Philemon 1:20

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Philemon 1:20

The translation here, following the KJV, misses the pun which Paul is making. The Greek literally reads, “Yes, brother, from you may I have profit in the Lord.” The word he uses, rightly translated as “may have profit,” is oninémi. It is found only this once in the Bible, and it signifies to derive “benefit,” or “profit.” The similarity of the word to Onesimus is not to be missed. Paul is making a confirmatory statement as indicated by the word “Yes.” He then makes it an endearing statement by again stating the word “brother.” And then from that, he makes his verbal pun by saying, “let me have profit from you.”

He is asking for a type of gain from the hand of Philemon, and that gain is the pardon and release of his profitable son in the faith Onesimus, or Profit. The words are as carefully written now as they were when he was preparing to state what was on his mind in the earlier verses. And to show the depth of his request, he adds in, “in the Lord.” In essence, he is saying that Philemon’s approval of Paul’s request would indicate that the Lord’s hand was, in fact, involved in everything that has happened. It would then confirm the Lord’s presence as Paul had surmised was the case in verse 15 with the words, “For perhaps.”

From there, Paul restates his desires with the words, “refresh my heart in the Lord.” The word translated here as “heart” signifies the inward parts; the internal organs. It thus refers to the deep-seated, visceral feelings of a person. Paul is looking to have the aching in his heart, the growling pains of his stomach, and the empty feeling which is deep inside of him refreshed by Philemon’s granting of his request.

As a side note, some manuscripts say in this second clause, “in Christ,” instead of “in the Lord.” As Christ is the Lord, nothing doctrinal is missing. Either way, he is placing the entire request, including the easing of his heart, in the context of being united together with Philemon in Christ the Lord.

Life application: Sticking to one translation of the Bible is not a wise way of pursuing the word of the Lord. If one doesn’t know the original languages, reading multiple versions, and then studying why there are differences between them, will greatly help the reader learn what is actually being said. For example, the use of irony is often missed by one translation, but brought out well in another. Be a wise student of Scripture and read the Bible as often as you can, and in a multitude of translations.

Lord God, thank You for the many varied translations of the Bible that You have granted to us through the hard work of many scholarly teams. We now have a much rounder idea of what is actually said in Your word by comparing various translations with the originals that are also available to us. What a blessed generation we are. Help us not to squander the great blessing of such marvelous access to Your word. Our lives are brief. May we use our time wisely in the pursuit of Your superior word! Amen.

Philemon 1:19

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Philemon 1:19

Paul’s previous words were, “…if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.” The words he now writes become important then because he would be bound by his words. In saying, “I, Paul, am writing with my own hand,” it is not as if a scribe had accidentally written something that Paul may have considered and then rejected. Rather, his hand wrote the words, ensuring that Philemon would know his sincerity.

A long-debated question is whether Paul wrote the entire letter himself, or if he took the pen from a scribe at this point and finished the letter from here on. We can speculate on the matter, but in the end, it is unknown. Either way, he personally wrote this portion, and it became his signature of approval for the entire letter. If the entire letter was written by him, it would be an unusual occurrence, and a note of the most tender affection.

After acknowledging his guarantee, he then says, “I will repay.” The word “I” is emphatic. This is the purpose of noting he had written the words with his own hand. If Philemon were to incur any losses from Onesimus’ actions, he knew that Paul would ensure he was paid back. What this means is that even in prison, Paul was able to guarantee the debt was paid. Whether he had saved money over the years, or whether he knew that gifts of support were forthcoming that he could use, he was not destitute, and Philemon would have no fear that there would be loss on his part.

Having now made the guarantee, Paul gives an almost ironic set of words for Philemon to consider by saying, “not to mention to you that you owe me.” In essence, Paul has rightfully agreed to pay whatever debt was owed because of Onesimus, but Philemon would be wrong in even considering requesting such payment. There was a debt still outstanding from Philemon towards Paul which was greater than any debt he incurred from the situation with Onesimus. Whereas Paul might owe a set amount of money to correct Philemon’s loss, Paul tells Philemon “that you owe me even your own self besides.”

Paul had led Philemon to Christ. That is something that could never be repaid. It held eternal significance. The monetary loss incurred by Onesimus was a temporary, earthy debt. There was no comparison between the two. And so Paul is allowing the greater debt to be canceled when Philemon releases the lesser debt. It really is a touching note when considered properly.

Life application: Have you taken the time to thank the person who led you to Christ, or the one who has helped you develop in Christ? There are debts and then there are debts. The debt of gratitude for spiritual matters far outweighs, and will eternally outlast, the temporary debts of this life. Be sure to let those who have spiritually ministered to you know of your appreciation for their willingness to open their mouths and speak the words of life.

Lord God, there was a time when we were far from You. But then someone came into our lives and spoke the words of life that led us to the foot of the cross. Our eternal destinies were changed, our souls were saved, and life took on an entirely new meaning. Help us to be appreciative of those who are willing to share this glorious message, and also help us to be willing sharers of it as well. To Your glory we pray. Amen.

Philemon 1:18

Monday, 23 July 2018

But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. Philemon 1:18

Paul, now speaking of Onesimus, says, “But if he has wronged you.” Philemon, even after all of the words of Paul requesting mercy upon himself, and also of restoration (implying leniency) upon Onesimus, knows that Philemon may feel that a debt is owed because of what Onesimus has done. Onesimus may have failed to perform certain jobs before running away, costing Philemon money. Even if not, Onesimus had escaped which may have caused a search to be made. Notices may have been sent out identifying Onesimus. In this, there may have been some sort of expenses.

What is important to understand though, is that Paul doesn’t actually say that Onesimus owed anything. He simply raises the matter, preempting any later call for recompense to be made. Paul, however, writes the issue of having done wrong in the indicative mood. This may imply that the hypothetical supposition is actually a certain fact. Paul is tactfully and carefully choosing his words to alleviate any greater feelings of injury to Philemon while still acknowledging that he very well may have been wronged.

At this point, Philemon could get the letter, look at Onesimus standing there, and say, “For Paul’s sake, I am forgiving you and granting you your freedom, but before that happens, you owe me for what you cost me.” By Paul stating in advance that Onesimus may have wronged him, he is letting it be known that he has already considered this fact as well. With this in mind, he then says, “or owes you anything.”

This would then cover any perceived debt owed by Onesimus. Even if he hadn’t stolen anything, his failure to work before, or during, his absence could be considered a chargeable loss. Paul has preempted frustration building up in Philemon by noting any such perceived loss now. Instead of feeling that he is on the losing end of Paul’s heartfelt request, Paul then says, “put that on my account.”

Paul’s choice of wording here is ellogeó. It is a word found only here and in Romans 5:13, and it signifies imputation. In essence, he is saying that if Onesimus has done wrong, Paul desired that the debt be imputed to him and that Onesimus would be found not guilty of any chargeable offense. There could be no perceived loss if Paul was willing to ensure that any such loss was covered. Paul is willing to pay a debt he did not owe in order to keep Onesimus from being obligated to a debt he had no way of paying.

Life application: There are times when people are simply unable to pay their debts. It is at these times that we should consider helping them out, if at all possible. However, we need to be wise in this matter. The book of Proverbs gives instances when it is unwise to be surety for another (one example is Proverbs 17:18). Many things must be taken into consideration before we act, but there are certainly times when we should act. Be wise, but be willing to give as the situation dictates.

Lord God, help us to be wise when we are asked to help others out. There are some people who have needs, but who have not been responsible with their lives, leading to those needs. There are others who have been gracious, prudent, hard-working, and yet they have come upon hard times. Help us to be wise and discerning about these things. It is sure that Your word gives us many examples to guide us, and so help us to apply its precepts carefully at all times. Yes, help us in this, O God! Amen.

Philemon 1:17

Sunday, 22 July 2018

If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. Philemon 1:17

Paul has just asked Philemon in the previous verse to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother.” He then gave the parameters of that brotherly status with the words, “especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

He has established the parameters then by asking Philemon to reckon Onesimus as a brother to Paul, and even more then as a brother of his own. Paul had already identified Philemon as a “brother” in verse 7. Thus, he is asking that the same relationship between him and Philemon be understood as existing between the three of them (inclusive of Onesimus) now.

With that understanding, he now pens a word carefully chosen to speak of the relationship between himself and Philemon, koinónos. It is one who participates mutually and belongs equally in a fellowship. Thus, he is a “joint-participant.” And so, Paul’s words could be paraphrased, “If then you count me as a joint-participant in fellowship.” They are brothers in Christ, but to what extent? Paul is asking that Philemon not only consider their fraternal bond because of Christ, but their mutual partnership in Christ. What is the difference? A good example of one who is a brother, but who is not on a mutual level is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15 –

“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

Clearly, Paul makes a distinction between one who is a brother in fellowship and one who is not in fellowship. Paul is asking for Philemon to count him as one in fellowship. He then explains the way that he can express this special bond by saying, “receive him as you would me.” He elevates Philemon’s treatment of Onesimus to the same treatment as he would give to Paul himself. In such an act by Philemon, Paul would know that their fellowship was mutual, grounded, and truly directed to the same great goals within the church.

Life application: How far are you willing to go to prove the depth of your fellowship with another. Onesimus has committed a grievous offense against Philemon, but Paul is asking that it be forgiven entirely. Are we willing to act in the same manner for the sake of Christian fellowship? Let us consider the state we were in before coming to Christ, and then let us consider the great forgiveness we have received in Him. From there, we can then more readily see that whatever we forgive of others in Christ is truly nothing in comparison to what we have received.

Great, glorious, and gracious heavenly Father! We thank You for the infinite forgiveness which was granted to us through the giving of Your Son. In Him, a debt which could never be repaid by us was swept away completely. Now, give us willing hearts to act in a similar manner when lesser, earthly offenses are brought against us. When we are asked to forgive, help us to not withhold that which is requested. In this, we can reflect You in our actions, and so help us to do so. Amen.

Philemon 1:16

Saturday, 21 July 2018

…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. Philemon 1:16

The reason that Paul alluded to in the previous verse as to why Onesimus may have departed from Philemon for a while is now revealed. Paul believes that it may be that the Lord was behind the scenes, directing the events, so that Philemon might receive him “no longer as a slave but more than a slave.” This is now truly the first time that the status of Onesimus, in relation to Philemon, has been revealed.

Until this point, it was really unknown what their relationship to one another was. But now, we find that Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. And yet, Onesimus had obviously run away from him. This wasn’t like someone not showing up for work in today’s world. It is similar to a military man going AWOL from his post. This was a direct crime against his master.

If one was reading this letter for the first time, they would truly understand the extreme care that Paul has taken to ensure every word was meticulously chosen and written out. The life of Onesimus could be in jeopardy, depending on the reaction of Philemon. But Paul appeals to him to receive him not merely as a slave, but ever more closely as “a beloved brother.” The words, “no longer,” are intended to direct Philemon’s heart away from the master/slave relationship and to have him look at the union of fellowship which has come about because of a third party who intervened in both of their lives, the true Master of both of them.

A new relationship exists between the two because of the new-found faith of Onesimus. Yes, he was a slave to Philemon, but he was now a brother in Christ. Paul implores him to receive him as such. He then increases the hope of such a reception by saying, “especially to me.”

Paul had a new brother in Christ, one he had come to love as a son (verse 9). He was asking for that to be considered. It was Philemon’s right to act as he chose towards his property, but it was his duty as a Christian to consider Paul’s feelings and needs as well. And so the appeal by Paul would be hard to turn down. What Christ had done in both of their lives necessitated them to consider one another’s needs, hopes, and feelings. However, Paul doesn’t stop there. He then adds on another thought for Philemon to consider by saying, “but how much more to you.”

Paul’s appeal is actually of less weight than what Philemon should consider in doing right towards Onesimus. There was already a set relationship between the two. It is almost impossible to find any close relationship which has not been strained at times. But those that are based within the home are normally overlooked in a different way than those outside the home. Further, Onesimus was willing to voluntarily come back to Philemon, carrying the very letter that Paul wrote in order to face whatever decision was rendered. And even more, in coming back, he would be far less likely to repeat such disobedience in the future, having learned that his rebellion was a cause of real trouble for any and all who were touched by it. Unlike a person returned by force, he was willing to return on his own, thus showing that he understood the seriousness of his actions and a willingness to not repeat them.

Philemon was being asked to consider this and apply these things from both a human and a divine perspective. As Paul says it, “both in the flesh and in the Lord.” In the flesh, refers to Philemon’s human side. He had gained a brother in Christ, but that still involves a human element. We all deal with other Christians from our human perspective. The dynamic changes when another comes to Christ, but everything about who we are, and who they are, remains in a physical state. Philemon could expect a better worker. Onesimus could hope for a more accepting master.

And both of them would also have to consider their state “in the Lord.” How one perceives the grace and mercy that has been bestowed on himself is an indication of how he will then pass those same benefits on to others. As Jesus Himself said, “…to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (Luke 7:47). Both Philemon and Onesimus had been forgiven much in Christ. If Philemon forgave Onesimus’s minor offense against him because of Christ, Onesimus would go to great lengths to be the best worker – slave or free – that he could be in the future.

Finally, like an earlier verse, this verse has been used to speak against slavery. Commentators have attempted to show that because of the new relationship between them in Christ, slavery is entirely unacceptable. No such thought is on Paul’s mind. He has elsewhere told both bondservants and masters to handle the relationship properly, not to end it (see Ephesians 6:5-9). He didn’t tell them that the relationship was wrong. Instead, he told them how to correctly handle it.

Today, the relationship is changed one from bonded slavery to employers and employees, but it is actually similar in how the relationships are handled. To use such faulty logic concerning what is wholly acceptable, both in a given society and within the pages of Scripture, will eventually lead to even nuttier ideas, such as socialism and communism. Societies choose how to handle earthly relationships; but the common and decent treatment of others, regardless of the type of relationship, is outlined in the pages of Scripture.

Life application: Keep all things in context, and do not insert personal biases or presuppositions into Scripture. Let the word speak for itself. If someone is opposed to a social issue, such as slavery, they are to make their case apart from the Bible if the Bible is silent, or neutral, on that issue.

Lord God, we come before You to offer our gratitude and praise for what You have done for us. Regardless of our station in life. Whether rich or poor, slave or free, we have all of the riches of eternity before us, and our chains of sin have been broken; we are free. May we now live out our lives always in anticipation of the wonder and blessing which lies ahead. In doing this, we will always be filled with gratefulness and praise for what You have done! Amen.