Pulpit Commentary - Philemon 1:1 - 1:25

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Pulpit Commentary - Philemon 1:1 - 1:25

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A prisoner of Christ Jesus. He writes a private letter, as friend to friend, and therefore does not describe himself by his official title of apostle. Having to plead the cause of a slave, he begins by putting himself into a similar position as the "bondman of Jesus Christ"—"to obtain thereby the more ready compliance" (Chrysostom). By such a reverend bondage he beseeches Philemon, "and the bondage of Paul was liberty to Onesimus" (Scipio Gentilis). Timothy, etc. He was, then, with St. Paul at the time of writing; therefore at Rome; and this fixes the date of composition at all events before that of the Second Epistle to Timothy, when the apostle was again at Rome (2Ti_1:17; 2Ti_4:6, 2Ti_4:16). Fellow-worker with St. Paul in promoting the spread of the gospel, either by his wealth and influence, less probably by preaching. The time when would be that of St. Paul's long stay at Ephesus and its neighborhood (Act_19:8-22).


Our beloved Apphia
. Codices A, D*, E*, F, G, and à (Sinaiticus) read adelphē (sister) for agapē̄ (beloved), and also Jerome, Griesbach, Meyer; which also has been adopted in the Revised Version. The name Appia, or Apphia, is either the Roman Appia Hellenized, which was the conjecture of Grotins (see Introduction), or more probably a native Phrygian name, from Appa or Appha, a term of endearment. The name does not occur elsewhere in Scripture. The word ἀδελφῆ is not unlikely to have been added by way of explanation. St. Paul has used it in five other places, and always in the same sense, viz. Rom_16:1
, Rom_16:15; 1Co_7:15; 1Co_9:5; 1Ti_5:2. Most commentators, and particularly Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact, among the ancients, infer that Apphia was the wife of Philemon. Otherwise, why mention her name here? Archippus; comp. Col_4:17, where he is said to have received a διακονία , i.e. a ministry or service, in the Church. This word, when used without a determining genitive, denotes service to others in a general and undefined sense. But more commonly with some limiting word; as διακονία λόγου , office of teaching (Act_6:4); διακονία τοῦ θανάτου , office or function of death (2Co_3:7). The general view is that Archippus was the presbyter who ministered to that congregation which assembled at the house of Philemon, though Ambrose and Jerome, with other commentators ancient and modern, think that he was the bishop. Grotius, however, takes him to have been a deacon. (It is a very precarious inference that he was a son of Philemon and Appia.) Probably he was fulfilling a temporary mission only in Colossae, and that would be the διακονία in the passage cited. Epaphras, a resident in Colossae (Col_4:12), is spoken of as having been the founder of the Church there (Col_1:7, Col_1:8), and as still being responsible for it (Col_4:13). Primasius calls Epaphras bishop and Archippus deacon; and so Grotius. It may be that these theories err in ascribing too rigid and technical a meaning to the terms of ecclesiastical service at this early stage of their employment. Epaphras was, however, at this time in Rome with St. Paul (Col_4:12, Col_4:13), and it is possible that Archippus was filling his place temporarily. It will be safer to call him (with Bishop Wordsworth) a presbyter. It is, as we have said, an unsupported idea of some writers ancient and modern (Theod. Mopsuest., Michaelis, Rosenmuller, Olshausen, Lightfoot) that he was the son of Philemon (but see below). Our fellow-soldier; i.e. of himself and St. Timothy, as engaged in the same warfare for Christ (1Co_9:7; 2Co_10:4; 1Ti_1:18). The same term is applied in Php_2:25 to Epaphroditus, and also the συνεργός of Php_2:1. And to the Church in thy house. Mede (so Chrysostom and Theodoret also) understands this as meaning "and to the whole of thy family" (which is a Christian one)—a suggestion quite worth considering. For a separate letter "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae" (Col_1:2) was brought by the same messengers, and it would seem natural that, in a matter so personal to Philemon, salutations should be confined to his own family. The phrase is used more than once (see Rom_16:5; 1Co_16:19, which seems rather to point the other way; but especially Col_4:15, "Nymphas and the Church which is in his house," which, since it was in Colossae itself, seems almost conclusive for that meaning). The Ecclesia domestica was very familiar in the apostolic times. Theodoret states that the house of Philemon was still pointed out as late as the fifth century.


Grace to you, and peace.
The secular formula of salutation was χαίρειν (Act_23:1-35
. 26); in Latin, multam or plurimare salutem ant plenissimam. St. Paul's formula was almost invariably as above, "Grace to you, and peace" (Rom_1:7; 1Co_1:3; Gal_1:3; and others). To Timothy (1Ti_1:2; 2Ti_1:2) and Tit_1:4, "Grace, mercy, and peace."


I thank my God always.
We ought, therefore, to thank God, not only for gifts bestowed upon ourselves, but also for those bestowed upon others. This is an habitual phrase of St. Paul (comp. Rom_1:8
; i Corinthians Rom_1:4; Eph_1:16; Php_1:3; 1Th_1:2; 2Th_1:3; 2Ti_1:3). "It is to be noted that for the thing on account of which he gives thanks, he at the same time prays" (Calvin). For no good work is ever so complete in us that it does not need to be "continued and ended" in us by God. Making mention of thee in my prayers. The foregoing remark attain applies. Grotius observes that "we learn from this that all addresses to God may be called prayers προσευχὰς , even those in which nothing is asked but thanks are given." But this is apparently not such a case; the petition which St. Paul offered for Philemon being stated in Phm_1:6. And thus Chrysostom explains the passage. "Always" may be connected with "I thank," or with "making mention," preferably the former (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Calvin, Lightfoot).


Hearing of thy love, and of the faith … saints.
He would hear of these instances of Philemon's faith and love naturally through Epaphras (see on Phm_1:2
). Refer "faith" to "the Lord Jesus" and "love" to "all the saints" (a chiasmus, or cross-reference). Note that the phrase is πρὸς (i.e. erga, towards) τὸν Κύριον , but εἰς (i.e. upon) τοὺς ἁγίους ; perhaps because Christ cannot now be reached by bodily efforts, but only aspired towards by the soul; while the poor can actually be reached and ministered unto. "Ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always" (Mat_26:11). All Christians are called "saints" in the Scriptures, as Eph_1:1, and invariably. What a reminder to them of their "holy calling" (2Ti_1:9)! Meyer notes, however, that it is not uncommon with St. Paul to vary the preposition (Rom_3:20; Gal_2:16).


Render thus: So that the community of thy faith [with other Christians, whom you may be able to serve] may show itself in act, causing full acknowledgment [from the world without] of every good work for Jesus Christ that is in you (Revised Version is not clear here); literally, may become working. Not a theoretical or merely quiescent faith. He was to confess Christ before men (and see Jas_2:22
). "For whatever good thing is in us makes manifest our faith" (Calvin). In you. Bishop Wordsworth reads ἡμῖν , "us"—the body of Christians, following A, C, D, E, K, L, with many Fathers and versions.


We have great joy and consolation.
The preferable reading is, as in A, C, F, G, N, and Revised Version, I had much joy and comfort (see Phm_1:5
). "Plenius inculcat et edocet, quare dixerit, gratias ago," etc. (Jerome). The bowels of the saints; hearts (Revised Version). Either

(1) their bodily wants, the cravings of their hunger; or

(2) their hearts and affections, supplied and satisfied by the good deeds of Philemon.

This is another peculiarly Pauline expression (see 2Co_6:12; 2Co_7:15 -these two are very similarly used in 2Co_7:7, 2Co_7:12, 20—and three other places). "To refresh the bowels is (in Paul) to be taken as meaning a lightening of troubles, so that they may rest with minds free from all sorrow and annoyance" (Calvin). Brother. How persuasively the sentence is turned! An old commentator remarks, "Paul does not yet come to his request, but prepares and softens beforehand the mind of Philemon" (Scipio Gentilis). This course of proceeding is exactly what Quintilian prescribes to an advocate, "His velut fomentis, si quid erit asperum, praemolliemus, quo facilius aures judicum admittant" ('De Institut. Orat.,' 4.3).


Render: Although I have abundant freedom [boldness, or. even license] in Christ to enjoin upon thee that which is fitting. It was only in Christ, and by his authority as an apostle, that he could claim to come between a slave and his master. Secular warrant for doing so he had none. Such authority and license, however, he would not use on this occasion. He prefers to rely wholly on the respect and personal attachment felt towards him by Philemon, for the granting of his request, which he now proceeds to state.


Being such a one as Paul the aged
; a veteran. Theodoret comments thus: "For he who hears Paul, hears the preacher of the whole world, the traverser of land and sea, the chosen vessel, and other things besides he is …. He adds also 'the aged,' showing the gray hairs which have grown during his labors." "Non aetatem, sed offieium" (Calvin). Presbutē may mean "an ambassador"—"the ambassador of Christ Jesus, and now also his prisoner," as in Eph_6:20
(and see Eph_3:1 and Eph_4:1 of the same Epistle. A prisoner of Jesus Christ; i.e. for his cause. The apostle was in custody at Rome, owing to a long suspension of his trial, for causes not known to us. "Have regard for Paul; have regard for my bonds, which I wear as a preacher of the truth" (Theodoret). "Great reverence is due to these who endure sufferings for the most honorable causes" (Grotius).


I beseech thee for my son … Onesimus
; my child (Revised Version). The name of Onesimus could not have been a pleasing one in the ears of Philemon. Note with what caution and almost timidity it is at length introduced. He does not interpose for the ingrate with apostolic dignity, but pleads for him with fatherly love. He puts himself side by side with him, and calls him his son. Some of the old commentators conclude, from Col_4:9
, that Onesimus was a native of Colossae, and thence discuss whether he could have been a slave born in Philemon's house of a slave-mother, or whether he was sold in his youth by his father—a custom so common to the Phrygians (as to the Circassians in later times) as to have been noticed by Cicero.


Who was aforetime unprofitable … to me.
The play upon words seems unmistakable, and is peculiarly Pauline. Onesimus means "useful," or "profitable;" ἄχρηστος , "unprofitable," and εὔχρηστος is emphatic, "very profitable." "Useful he is named, but in time past he was (I confess it) not useful, but useless; in future, however, he will be of great use to us both." Compare with this the corresponding passage of Pliny's 'Letter to Sabinianus,' given in the Introduction. "Unprofitable" is a figure of speech, a euphemism, for "useless and even injurious." St. Paul makes the best of Onesimus's fault that it will in justice allow. But an old commentator says bluntly that Onesimus was "damnosus fuga et furto." How could he have been, in his unconverted state, otherwise than "unprofitable" to his master? "Olim paganus," says a Lapide, "jam Christianus; olim fur, jam fidelis servus; olim profugus, jam redux."


Whom I sent back
[to thee, according to A, C, D*, E, )*] (aorist for present); but the decision reflects the struggle. It had not been altogether easy for the apostle to part with the youth, whom he might not see again. The whole Epistle is full of this strong and yearning affection. Thou therefore receive him. Do thou also act as becomes a Christian; receive him as my son. "Wonderfully efficacious this method for appeasing the anger of Philemon! For he was not able to rage or to do anything harshly against one whom Paul had called his own bowels" (Estius). A, F, G, and à omit "receive," as also Tischendorf. The Revised Version omits this clause.


I was wishing
; I would fain have kept (Revised Version). The story tells itself if we read between the lines. What steadfast adherence to principle on the part of the apostle, when the help of Onesimus would have been so welcome to him in his weak health, and his position as a prisoner! Philemon could hardly fail to think more favorably of Onesimus, when he saw how much importance the apostle attached to his services. In the bonds of the gospel. "Which I am enduring for the sake of the gospel" (see Phm_1:9
)—a variation of phrase from Phm_1:9.


But without thy mind I would do nothing.
The "would" of Phm_1:13
is ἐβουλόμην ; the "would" here is ἠθέλησα . The former denoted natural but indeterminate impulse; the latter deliberate conclusion of the will (cf. Rom_7:15, Rom_7:16). Mind; i.e. knowledge and decision. "Why was he unwilling? For many causes.

(1) Because grave penalties were denounced by Roman law upon those who received or retained fugitive slaves.

(2) That he might not seem to keep back something which was due to Philemon, perhaps to his injury; of which, perhaps, Philemon might have complained.

(3) Because Onesimus himself chose to go back, in order that he might show conclusively that he had net embraced the Christian religion that he might withdraw himself from the power of his lawful lord.

(4) That the gospel might not be by this means slandered, as if under the pretext of it slaves might withdraw themselves with impunity from their lords" (Estius and others). Thy benefit—goodness (Revised Version)—as it were of necessity, but willingly. Philemon would not really have had the choice of granting or refusing given to him, had St. Paul kept Onesimus still at Rome, and merely written to inform him of the fact. His consent might then fairly have been said to be extorted, not freely given. This latter word is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον (unique phrase) so far as the New Testament is concerned, though it is found in Num_15:3 of the LXX., as in Xenophon and other classical writers. In Heb_10:26 and 1Pe_5:2 the adverb ἑκουσίως is found.


; for this purpose (final cause). Departed for a season. He was therefore parted from thee for a time (Revised Version). Forever; everlastingly (accusative, not an adverb). The relation of master and slave would have been in any case, and would still be, terminated by death. But it was now replaced by a new relation of Christian brotherhood, which would be permanent—a great advantage. So Calvin, Grotius, and many others. Meyer's objection does not seem of much weight (compare the Perpetua mancipia of Exo_21:6
; Deu_15:17). Baur thinks that in this verse he has reached the core of the Epistle—the ethical truth which it seeks to embody (but see Introduction: "Authenticity and Characteristics").


Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved.
So great a difference had his Christian calling and profession made to him and to others. Both in the flesh and in the Lord. A hysteron proteron. The apostle is pleading on behalf of Onesimus this new bond of Christian relationship, which was in the Lord, that it should bring about a renewed fullness of personal relation. In the flesh, because "in the Lord."


If thou count me therefore a partner
; if thou holdest me for a friend—by our friendship entreat this. The strongest form of entreaty possible to be used. Κοινωνία in Act_2:42
refers to the Holy Communion, and in 1Co_10:16-21 partakers of it are plainly called by implication κοινωνοὶ —partakers, or, as we should say, "communicants." But here the sense is apparently as above; literally, a partner.


[But] if he hath wronged thee [at all]. It would have been needlessly irritating to Philemon to go into the details of Onesimus's offences. No doubt St. Paul had had an account of them from the repentant youth, but he had far too much tact to occupy himself and Philemon in the discussion of details. The hypothetic form avoids the whole of these. It suffices that he assumes the responsibility of repayment. Owes thee anything. As a matter of moral right at the bar of conscience. For in a secular court the slave could be neither debtor nor creditor, properly speaking, as against his master. This offence was probably embezzlement or purloining while in service. A, C, D*, F, G, à read (elloga), reckon it to me.


I Paul have written
—write it (Revised Version)—with my own hand, I will repay it. Thus St. Paul took upon himself legally the repayment of the debt. "Prioribus verbis proprie cautio [a bail or security] continetur: his autem constituti obligatio. Hoc Latine dicitur pecuniam constituere: de quo titulus est in Digestis Ἀναδέχεσθαι dicunt Graeci" (Scipio Gentilis). Albeit I do not say to thee, etc.; "though I do not remind thee [while so saying] that thou owest even thyself to me!" Philemon owed to the apostle that debt of which the obligation outweighed every other—the help by which he had been led out of spiritual darkness and brought to the knowledge of the truth. St. Paul was (as we must conclude from this allusion) the "spiritual father" of Philemon—a phrase he himself uses in 1Co_4:15


Yea, indeed, brother, let me have joy of thee.
This word ὀναίμην is from the same root as the word "Onesimus," and the apostle, more suo, relaxing into his friendly familiar manner after the grave and touching language of the last few verses, plays upon the word. Let me have profit of thee—let me have Onesimus of thee. In the Lord. The phrase is twice repeated in this verse, and is very characteristic of St. Paul. But A, C, D*, F, G, I, read en Christo in the second clause. à has been altered, χω for κω , second.; "refresh my heart in Christ" (Revised Version).


I wrote unto thee
; write (Revised Version; see Phm_1:19
), or perhaps referring back, as in Phm_1:19, to the request in Phm_1:17. The strong, fervid, and repeated appeals of the apostle had not been caused by distrust of Philemon, nor of their own efficacy, but were the natural outcome of the strong interest he felt in the case of Onesimus, and the desire he felt to replace him in the favor of his master; partly also, perhaps, to the warmth and fervor of his natural character, which uttered itself involuntarily in forcible expressions.


. There was this one additional inducement that could be brought to bear upon the mind of Philemon, viz. the expectation of speedily seeing him in person, and this, in conclusion, he uses. "I do not think that the apostle was so rich or encumbered with such great packages that he needed a lodging prepared beforehand, and was not content with a narrow dwelling-place, but thought the most spacious houses scanty for the accommodation of his small body; but that, while Philemon was expecting [the apostle] to come to him, he would the more do what he had requested" (Jerome). Meyer makes much of the improbability that St. Paul, starting from Rome, should bespeak a lodging in Colossae. Yet he suggests that it was perfectly natural that, starting from Caesarea, the apostle should take Colossae on the road to Rome. But the one seems almost as probable as the other. The apostle, on his release, had, so far as we know, no definite plans; the cities of Asia Minor were familiar to him, and he would naturally prepare to go wherever the first pressing occasion, that of Onesimus, called him. N reads ἀσπάξεται , "salutes."

Phm_1:23, Phm_1:24

. The salutations correspond generally to those with which the Epistle to the Colossians closes, but they are fuller, as is natural, in the longer Epistle. The order is in—

Colossians Philemon Tychicus Epaphras Onesimus Marcus Aristarchus Aristarchus Marcus Demas Jesus Justus Lucas Epaphras Lucas Demas

My fellow-prisoner. The word occurs elsewhere only in Rom_16:7, besides the parallel passage in Col_4:10. As to Epaphras, see above. Marcus, having once forsaken the apostle (Act_13:13; Act_15:37-39), had now returned, and was with him in Rome. Aristarchus was "a Macedonian of Thessalonica," and had accompanied St. Paul in his memorable voyage to Rome (Act_27:2). Demas was now the "co-worker" of the apostle at Rome, but at a later period he had departed unto Thessalonica (2Ti_4:10), and we know nothing of his subsequent history. Tradition (Epiph., 'Haer.,' 41:6) relates that he also apostatized from Christianity; but the apostle's phrase, though a strong one, does not necessarily mean this. Lucas (see 2Co_8:18).


The grace.
A omits ἀμήν . Theodoret has appended the following to his commentary: "It is fitting that those who have obtained the privilege of handing on the holy doctrine should so teach servants to submit themselves to their lords, that through all things Jesus Christ may be praised, to whom with the Father and the most Holy Spirit belong glory and greatness now and always and forever. Amen."



The hallowing of the ordinary intercourse of life.

The salutation. Philemon's house had become a church, and the Church was in his house; thereby the household was made holy. Every household should likewise be made holy by the Christian profession and practice of its heads—the master and mistress. A profession of religion alone will not have this effect; there must be the daily practice of self-restraint, forbearance, Christian charity, and mutual love. Religion not wholly or chiefly an intellectual or doctrinal belief, though it is founded upon historical facts and shaped by the truths of the Creed. It is essentially practical; belief issuing in action—"faith which worketh by love" (Gal_5:6; Jas_2:20-22).

I. NO KIND OF INTERCOURSE BETWEEN CHRISTIANS BUT IS CAPABLE OF BEING THUS HALLOWED. As e.g. that arising from the relations of husband and wife (Eph_5:25-31; Tit_2:4); of parents and children (Eph_6:1; 1Ti_3:4); of masters and servants (Eph_6:5-9; 1Co_7:21, 1Co_7:22); of citizens bound to obey the governing power of the state in all things lawful (1Pe_2:13, 1Pe_2:14); of friends and equals (Joh_13:34; 1Co_8:13); of rich persons and poor persons, unequal in worldly station, but brethren, nothing less than brethren, as they can be nothing more, in Christ (Jas_2:6-9).


1. Speaking generally, by the practice of religions principles. But specifically, by restraining the natural selfishness of human hearts. Love draws people together; selfishness separates them—isolates each in the pursuing of his own objects: "All seek their own, and not the things which are Jesus Christ's."

2. By the endeavor to restrain the tongue from speaking evil (Psa_34:13). Angry words, retorts reckless of truth and only. meant to wound the hearer, scandal, angry and inconsiderate words to dependents,—what frequent occasions of sin are these! The tongue is the great medium of social intercourse, and it must be brought under control, if that is to be hallowed (Jas_3:5, Jas_3:6).

3. The family relation is hallowed especially by family prayer. God dwells in an especial manner in the homes where he has been thus invoked by the family as a whole. Family prayer at once the expression of the Christian character and the means of preserving it and making it purer.


The Christian family.

The family of Philemon was Christian, doubtless, both in profession and practice. Many families at the present day are Christian in profession, but not in practice. The family really Christian may be known (like the individual) by its fruits (Mat_7:20).

I. IN IT GOD'S NAME IS HONORED. He is habitually regarded and spoken of as the Giver of all the family happiness, and of whatever measure of prosperity it enjoys. The parents have received from him their children as a charge to be brought up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Children recognize without hesitation the duty of obedience as paramount to all self-pleasing (Eph_6:1).


III. IN IT (that is, by its members) THE PUBLIC OBSERVANCES OF RELIGION ARE DILIGENTLY KEPT. The habits of the household are so arranged as not to put unnecessary hindrance in the way of either the family or servants attending public worship at the proper times. Unnecessary labor on Sunday is not required, nor even permitted.

IV. IN IT, FURTHERMORE, GOD IS WILLINGLY ENTRUSTED WITH ITS DESTINIES. "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Php_4:6), and, as the correlative of this," be careful for nothing;" that is, anxious and distressed about it. These are the rules which have been found of sovereign power in the Christian family.

V. As the law of God is in it the restraining rule, so THE LOVE OF GOD IS THE INSPIRING MOTIVE. "Followers of God, as dear children" (Eph_5:1), not performing the mechanical and enforced obedience of the slave, nor even merely the habitual obedience which can be instilled by education and training; but the free, unforced, willing, elastic service which is prompted by the love of a child.

VI. Lastly, IN THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY CHARITY IS TAUGHT BY PRECEPT AND BY EXAMPLE. The voice of slander is not heard in it. The elders are not "weary in well-doing," and the younger learn (1Jn_3:17) that to help those who have need is to have something of the likeness of God, and to act under the direction of God's good Spirit.

Phm_1:4, Phm_1:5

The constituent parts of acceptable prayer: thanksgiving, intercession, personal petitions.

1. An example of these here, incidentally given, not purposely, , St. Paul's practice with regard to Philemon. He was not familiarly known to the apostle. Perhaps it was with a certain surprise he learned that the great apostle habitually "made mention of him" in his prayers. In like manner, many Christians are being helped, without their own knowledge, by the prayers of others. The apostle's example to be followed.

2. Thanksgiving a necessary part of prayer. "I thank my God." If this be omitted, we are ungrateful, and so our devotion will not be acceptable to God. We must thank God for past mercies bestowed upon us and upon others. Our service is not really devotion without this, but the reverse. A want of duty towards God therefore a sin (Psa_109:7).

3. Intercession for others. "Making mention of thee always in my prayers." This the duty thrown upon us by our Christian fellowship. In this the "communion of saints" is shown forth. It is not to be confined to our immediate connections and friends. Philemon was not intimately known to St. Paul, yet he was remembered by him. Prayer without intercession is selfish, and therefore unacceptable to God. It may be that their too manifest selfishness of tone is the reason that many of our prayers do not obtain from God the answer they crave (Isa_1:15). It ought always to embrace the whole Church of Christ, not merely that part of it in which we are immediately interested. This would have a reflex action upon ourselves, and would tend towards eventual union among us; for when the sympathies of the heart are wide, the sympathies of the intellect will hardly remain narrow.

4. Petitions for our personal needs are never likely to be absent from our prayers. The danger will be that they should form too large a part of them. They need to be restrained and regulated, not indulged. As the Christian grows in saintliness, his prayers for self will come to be more and more for spiritual blessings instead of temporal. At length they will be merged in the comprehensive petition that God's will may be done in the petitioner, and his Name glorified.

5. To cease analysis, and take a complete view of prayer, we find it to sum up in itself all the sentiments which the human soul should entertain towards its Divine Creator.

"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,

Uttered or unexpressed."

Therefore gratitude, confidence, affection, hope, anxiety for others or for ourselves, penitence, should all in their degree enter into our prayers. But none of these should monopolize them.

Phm_1:5, Phm_1:6

Man glorifying God.

Man is created for God's glory, and finds the highest end of his being, therefore, in glorifying him. Four ways may be distinguished in which he does this.

I. THE WAY OF GOOD DEEDS DONE IN HIS STRENGTH, which cause others to glorify him. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Mat_5:16). This is the mode referred to here: "That thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you." The mutual benevolence of Christians was thus to God's glory, and tended to bring others into the fold.

II. THE WAY OF WORSHIP—an ancient, universal, and proper way. Acts of worship are directed to God. That they may be really to his glory, they must be for God; that is, he must be, not their object merely, but their end (Manton). As far as secondary motives prevail in our worship, so tar it is for those motives, and not purely to God's glory. The sole element to be reckoned in worship is the earnestness, piety, and sincerity of the worshipper. God is no more glorified of necessity by great outward beauty and splendor; he is no less glorified by the barest simplicity, if the devotion be equal. The accessories of worship are for man's help, and to assist man's feeble and purblind view of eternal realities; and are not otherwise to God's glory than as they are fit vehicles of man's devotion.

III. THE THIRD WAY OF OBEDIENCE. Man glorifies God when he becomes that which God intended him to be. He realizes by obedience the thought of God when he said, "Let us make man in our image." This was lost through the sin of Adam, and it is in process of restoration through the obedience of Christ, in individual Christians as they successively live upon the earth.

IV. GOD IS BEST GLORIFIED, THEREFORE, BY THE OBEDIENCE OF THE SOUL AND LIFE. Hooker says, "Should you erect to him a temple more magnificent than Solomon's, and load his altars with hecatombs of sacrifices, and make it perpetually ring with psalms and resounding choirs of hallelujahs, it would not be comparably so great an honor to him as to convert your own souls into living temples, and make them the habitations of his glory and perfection. For he values no sacrifices like that of an obedient will, delights in no choir like that of pure and heavenly affections, nor hath he in all his creation an ensign of honor so truly worthy of him as that of a Divine and God-like soul, a soul that reflects his image, and shines back his own glory upon him."


The religion of Christ a defense of social order, not a disturbing force.

There have been religions which have been simply forces of destruction. Mohammedanism, when it was first preached, and even to this day, as far as its power extends, has the Koran in one hand and the scimitar in the other, and offers but the alternatives of conversion, slavery, or death. The actors in the French Revolution of 1789 strove to spread their new gospel of liberty, equality, and fraternity at the point of the sword. Communism in 1870, and Nihilism since, make war upon all that is old, and desire to destroy all existing social organizations to make room for their own schemes. These are destructive forces in human nature, and nothing more.

I. THE RELIGION OF CHRIST IS NOT ITSELF A SECULAR POLITY OR FORM OF GOVERNMENT. It does not, therefore, seek to uproot the social order which exists in any country. It, indeed, acts upon the individuals which compose the nation, and so in course of time transforms from within the institutions of the country. But it does not attack them from without; and therefore it is compatible with any form of government.

II. IT EXERCISES NO COMPULSORY POWER, NO PHYSICAL FORCE. It works through the will of the person addressed, and leads, but does not compel. That is the characteristic method of Christianity. Thus St. Paul would not force the will of Philemon. His apostolic authority would have warranted his speaking in a tone of command: "I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient." But he preferred to persuade: "For love's sake I rather beseech thee."

III. THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, THEREFORE, MAKES GOOD CITIZENS. "Fear God. Honor the king" (1Pe_2:17). It expressly recognizes the ruling powers de facto as entitled to obedience, and as the representatives of the Divine principle of authority and government (1Pe_2:13); as having the right, therefore, to be legally obeyed. It inculcates quiet and peaceful conduct, harmless, law-abiding, observant to perform contracts and obligations (1Th_4:11, 1Th_4:12), and directs each to be careful of the rights of others (1Th_5:15; Php_2:4). These are the characteristics of its true followers; and in all its system it keeps in mind the great objects of promoting peace and unity, of qualifying its people by the elevation of their personal characters for the fullest measure of liberty, and at length of eternal happiness. It is the surest defense of nations.


Ungodly men are unprofitable to themselves and to others.

I. IS SIN, THEN, PROFITABLE TO THE SINNER? Whether the pleasures of sense or the possessions and honors of the world have prompted him to sin, it will be found that they alike issue in vanity and vexation. Should the desires not be satisfied, then the discontented appetite thirsts for more, and renders the man unhappy. If it be satisfied, yet it is a satisfaction of weariness, not contentment (Rom_6:21), and there is a sting of shame in the recollection of such pleasures.

II. "THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH" (Rom_6:23)—a penalty which must necessarily outweigh any apparent profit or pleasure arising from sin, however great it can be supposed to be. "What shall a man give [or, 'receive'] in exchange for his soul?". Sin were unprofitable if we should only consider the ultimate consequences of exhaustion and satiety which it has on the sinner. When the judgment of God is taken into account, it becomes absolute and manifest folly. Two facts to be borne in mind:

(1) man is accountable for what he does; and

(2) he has an immortality of future existence in which to bear the penal consequences of his doings.

Could the sinner have but a single sight of the awful fires of hell, he could never again doubt whether the sin which leads men thither were in any sense of the word profitable to any human being.

III. Is THE SINNER, THEN, PROFITABLE TO OTHERS? He is rendered unprofitable to others in so far as he is given up into the power of sin. Onesimus had been "unprofitable" (Phm_1:11) in time past to Philemon, because, under the influence of sinful motives (we do not know of what precise kind), he had sought dishonestly his own interest, not his master's. The dishonest person will cheat his master or employer; the deceitful person will deceive others; and they are thus "unprofitable" in various ways to those who are brought into communication with them. Onesimus had become Christian, and his unprofitableness had disappeared. He was transformed by the grace of God. Self-seeking, dishonesty, untruthfulness, need not thenceforth be looked for from him (although these were the usual vices of the slave). He would be able to be trusted, and therefore he was profitable. See the influence of Christian motives. He would be faithful to Philemon as to others, kind, preferring others to himself (Php_2:3, Php_2:4).


Treasures in heaven.

I. CHRISTIANS HAVE THE PROMISE, NOT ONLY OF THE LIFE THAT NOW IS, BUT OF THAT WHICH IS TO COME. (1Ti_4:8.) Philemon had had before a legal property in Onesimus, which was, however, temporary, because it necessarily ended at latest with the life of either man. But in gaining the tie of Christian fellowship with him, he obtained an interest in him which would endure permanently; and so Philemon had, in a sense, "received him forever."

II. THIS IS THEREFORE A TYPICAL INSTANCE. The world has only temporal and temporary treasures to offer; religion has eternal and abiding ones. "The things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2Co_4:18); the one has time for its sphere of action, and is bounded by time; the other has eternity.

III. SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND BLESSINGS ARE BEGUN IN THIS WORLD, but will not be fully possessed by the blessed until after the final judgment. They are an inheritance—"treasures in heaven." The Christian, as he "grows in grace," possesses -more and more completely:

1. Love and subjection towards God.

2. Love, sympathy, and forgiveness towards his neighbor.

3. Watchfulness and self-control over himself.

The apostle enumerates these spiritual blessings without classification (Gal_5:23), as "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." The sum and substance and crown of them all is righteousness—an approximation, by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God, to the ideal of perfect manhood; that is, "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (see Eph_4:13). And this righteousness prepares the soul for the presence of God (Luk_17:21). While other treasures, therefore, are possessions of the body, or at most of the mind, "treasures in heaven" belong to the soul, that is, to the immortal and permanent part of man's nature, and are to be valued accordingly.


1. In preference to all other things, because of their greater importance. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Mat_6:33), and also Phm_1:19, Phm_1:20, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," etc.

2. With all earnestness. "Strive to enter in" (Luk_13:24), as men who are so much in earnest as to be "violent" (Mat_11:12).

3. By the practice of graces given: of faith (2Pe_1:5), of charity and almsgiving (1Ti_6:18, 1Ti_6:19), of the knowledge of the Savior and of heavenly things (2Pe_3:18).

V. THE CHRISTIAN HAS THE GUARANTEE OF GOD HIMSELF that his hopes for eternal happiness shall not be disappointed (2Ti_1:12; 1Pe_4:19).


Christianity not permanently compatible with slavery as an institution.

I. IT FOLLOWS FROM THE CONSIDERATION OF CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD that, although it finds many slaves, yet it shall gradually raise them to a state of freedom. It frees their souls at once. They become "the Lord's freemen" (1Co_7:22), and the body cannot always remain bound when the soul is free. Thus, though it does not cut down the tree (of slavery), it severs the roots, and a state of slavery cannot therefore permanently flourish among Christians.

II. THIS IS ALSO THE TEACHING OF HISTORY. It was an age of slavery in which this Epistle was written. Europe and Asia were occupied by an immense population of slaves, far outnumbering the free persons. In the province of Attica alone there were four hundred thousand slaves and only thirty-one thousand freemen. In Corinth there were four hundred and sixty thousand slaves. It was not uncommon in Rome (where the apostle was at the time of writing) for one rich man to possess as many as ten or even twenty thousand slaves. They cultivated the fields; they monopolized all the trades. It was an age of slavery. Into this state of society the gospel of Christ came. It did not, indeed, propose to break the bonds of all slaves, and reach the kingdom of God through social convulsion and much bloodshed. Its propagators did not preach a servile revolt.

III. IT PROPOSED NOT A TEMPORAL BUT A SPIRITUAL FREEDOM TO ITS FOLLOWERS. It recognized all alike as immortal beings. There was one Church for all, whether bond or free; and the same sacraments in which all should participate. Other forms of religion had treated the slave as a chattel; this alone regarded him as a man. It raised into activity the moral powers of his nature. He had been managed by the fear of punishment merely. But the gospel spoke to him of moral differences in conduct—of right and wrong; it awoke in his soul an inspiring hope. It predicted a day of judgment, in which the difference between a good and evil life should have the most momentous consequences to each individual. Thus it transformed the slave altogether. He began to look before and after; to raise his thoughts, his hopes, and his voice to heaven; and to understand what was the "liberty wherewith Christ had made him [though a slave] free" (Gal_5:1), even "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom_8:21).

IV. TO THE MASTER ALSO THE VERY SAME ENDS WERE PROPOSED. He, too, was to run the same Christian course with his slave, guided by the same principles, helped by the same hopes, and constrained by the same sanctions. A similar object soon produced a similarity of character; and a similarity of (Christian) character brought about sympathy of feeling. In the rising tide of Christian fellowship the worst hardships of slavery melted away, even long before it was formally abolished. It became an anachronism, a relic of a vanished and gone-by condition of things.

V. AND AS IT WAS IN THE FIRST PERIOD OF THE GOSPEL, SO IT HAS BEEN SINCE. There have been periods when circumstances had brought about partial revivals of the spirit of slavery. But the working of the principles of the gospel have proved irreconcilable as ever with slavery, and has either brought it to an end or cast it out. Take, for example, the civil war in America.


The brotherhood of all Christians.

Onesimus, before his conversion to the faith, was the servant of Philemon; and afterwards, though he did not cease to be his servant, yet he became something more, viz. his brother in Christ Jesus. We may learn from this—

I. THAT THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION DOES NOT TAKE AWAY THE DIFFERENCE OF RANKS AND CONDITIONS, NOR REGARD THEM AS UNLAWFUL. The Apostle Paul instructs masters how to behave towards servants, and servants towards masters (Eph_6:5, Eph_6:9); governors how to conduct themselves towards the governed (Rom_12:8), and the governed towards their superiors; and thereby acknowledges each state as lawful.

II. YET THESE DIFFERENCES ARE ACCIDENTAL, AND CONSISTENT WITH AN ESSENTIAL EQUALITY OF ALL CHRISTIANS. The gospel considers all Christians (as they are in the sight of God) without reference to their rank and station, their wealth or poverty, and classes them on moral considerations alone. "The poor man hath the Word of God offered unto him, read unto him, and preached unto him as well as the rich; he hath the sacraments of God provided for him as well as for them that are of high place; he may pray unto God as freely, as comfortably, as cheerfully, as the great men of the earth; and he hath a gracious promise to be heard and respected as well as they. Though thou farest hardly and meanly at home, yet God hath prepared thee a feast, and biddeth thee to his table richly furnished and plentifully stored with all provision. Though thou do not get up and down in silks and velvets, and hast no gorgeous attire to put on, yet God hath provided thee a better garment—he giveth thee his own Son to put on, and clotheth thee with his righteousness" (W. Attersoll).

III. The consideration that their servants and inferiors in station have an equal portion in Christ and in the means of salvation ought to be an instruction to those highly placed in this world to show MILDNESS AND CONSIDERATION, PATIENCE, AND EVEN MEEKNESS TO THEIR INFERIORS AND SERVANTS. Their advantages are great; they ought not to abuse those advantages by treating unfairly those who are committed to their charge (Jas_5:3, Jas_5:4).

IV. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE RICH MAN FOR THE POOR. The higher his rank above others, the more humble and unassuming should he be; for his obligations also are great: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luk_12:48). His authority, his influence, his example, must needs produce good or evil effects on others, and for these he will be held responsible in the judgment.


Spiritual benefits the most valuable of all;

Since St. Paul had (as it appears) won to the embracing of the faith of Christ as well Philemon himself as Onesimus his slave, he rightly reminds him, as his first and most powerful argument, that Philemon owes himself and his very life (that is, the life of his soul) to him.

I. HE DOES NOT SUM UP THIS OBLIGATION. He leaves it to the conscience of Philemon to consider how much he was indebted. It was, perhaps, incommensurable with the favor he was asking. But it is clear that such an obligation must exceed every other. A man's self is more valuable than his lands or his goods (Job_2:4). It is therefore a lifelong obligation that men are under to those who have been to them the instruments of great spiritual benefits, and one not capable of being fully discharged. So it is said, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!" (Isa_52:7; Rom_10:15). St. Paul bears witness that the Galatians, whose spiritual father he was, regarded nothing as being too good or too costly to show their affection for him (Gal_4:14, Gal_4:15); and he lays down in 1Co_9:11 that the spiritual benefits of which he had been the means were supreme in kind to any possible carnal recompense.

II. SPIRITUAL BENEFITS ARE INDEED THE GIFTS OF GOD AND THE EFFECTS OF HIS GRACE; but he uses the services of men, and particularly of his ministers, in the dispensing of them. "It is better to help our friends to recover lost grace than lost money" (Thomas Aquinas). And those who receive them rightly will be suitably grateful.

III. SPIRITUAL BENEFITS THE MOST VALUABLE, because the soul of man is his most precious possession. The life of the soul is impaired and at length wholly lost by sin; but is regained and strengthened by Divine grace.

1. The soul is more noble than earth or heaven; for of these the one is for its temporary habitation, the other for its eternal one.

2. It bears the image of God. It is like the piece of silver in the parable (Luk_15:8), for which, when lost, such diligent search was made. The heavens were created with a word, but the redemption of the soul needed the incarnation of Christ, and his death upon the cross.

3. Hence its value, and the corresponding value of a service rendered to it—a value so great as not to be capable of being expressed (e.g.) in money.

IV. IT IS INCOMMENSURATE WITH TEMPORAL THINGS. So St. Paul does not give the sum of it. The freedom of Onesimus was a service in the spiritual sphere. It was a benefit to Onesimus himself; and, if he were employed as St. Paul proposed (1Co_9:13), in the service of the Church, might be the means of good to many other souls.

V. IT WAS A FITTING PLEDGE, therefore, of the gratitude of Philemon.

homilies by W.M. Statham

Phm_1:1, Phm_1:2

The scepter of love.

"Fellow-laborer … fellow-soldier." These are terms expressive of the spirit of St. Paul. He was not only an ecclesiastic, speaking ex cathedra, so as to have dominion over men's faith. He was a brother amongst brethren; he ruled by force of character and by depth of love; he addresses them in words which had not then degenerated into a formula: "Dearly beloved."

I. COMMON WORK. "Fellow-laborer." For Paul believed in work—in hard work. He had "journeys oft;" he returned to confirm the faith of the disciples. He worked in sorrow of brain and sweat of heart, and sometimes in sweat of brow.

II. COMMON CONFLICT. "Fellow-soldier." For all through the ages the Christian has a battle to fight—within himself, and with the world and the flesh and the devil. Men are sustained by the sight of men nobler than themselves risking life and health. In the Crimean War, when a young officer headed his troops, running by their side in the heat of the conflict, a private remarked, "There runs ten thousand a year!" Paul did not direct a campaign from afar; he did not do the dainty work, and leave others to hard fare and dungeons. He "fought a good fight," and in that fight he fell, to be crowned with honor hereafter. How inspiring, therefore, would such a man be to other apostles—"a fellow-soldier!"—W.M.S.


Love's outcome in prayer.

"Making mention of thee always in my prayers." We may judge of the reality of our affection by the current of our thoughts. Do we find them tending towards some absent friends daily? Then we have evidence that ours is not the superficial love that can live only in the presence of its object. With the Christian thought turns to prayer. There on the throne of the universe is One who can best befriend our dearest friends.

I. THERE WAS BLESSEDNESS IN THE EXPERIENCE. "I thank my God making mention," etc. It was not a prayer touched with sorrow for Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus, or with anxiety about their faith and character. It was the prayer of one who rejoiced that the Christ above could keep them from falling.

II. THERE WAS PURPOSE IN THE PRAYER. Paul remembers its subject-matter. When he heard of their love and faith towards the Lord Jesus, he prayed that their faith might not be merely personal or selfish, but that their religion might be, in the modern speech, "altruistic," which is "otherism" as opposed to "selfism." Paul prayed that the communication of their faith might be effectual, that the light might shine on others so as to guide them, that the fountain might flow into other hearts so as to refresh them.—W.M.S.

Phm_1:9, Phm_1:10

Love's motive-power.

"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 (Phm_1:19), 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.

Phm_1:19, Phm_1:20

Personal obligation.

"Thine own self." This is more than all else. We can call nothing "our own" but "the self." We are not rich in what we have, but in what we are. All things, houses, estates, lands, are outside us. The self is all.

I. INDEBTEDNESS OF PHILEMON. Philemon owed his spiritual conversion, all the rich inheritance in the soul, to the ministry of Paul; and he delicately enough reminds him of this in an indirect form of speech, "Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self." It is one of those touches which show what a true gentleman St. Paul was. There is more than claim of right to counsel him, viz. the modest reminder that, if need be, he would repay any loss that Philemon might have sustained through the detention by Paul of Onesimus.

II. EXPECTATION CONCERNING HIM. "Let me have joy of thee in the Lord." "Refresh me." What by? That which alone can rejoice the heart of a true father in the gospel, viz. Christ's own Spirit in Christ's disciples. The gospel was to be spread, not alone by eloquence or erudition, but by Christ's own religion alive and in action in all who confes