Philemon 1:10
For love's sake I rather beseech thee... for my son Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave - one who in past times had been, as was natural, unmoved by any inspiration to good service - and was "unprofitable." He had been begotten again through the ministry of Paul, and now that he sends him back, he tells Philemon that the new Divine life in him will make him faithful, earnest, and "profitable."

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 beseech thee for my son Onesimus
This and the previous verse taken together seem to contain two references to the Roman law. "For the love's sake I rather beseech — being such an one as Paul, an old man, and, as it is, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, I beseech thee for my son, Onesimus." We have here a twofold reference — a plea for legal pardon, a hint at emancipation.

1. I beseech — I beseech thee — puts Paul in the position of a formal precator. The law gave the Roman slave one real right. It relented with humane inconsistency upon one point, and one only. For the slave in the Roman Empire the right of asylum did not exist. His only conceivable resource was that he might, in his despair, fly to a friend of his master, not for the purpose of concealment, but of intercession. The owner, who was absolute as far as any formal tribunal was concerned, might be softened by the entreaties of the friend who took upon himself the office of intercessor. The Roman jurisprudence formally declared that the slave in fly ing to a friend of his proprietor with this intention did not incur the enormous guilt of becoming fugitivus. St. Paul, indeed, was unable to appear with Onesimus. But in the emphatic and repeated "beseech," he seems to declare himself the legal precator.

2. The hint at the emancipation is contained in the recognition of Onesimus by St. Paul as a son of the various forms of manumissio justa, the adoptive stands in the first rank. With the title of son, the rights of domestic and civil life flow in upon the slave, new born into the common family of humanity. May there be a yet further allusion? St. Paul, indeed, hopes to see Philemon again (ver. 22). Yet he may die. In these literally precativa verba ("I beseech," "I beseech thee," vers. 9, 10), in what may be his last will and testament, he lays upon Philemon, as if his heir, the duty, not only of pardoning, but of giving manumission to the penitent slave.

(Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

I. HOW COMPASSIONATE THE GOSPEL MAKES A MAN TOWARD HIS SUFFERING FELLOW MEN. Though the greatest man then alive — far greater than the Emperor of Rome himself — Paul, illustrious in the estimation of all the angels, is trying to do good to a poor runaway slave, whom the pagan Romans looked upon as a mere dog, the like of whom many a Roman master had flogged to death, and then flung into the pond to feed the fish. He acts towards Onesimus as a father; calls him his "son converted in his bonds." Then notice the prudence and tact with which Paul writes. When a prudent person wishes to convey a piece of painful news to another, he tries to prepare the mind of the hearer for the tidings. For example, when the messenger conveyed to Achilles the news of the death of his beloved friend Patroelus, he used a word which means both to be dead and to be asleep. So if we wanted successfully to plead the cause of a son who had grievously offended his father, we should keep out of sight as long as we could the faults of the son, and mention all we could in his favour. So Paul acts in pleading the cause of Onesimus. In order to induce Philemon to take back Onesimus, he first calls him "his child"; and of course Philemon would respect any one Paul called by so tender a name. He then calls him "his convert"; and of course Philemon would treat with affection any convert of Paul. He then speaks of his conversion during his imprisonment; and then — last — comes his name, "Onesimus."

II. HOW MYSTERIOUSLY GOD OFTEN WORKS IN THE CONVERSION OF SINFUL MEN. Onesimus was probably born at Colosse, in Asia Minor. There he was in the service of Philemon, and, having robbed his master, he travelled hundreds of miles to Rome, to hide himself from pursuit. Yet there the Lord met him. Perhaps it was the result of the merest accident that he was induced to enter Paul's humble abode. Perhaps he was in the deepest poverty, and meditated drowning himself in the Tiber, when some Christian person saw him, pitied him, and induced him to listen to that gospel he had often heard and slighted at Colosse. We lately heard of a young man who robbed his master of £10, and from fear of detection escaped to India, The preaching of a missionary was the means of his conversion, and, as soon as possible, he sent to his master threefold the amount stolen, with a full and contrite confession of his guilt.

III. THE AFFLICTIONS OF GOD'S SERVANTS NEED BE NO BARRIER TO THEIR SPIRITUAL USEFULNESS. Paul was a prisoner in Rome when the conversion of Onesimus took place. Martin Luther was called to endure a long and dreary confinement, but during it he produced his marvellous translation of the Bible. Richard Baxter wrote some of his most beautiful works in prison, or at seasons of bodily affliction; and if John Bunyan had not been in Bedford jail, most likely the "Pilgrim's Progress" would never have been written. Persecutors have tried to trample under foot the piety of the people of God, but, like the aromatic herb, the more it was pressed, the more sweet odours it sent forth. If we have the will we have the power to serve God and benefit our fellow creatures. In health, in sickness, in death, we can alike glorify God and honour Christ.

IV. A FAINT EMBLEM OF THE COMPASSION OF CHRIST FOR HUMAN SOULS. Says Martin Luther, "To my way of thinking, we are all like poor Onesimus, and Christ has come down from heaven to restore us to our Divine Friend and Father."


I. We learn from this love appearing in the apostle THAT THE BASEST PERSON IN THE CHURCH, TRULY CONVERTED AND BROUGHT UNTO CHRIST, SHOULD NOT BE CONDEMNED, BUT MOST LOVINGLY, TENDERLY, AND BROTHERLY REGARDED. The least and lowest member that belongeth to God ought not to be rejected and debased, but highly for Christ's sake to be honoured and respected. Reasons:

1. Those that are least esteemed, and are of lowest condition, were bought with as great and high a price as any others.

2. There is no respect of persons with God.

3. They shall receive with others the same recompense of reward.Uses:

1. Seeing we are bound to love the lowest in the Church that belong to Christ, we learn that our affections must be carried most earnestly, and in the greatest measure to those that have the greatest measure of heavenly graces, not regarding riches, or kindred, or outward respects before the other.

2. Seeing every member of Christ must be much esteemed, be he never so mean, it teacheth us not to have the religion of God and the faith of Christ in acceptation of persons.

3. This giveth comfort and contentment to the meanest and smallest of God's saints, and putteth them in remembrance not to be discomforted and out of heart for their mean calling or for their low estate, for they are nothing the less regarded of God, or to be esteemed of His Church.


1. Seeing the minister and people ought to love as father and son, it teacheth both of them to cut off all occasions of discord and division and to nourish love and mutual concord one with another. It may be many occasions may arise, which if by wisdom they be not smothered and suppressed in the beginning, they are as little sparks that quickly break out into a flame, and the flame suffered to continue consumeth all things that are near unto it. We must show ourselves ready to bring water to quench this fire. It is a deceitful snare, and wonderful subtilty of Satan to cast matters of dissension between the minister and people that so though the Word be among them, yet that it may by that means be with less fruit and profit with them.

2. These most loving titles applied to the minister and people show the duties required of pastors toward their charge, and teach them to love them as their children, to tender their good, to exhort them to lay up for themselves spiritual riches. Great is the love of parents towards their children., If the child be sick or wayward, they do not cast him out of doors or withdraw their affection from him. Hence it is that Christ when He saw the people scattered abroad, and dispersed here and there as sheep without a Shepherd, "He had compassion upon them, and showed great love toward them." We see how Christ applieth this to the conscience of Peter, and willeth him to try his love toward Him by feeding His sheep and lambs, thereby assuring him that if he persuaded himself to love Christ Jesus, and yet was not careful to teach His people, he deceived himself and lied to the Holy Ghost, who would find him out in his sin. Seeing the minister and people ought to be as father and son, this showeth the duty of the people that are under their ministry that they regard their ministers as their parents, honouring them, yielding them due recompense, esteeming them as workers together with God, to beget them to Christ, to turn them to salvation. Of our parents we have received only to be, of our ministers we have received to be well. Of our parents we have taken our first birth, of our ministers we have obtained our second birth. Of our parents we have been brought into the world by generation, of our ministers we have been brought into the Church by regeneration. Our first begetting was to death, our second or new life is to life and salvation. By the first birth we are heirs of wrath, by the second we are made the sons of God.

(W. Attersoll.)

1. The love which St. Paul felt towards his convert, the yearning desire with which he longed for his good. He overlooked all distinc tions of rank; all that was swallowed up by a deeper bond of sympathy, namely, that St. Paul had been the means of bringing him out of darkness, and of teaching him the gospel of Christ Jesus. I believe there is no union more lasting and true than the spiritual union which exists between those who have done and those who have received good. It is what every clergyman longs for, that he may know that his ministrations have been a blessing to those among whom he ministers. No encouragement, no praise, will compare for a moment with the joy of feeling that he has souls for his hire. No grief is so heavy as the fear of an unblessed ministry, of souls not drawn towards himself, because not drawn by him to Christ Jesus.

2. St. Paul quite foresaw that it might be hard for Philemon to receive back his slave in a forgiving spirit, and to look on him as a brother through faith in Christ, and as an equal in the sight of God. And is not that same difficulty of daily occurrence among us? People always like to keep up the notion of their own superiority over others that they are above, and others below them. And we stand on our rights, and we resent an injury, and we remember a wrong that has been done us, and we should be as likely as Philemon was to speak in disparagement of the change which is said to be wrought in any one who once has done us harm. And here comes up the evidence of a truly Christian spirit. To forgive those who have injured us; to care not for our own, but for another's wealth; to do to others as we would be done by; to think no evil, to bear no malice, to rejoice in any one's conversion to Christ; here are the signs of a heart renewed and sanctified by the grace of the Holy Ghost.

3. The words of St. Paul may remind us how careful we ought to be, how much of pains and thought we ought to take about those who are closely connected with us in the affairs of our daily life. Just think of the relations which should exist between masters and servants, between employers and employed. As a matter of fact, how little there is for the most part of mutual interest in each other's welfare beyond the mere giving and receiving of wages, and the good-natured liking which may exist between the one and the other. How seldom the matter is looked on from a Christian point of view. How seldom the master cares for more than to prevent dishonesty and vice, and to avoid scandal in his house, Is he really anxious about the spiritual welfare of his dependents? Or take the opposite side. For those who go out to service, how little thought is given to any part of the engagement beyond the amount of wages, or the lightness of the work, or the pleasantness of the place. Whether the household be one where God is really served is a less common question. Everything seems to be remembered but the one chief thing of all, the care of the soul. And the same thought may be applied to other relations of life, to parents and children, to acquaintances and neighbours and friends. God allows us to have such relations one to another, but God requires that He should stand first in everything. We cannot be serving God in sincerity and truth; we cannot be fulfilling the charge which God has committed to us, unless we be anxious for others as well as for ourselves, unless we would depart with them from evil, and increase with them in good. And when we heartily desire and pray that others, as well as ourselves, may have God's highest blessing, we shall find how wonderfully the Lord answers that wish. How strange that the running away of Onesimus from his master should have led to his conversion, and so to his return. But not one whit more strange than are the great results which have come to us all from what seemed the smallest and most unimportant events. A word will change the current of a man's life, will lead to the awakening of conscience, to the searching for and finding salvation.

(H. R. Nevill.)

I. THE GENTLE COURTESY OF THE APOSTLE. No Christian ought to be rude or harsh. This letter is a model of true politeness — "a charming and masterly example of Christian love."

II. THE ELECTING LOVE OF GOD. Philemon was a Christian; a Christian minister too; yet the heart of Onesimus, his servant, remains hardened. No doubt his master had given him up. But the Lord had not. The Lord willed not that he should perish.

III. THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL. The Holy Ghost brought it home with power to the heart of Onesimus. He saw the evil of sin, the love of Jesus, the worth of his soul.

IV. THE VALUE OF A CHRISTIAN SERVANT (ver. 11). Now Onesimus is really a changed man, he will be "profitable" to Philemon. A truly Christian servant will serve his earthly master well, because he serves a Master in heaven. He will work with a good conscience, and prove himself faithful and true.

V. THE GROUND ON WHICH ST. PAUL URGES HIS REQUEST (ver. 19). Those who are God's instruments in bringing others to Jesus ought to get gratitude from their spiritual children. Strange to say, this is almost rare. We warmly thank friends who help us in regard to this world, while spiritual blessings are too often forgotten.

(F. Harper, M. A.)

Calvin's three children all died in infancy. Of the last he wrote to a friend: "The Lord gave me another son, and the Lord hath taken him away; but have I not thousands of children in the faith of Christ?"

(J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Ignatius mentions an as Bishop of Ephesus at the time of his journey to his martyrdom at Rome, and though we must allow an interval of forty-four years between that time and the date of this Epistle, it is at least possible that the converted slave may have risen to that high position. It is suggestive that Ignatius speaks of him in the highest terms as a man of "inexpressible love," and exhorts all the members of the church to love and honour him, and that he reproduces St. Paul's allusion to the meaning of his name. "May I," he says, after naming Onesimus, "have joy or profit of you, if indeed I be worthy of it." Another Onesimus appears half a century later, as writing to Melito, bishop of Sardis, to urge on him the compilation of a volume of extracts from the Scriptures; and it may, perhaps, be inferred from its occurrence there and elsewhere, in the regions of Asia Minor, that the memory of the Colossian slave had invested the name with a special popularity.

(Dean Plumptre.)

Whom I have begotten in my bonds
St. Paul, then, was Onesimus's father — not natural but spiritual; and we are more beholden to our spiritual than to our natural fathers.

1. They beget us of a woman; these of the Church which is the spouse of Christ.

2. They beget us of mortal seed, therefore we die; these of the immortal seed of the Word of God, whereby we live forever.

3. They beget us to a temporal life; these to an eternal.

4. They to the miseries of the world; these to the joys of the world to come. Therefore let us love them, let us have them in singular love for their works' sake. As Alexander professed he was more beholden to Aristotle than Philip; the one gave him esse, being, the other bene esse, his well-being. Yet this is little considered of.

(W. Jones, D. D.)

I. THAT MINISTERS MAY LOVE THEIR SONS WITH AN UNEQUAL LOVE, THEY MAY LOVE SOME MORE THAN OTHERS, as Christ did John above the rest of the disciples; namely, those in whom they behold a more lively image of Christ, and in the begetting of whom they had greater experience of God's power and mercy than in others.

II. THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD AND THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT BOUND TOGETHER WITH THE BODIES OF THE MINISTERS, for both these, namely, the Spirit and Word of God, were now effectual in the prison for Onesimus's conver sion. The adversaries then must not think that the restraining of the ministers and of the gospel will prove one work. The Earl of Derby's accusation in the Parliament House against M. Bradford was that he did more hurt (so he spake, calling good evil) by letters and conferences in prison than ever he did when he was abroad by preaching.

III. PAUL SAYING THAT HE BEGOT HIM IN HIS BONDS, hence it is easy to gather that after, by speech had to and fro with him in the prison, he understood in what case he was, he presently wrought upon him, to bring him to a sight of his sin, and so to a godly sorrow for it. By which example ministers must learn that it is their duty, not only in their public meetings to seek men's conversion by their general preaching to all, but if at any time, by God's providence, they shall light upon any whom they see miserably to stray out of the ways of God, though it be in private places and companies, as Philip and the Eunuch in journeying, they are by all means possible, no just cause detaining them, to endeavour the conversion even of such, and to do the part of a good Samaritan towards them, whom they find so dangerously wounded by Satan.

IV. But as all ministers are greedily to catch those occasions which God offers for furthering the salvation of their brethren, so ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO, BEING IMPRISONED, ARE RESTRAINED FROM THEIR PUBLIC PREACHING, that so by this means the want of their public sermons may in some measure be supplied. Now, how goodly a thing it is for ministers, even then when they are poorest, to make others rich (2 Corinthians 6:10), and when they are bound and captive, to make others free!

(D. Dyke, B. D.)

The following incident is related by one of the leading Christians of Russia: — "One of our converts was wrongfully accused of blasphemy for breaking his images. He was sentenced to transportation to Siberia. This involved trudging on foot one thousand miles in chains through the snow. A fellow convert went to see him depart, and to cheer him up as he left his friends and home behind. To his astonishment he found the prisoner full of peace and joy. 'Thank God,' said the exiled one, 'for the privilege of preaching Christ in chains to my fellow prisoners?' A nobler example of Christian fortitude than this it would be difficult to find in any religious movement." The effect of persecution generally has been to spread the gospel, and it appears that Russia will be no exception.

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