom he was so highly obliged, He could now no longer be at a loss how he might in some measure requite St. Paul for the great and inestimable benefits he had received from him, since he could not doubt but what was so earnestly asked by the apostle would be in a peculiar manner acceptable to him. And as the apostle thus strongly enforces his request, by applying to Philemon as his dearly beloved, so doth he give it yet farther advantage by addressing to him under the notice of his fellow labourer. For if Philemon was an assistant of St. Paul in ministering unto him in the execution of his apostolical office, he would not complain of the absence of Onesimus, who did in his place and stead minister to the apostle. He would be pleased that he tarried with St. Paul to supply his absence and to do his work. He would not think himself deprived of the service of Onesimus whilst he was employed in that work in which he himself was a labourer. This his servant would be even then looked upon as doing his master's business, whilst he was subservient to the apostle, whose minister his master was.
Parallel VersesKJV: Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,