1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, 2 and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Paul writes this letter from prison to his friend Philemon. Apphia was possibly Philemon’s wife, and Archippus was possibly Philemon’s son. There was a church that meeting in Philemon’s house. Archippus is mentioned in Col 4:17, and he was probably the same person mentioned here.

Paul didn’t consider himself as a prisoner of Rome, but a prisoner of Christ Jesus. He understood that God is Almighty, and that if God didn’t want him to be a prisoner, then God would have set him free. This is a very valuable perspective to have – to see your current situation as being ordained by God. When Jesus was to be crucified, He didn’t blame the Romans, but He saw it as the cup that the Father had given Him to drink (Jn 18:11). Peter (in 1 Peter 5:5-7) also talked about humbling yourself under the mighty hand of God. James (in James 1:2-5) encouraged us to ask God for wisdom to understand why He has allowed us to be in our current situation.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul wishes his readers grace and peace from the Father and the Son. As I’ve often mentioned, if God opposes you, then you will surely fail; that is why you need to be at peace with God. Further, if God helps you, you will surely succeed; that is why you need grace (help) from God.

Grace is not unmerited favor; we know this because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5). Since pride and humility are opposites, we see that grace is given only to the humble. That is, to merit grace, you need to be humble. That is why I say that grace is not unmerited.

4 I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; 6 and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake.

Paul was glad to see Philemon’s spiritual progress.

Paul’s prayer for Philemon was that he (Philemon) bring to the surface the goodness that was within by virtue of his faith in Jesus.

7 For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. 8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you – since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus –

Paul appreciated Philemon’s ministry and in Philemon’s friendship, and he let Philemon know that.

Paul could have ordered Philemon, by virtue of the influence he had over Philemon, but instead he appealed to him as a brother.

10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account;

Paul met Onesimus while he was in prison. He shared the gospel with Onesimus, and Onesimus believed. Onesimus shared with Paul that he was Philemon’s slave and that he ran away. Paul didn’t just tell Onesimus that his sins are forgiven and that he didn’t have to set things right. No – Paul told Onesimus that he needed to set things right with Philemon, and he sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that Onesimus could set things right. Slavery was the law of the land at that time and place, and it was necessary for Onesimus to abide by it.

This ‘setting things right’ is called restitution, and is an important part of being born again. When Zaccheus believed Jesus, he set things right and returned what he had taken from people, with interest. Only then did Jesus say that Zaccheus was saved (Lk 19:8-10).

If you have taken or stolen from someone or the government then you need to return that back as far as possible. I am not saying this lightly or theoretically – I remember how when I believed the gospel I returned a book that I had stolen from my college library. I wrote a letter of apology and returned the book with the accompanying fines, and I also explained why I returned it. It helped me have a clear conscience. People say that in order to have God’s financial favor you must tithe. I say to you that rather than tithe you must make restitution on everything you possible can to whomever you possibly can – that is a necessary condition for God’s favor upon you.

Paul wished to keep Onesimus with him as a helper, but he recognized that Onesimus belonged to someone else (i.e. Philemon) and so he wanted Philemon to approve his (Paul’s) plan.

19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well).

Philemon was saved through Paul, and thus Philemon had a huge debt to Paul. Paul didn’t use that to benefit himself, but to help another brother (Onesimus).

20 Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.

Paul made it clear that by accepting Onesimus, Philemon would be doing Paul a favor. Our brotherhood is one of love, where there is no betrayal, but where we bless each other.

22 At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you.

Paul hopes that he will soon be free and will be able to visit Philemon. He shows the intimate friendship he has by assuming that he will stay with Philemon when he comes.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.

At this time, several people were working with Paul. Later, as we read in 2 Timothy, Demas left Paul, and no one was with him in the end.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Paul once again wishes grace upon Philemon.

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