Philemon 1:3

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon 1:3

After identifying himself, and Timothy who was accompanying him, Paul then identified who he was writing to, and then extended other specific and general greetings. Now, he gives a greeting which is very similar to that found in many of his epistles, “Grace to you and peace.” The words are in the second person, plural. Thus, they are to all who are being addressed, not just Philemon.

Grace is unmerited favor which cannot be earned. This is the common greeting among the Greek people. Peace, however, is the common greeting among the Hebrew people. In their language, the word is shalom. This is more than a greeting for calm or quiet, but is a state of wholeness and completion in all ways. Paul unites the two terms just as the church is being united between Jew and Gentile during his time. This grace precedes the peace because only after receiving the grace of God can a person experience the peace of God.

Paul extends this wonderful blessing to them “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a greeting from the eternal God – both the unseen Father and His Son who reveals the Father to us. Rather than being an argument against the divinity of Jesus Christ, it is an argument for it. He is tying the two in as one – Jesus being a member of the Godhead. He is not making some type of great division, but a harmonious blending of the two.

Throughout Paul’s letters, as with the entire Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ is a concept and a precept which simply can’t be missed. It is the very heart of what God has done for the reconciliation of the people of the world.

Life application: Outside of God’s creation, which reveals Him in a general way, we cannot comprehend Him except through His special revelation. One way we receive special revelation is through the mouths of His prophets. But these prophets all testified to the same thing – the coming of Messiah, Jesus Christ (see John 5:39). The most magnificent special revelation of God that we have received is the incarnation of Jesus. But for us, even this isn’t sight, it is found in the testimony of those who have recorded what they knew into the New Testament. So, in order to understand God, one must know Jesus Christ, and one cannot understand Jesus Christ unless he knows the Bible. Know your Bible!

Heavenly Father, how grateful we are that we can fellowship with You personally. We have Your word and so we know who You are. We can have personal talks with you as we pray in solitude, or even in a mall bustling with activity around us. We can feel Your presence in church as we fellowship with others, praising You and giving thanks for Your wonderful care of us. Thank You for allowing us to fellowship with You, O God. Amen.

Philemon 1:2

…to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Philemon 1:2

In verse 1, Paul first addressed the letter to Philemon. He now continues with three more addressees. The first is Apphia. It is her only mention in Scripture, and the root of her name denotes “endearment.” Paul calls her “the beloved.” However, the Greek word in some manuscripts says, “our sister.” Either way, it is supposed that she is Philemon’s wife, being noted first after Philemon. If not his wife, it is likely she was some close relation to him.

Next, Paul mentions “Archippus.” He is seen here and in Colossians 4:17 where Paul gives him a note of exhortation concerning the ministry he had received in the Lord. Here, he is called “our fellow soldier.” The term “fellow soldier” is used of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25, and Timothy is said to be a “good soldier of Jesus Christ” in 2 Timothy 2:3. These terms place these men under Christ, the Captain of our salvation, as warriors in His cause. Obviously, it refers to a spiritual battle when this metaphor is used. Various commentaries claim he was probably a son of Philemon, but there is nothing to substantiate that other than that he is noted by name, and before Paul’s final addressee, meaning “the church in your house.”

Again, scholars are divided on what the term means. Some state that this term signifies a local gathering of Christians who met in Philemon’s house because it was a suitable place to meet. Others claim that the term is referring to his own family which is comprised of faithful Christians. There is no reason to assume that the term does not include outsiders who came by to form a local church though.

Life application: There are matters which are extremely important to get right concerning doctrine. These must be defended in a very fixed and rigid manner. There are issues which are important, but which do not affect salvation. These can be debated, but shouldn’t be a point of division. And then there are things like Apphia’s relationship to Philemon which have no bearing on doctrine at all. Unless there is a reliable external source which definitively explains who she is and what her relationship to Philemon is, there is no need to argue the matter. A simple comment, showing the uncertainty of the details, is all that is needed.

Lord God, help us to live peaceably with our fellow believers, and indeed with all people, to the extent to which it is possible. It is certainly not possible to live in a peaceable way with people who are violently opposed to our faith in You, but in those times where we can live in a friendly manner with others, help us to do so. May we be the initiators of peace in the world we live in, setting an example for others to hopefully emulate. Amen.

Philemon 1:1

Friday, 6 July 2018

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, Philemon 1:1

Welcome to the epistle known as Philemon. It is a single chapter, containing only 25 verses. Thus, it will take less than one month to evaluate it one verse at a time. It is a tender and loving letter in several ways, and it is a marvelous conclusion to the epistles of Paul. The letter will provide insights into ethical issues for and between Christians. It is a letter which has a social component to it, particularly the issue of slavery. And yet, that particular issue is truly taken out of context by many. Using Philemon as an argument either for, or against, slavery is something the epistle was never intended for.

The book is also one which highlights disobedience in one way, and yet a request for mercy in another. The providence of God is clear and evident in the events which are described, and how they came about. Without explicitly relaying some details, it is evident that a tapestry has been woven nonetheless. In this, it mirrors other stories in the Bible, such as the book of Ruth, which show a “behind the scenes” working of God in order to effect an intended outcome.

Philemon also adds in an eternal element to things. Paul will relay in verse 16 that a new relationship has been established between Philemon and Onesimus, an eternal one, because of Jesus Christ. There is a new dynamic in play in their lives which will hopefully be the impetus for Philemon to respond favorably to Paul’s request.

Philemon is a wholly personal letter, written by Paul, and which is lacking any outward signs of doctrine or exhortation. And yet, it is a letter which contains an immense amount of underlying theology concerning what is right, and what is considered proper in matters of Christian charity. One scholar, Frankius, says that “This single epistle to Philemon very far surpasses all the wisdom of the world.” How could that be in such a short, personal letter? It is because it deals with issues that require wisdom which the world does not possess without a knowledge that man is accountable to a higher Source than this temporary life provides.

And so, with an all-too short introduction to this beautiful letter now concluded, Paul begins with his name. He has identified himself as he does in his other letters. However, he immediately diverts from what he normally says. Instead of identifying himself as an apostle (a title he also skips with the Macedonian churches of Thessalonica and Philippi), he says, “a prisoner.”

The reason for this is not yet evident, but Paul is going to be appealing for his beloved “son” Onesimus. By identifying himself as a prisoner, he is eliciting sympathy from his addressee, Philemon. Elsewhere, he does identify himself as a prisoner, but it is for the sake of glorifying God in his imprisonment, not to elicit sympathy from it. He also elsewhere identifies himself as a “bondservant” of Jesus Christ, thus showing his allegiance to the Lord in all ways. In his identification as a “prisoner” here, he is demonstrating that his allegiance has led him as far as prison for the sake of the gospel.

Paul is literally a prisoner under Nero, but more significantly he is a prisoner “of Christ Jesus.” In adding this in, he is showing that he is not just a prisoner for general wrongdoing against the empire, but he is a prisoner for doing right towards God and the gospel of His Son. It is a second way of eliciting sympathy towards his yet-to-be-stated cause.

He next adds in, “and Timothy.” Timothy is often included in Paul’s initial greetings, along with others. However, Paul ensures that he is further known as “our brother.” Paul has introduced the fraternal bond between the two, which then extends to Philemon as well. This is another way of eliciting sympathetic feelings from Philemon. In verse 10, he will explicitly call Onesimus “my son.” In calling Timothy “our brother” here, he is tying all four together into one family bond. Every time that Paul opens a letter, the choice of his initial greeting reveals much about the connection he has towards his audience. The same is certainly the case here in his final epistle.

Next, he identifies his addressee as “Philemon.” This is the only time he is mentioned in Scripture. He is a Christian, and he is a man of Colossae. The name is derived from phileo, which signifies “affectionate friendship.” Therefore, his name means “Friendly” or “Kindly.” He was brought to saving faith in Christ by Paul (v. 19), and he was evidently a faithful Christian as is evidenced by Paul’s words in the letter.

Paul then calls him, “our beloved.” His inclusion of this is to ensure that the fraternal bond which he has already established is realized as precious and enduring. The word used has two specific applications. The first is “the Beloved” when speaking of Christ in relation to the Father. The second is between believers, as beloved by God, and also as beloved by one another.

Finally, he adds in, “and fellow laborer.” It is a title which he uses frequently in his epistles when speaking of other believers in relation to the gospel; in fulfilling the calling which is placed upon believers concerning doctrine, instruction, evangelism, etc. Paul again establishes a specific bond through the choice of this term. His plea for Onesimus in verse 13 includes the thought of him ministering to Paul for the gospel. How could one fellow laborer deny such a request, especially when it was needed because Paul was still in chains? As he could not actively do certain things for the gospel, he needed Onesimus there with him to ensure those things got done.

In all, Paul’s opening salutation is precisely stated in order to set an exacting tone for the rest of the letter. Every word has been carefully chosen to meet the intended and desired outcome.

Life application: We should look to Paul’s example of how to address others, not for the sake of manipulating them, but for the sake of meeting our true needs as they arise. Paul’s intent was sincere, his need was real, and his love of all concerned was obvious. In choosing his words so carefully, he was ensuring the most favorable outcome of the decision which he is making his appeal for.

Lord God, thank You for the fraternal bond which exists between believers in Christ. And yet, it is unfortunate that the bond isn’t as strong as it should be in many cases. There are times to sever fellowship, and there are times to be merciful and forgiving. Help us to make the right choices about these things. Help our friendships to be based on a love of You and Your word first. From that, our relationships with other believers will be easier to define. Thank You for guiding us in this. Amen.