The Epistle to Philemon: Final Greetings: Epaphras.  

23Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Philemon 23–24 (ESV)

It is easy for believers in Christ today to believe that the Apostle Paul was like a Lone Ranger for God. By that I mean that he did not need anyone else in his ministry. He could do it all and have it all; alone. Nothing is further from the truth.

Paul not only relied upon the Lord Jesus as His Savior and Lord, but he also relied upon many other individuals in the ministry. This was the case at the beginning with his mentor Barnabas and it remained so even during his later years while in prison in Rome.

Paul mentioned several fellow servants at the conclusion of his letter to Philemon. Let us examine each one individually.

Epaphras. Paul referred to Epaphras as his fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus. Therefore, it can be concluded that Epaphras was not only a prisoner of Rome, with Paul, but also a fellow believer in Christ. Paul included Epaphras’ greetings to Philemon.

The Tyndale Bible Dictionary explains, “Epaphras was a coworker with the apostle Paul. Epaphras, a native of Colosse, was responsible for the city’s evangelization, as well as that of Laodicea and Hierapolis. Through him Paul learned of the progress of the Colossian church and thus wrote his letter to the Colossians. Paul’s high regard for Epaphras was evidenced by his use of such terms as “beloved fellow servant,” “faithful minister of Christ” (Col 1:7), and “servant of Christ” (Col 4:12), a title of esteem Paul bestowed only on one other person—Timothy (Phil 1:1). Epaphras was in prison with Paul at the time the letter to Philemon was written (Phlm 1:23).”

In the remaining names which Paul mentioned, he does not refer to them as fellow prisoners in Christ Jesus but rather fellow workers. It may be assumed that the following individuals mentioned in the letter were with Paul in Rome but were not imprisoned by Rome.

Epaphras is an example of someone who faithfully served the Lord, even though his name may not be immediately recognized today by the church. It does not matter if believers today know little about Epaphras. God knows him and that is all that matters for any of us in our service unto the Lord.

Have a blessed day in Christ. May Jesus Christ be praised.

Soli deo Gloria!  

The Epistle to Philemon: Above and Beyond.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” (Philemon 21–22 (ESV)

It is one thing to do what is expected of you. That is a good thing. However, it is even better when you go above and beyond and exceed people’s expectations. That is when you truly become a blessing to others.

One author writes, “Having a mindset that exceeds expectations means that every task or situation is viewed as an opportunity to go above and beyond what is expected by your co-workers, bosses, clients and all other stakeholders. To exceed expectations… you need to know the base expectations.”

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Although Paul never explicitly tells Philemon to free Onesimus, Philemon 21 is the clearest evidence that freedom is what the apostle finally sought. Having encouraged reconciliation between the two men and a restoration of their relationship (Philem. 8–20), Paul says in verse 21 that Philemon will surely go beyond what has been asked. How can Philemon go further than receiving his runaway slave without punishment, fellowshipping with him as a Christian brother, and enduring any negative social consequences? He can free Onesimus, of course.”

Paul anticipated being released from prison (Phil. 1:22-26; 2:19-24). Whether the apostle was ever able to visit Philemon in Colossae is unknown.

Dr. Sproul explains, “This verse, along with the broader apostolic teaching about the new family God has created in Christ Jesus, shows us that while Scripture never explicitly commands believers to free their slaves, it does create an environment in which owning slaves eventually becomes unthinkable. If we truly understand that other Christians are joint heirs with us in Christ Jesus, full members of the household of God and as valuable as we are in His sight (John 9:1–13Eph. 3:6), how can we put them below us through buying and selling them as if they were some kind of disposable commodity? Philemon, perhaps more clearly than any other epistle, shows us the radical implications of what it means to live as the community of God’s children in this world.”

Have a blessed day in the Lord. May He be glorified in our lives today.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Epistle to Philemon: Count the Cost.

19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Philemon 19–20 (ESV)

In 1983, Christian songwriter and musician David Meece released an album entitled Count the Cost. The chorus of the title tune says,

You gotta count the cost
If you’re gonna be a believer.
You gotta know that the price
Is the one you can afford.
You gotta count the cost
If you’re gonna be a believer.
You gotta go all the way
If you really love the Lord.

Matthew 16:24 (ESV) says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The point of the song and the biblical text is threefold. Each believer in Christ must be ready to deny themselves, personally take upon themselves the burden God has sovereignly given and follow the Lord in obedience.

This was what the Apostle Paul was expecting of Philemon. Philemon was bound by God’s Word to receive in love his runaway slave Onesimus. It did not matter what Philemon felt about the situation. The love Philemon experienced in Christ was now the same love he was to demonstrate towards Onesimus because of Christ. This was the cost Philemon was to count or consider.

Philemon owed his Christian faith to the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Paul was now expecting Philemon to repay what he spiritually owed by receiving back a slave who had stolen from him. It would not be easy, personally or culturally, but it was the cost that Philemon was to consider as a follower of Christ.

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Philemon faced social ostracization if he were to receive back his runaway slave as a brother, and Paul was willing to help Philemon avoid or make up for this loss of status (v. 18), but ultimately Philemon still had to do what love demanded, even if it meant losing face before the watching world. Christians indeed are to be as “wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:16) and endeavor not to offend unnecessarily those who do not understand the ethics of Scripture. Sometimes, however, following Jesus means doing things unregenerate people cannot or will not understand, and their lack of understanding does not finally allow us to avoid the Lord’s demands (Mark 8:34–38).”

In what ways have you counted the cost in following Christ as your Savior and Lord? Have you been misunderstood at home? Have you been ridiculed at work? Have you been rejected by your friends? All these things, and more, may occur because of our faith in following Jesus Christ.

May each of us seek the Lord’s strength as we count the cost in following the Lord. Have a God honoring day.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Epistle to Philemon: Receive Him.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. (Philemon 17–18 (ESV)

Today’s text intimates what the issue was between Philemon and his departed slave Onesimus. It appears that Onesimus had stolen money from his master. The Apostle Paul was adamant that whatever Oneimus owed Philemon, Paul would repay.

It is at this point in our study that it would be good to examine the subject of slavery in the first century Roman culture. Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine Tabletalk provides helpful information.

“Slavery described in Scripture is not the same type of slavery practiced in America’s Antebellum Era. Slavery in ancient Israel and first-century Rome often resulted when debtors could not repay a loan. Unlike the ethnocentric slavery once practiced in the United States, the slavery Scripture knows of was not based, at least primarily, on biblically abhorrent ideas such as racial inferiority and kidnapping (Gen. 1:27Ex. 21:16). God’s condemnation of these foundational principles of American slavery renders that system wholly ungodly; thus, the attempt to justify the system biblically in days past was gross Scripture-twisting.”

“With the institution of slavery, we cannot assume Paul and the other biblical authors saw it as the ideal for creation just because their writings regulate the practice. Paul’s directions to Christian masters and slaves assume participation in slavery as it was known in the first century, and it did not automatically render one’s profession of faith invalid — if slaves were treated well (Col. 3:22–4:1Eph. 6:5–9).”  

“At the same time, the apostle regarded freedom from enslavement better than its alternative, for he exhorted slaves to seek liberty when they could (1 Cor. 7:21). First-century slaves regularly bought their freedom — they could save up gifts of money and land over time to pay for manumission. In the city of Rome, at least, most slaves could expect to be free by age thirty. We do not want to make ancient slavery better than it was, but the aforementioned reality alone reveals that it was more humane than American slavery, where freeing oneself from bondage was mostly a vain hope. Such differences also show it is naive at best to believe Paul would have said what he does about slavery if slavery as practiced in the American South was the slavery he knew. All these factors begin to show us why Paul takes the positions that he does on slavery”.

“Though Paul implies that Christian participation in first-century slavery was not always prohibited, the fact that slavery is not the ideal, coupled with his apostolic authority, meant he could order Christian slave masters to forgive and free slaves when appropriate. Paul could have appealed to His apostolic office when writing to Philemon, but he chose not to (v. 8).”  

More to follow. Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Epistle to Philemon: A Bondservant and Beloved Brother.

15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Philemon 15–16 (ESV)

Sometimes it’s necessary to be apart for a little while in order to eventually be together for a lifetime.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, as portrayed by Tom Selleck in the television program Magnum P.I. The original series (1980-1988) contained well defined and evolving characters, interesting and involving stories, and a satisfying resolution.

One of the most emotionally stirring storylines within the series was the reoccurring relationship Thomas had with his daughter Lily Catherine. At one point he thought, and was led to believe, that she had died. The time following her presumed death was incredibly painful for him. It was uncertain if he would fully recover from his grief.

However, the concluding episode reunited the still living Lily with her grieving father. The final scene was the two of them walking hand in hand on the beach into the distance of each fan’s collective memories. It was necessary for the two of them to be apart for a little while in order to eventually be together for a lifetime.

To some extent, the same could be said of Philemon and Onesimus. The Apostle Paul sent Onesimus back to his earthly master. Once a slave when he fled, the young man was now a beloved brother in Christ in his return. Once separated for a brief period of time, the two believers in Christ would now be together for a lifetime.   

In our current culture, the appeal to love is frequently used in order to excuse all manner of sin in the church community. If a pastor or church leader should even consider confronting known sin by a church member, they are often accused of being unloving. Ironically, the accusation of being unloving is often done by others in a most unloving way. It may seem that unconditional love is reserved exclusively for the sheep and withheld from the spiritual shepherd.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “If love is made the foundation of ethics but is not defined according to Scripture, then love can excuse anything. Christian ethicists say the love that must guide our decisions is the love that fulfills God’s moral law (Rom. 13:10); it is the love that concerns itself with bearing each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Love may call us to go above and beyond the basic standards for generosity, respect, and concern for others, but it never demands us to violate the principles for conduct in the moral law of God”

“Regarding interpersonal relationships, love often calls us to ignore certain offenses (Prov. 17:91 Peter 4:8). This could be why Paul fails to mention specifically the reason for Onesimus’ flight from Philemon in Philemon 15–16. But it is perhaps more likely that the apostle does not speak of Onesimus’ misdeed directly because Philemon would not have needed a reminder of what led to the problems with his slave.”

If the occasion warrants the confrontation of sin (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-3), then the offended brother in Christ must confront the sinning brother in Christ with a spirit of gentleness. This would entail not only having a gentle tone of voice but also gentle, but firm, behavior. The confrontation of sin may result in a separation for a brief period of time. Hopefully, repentance of sin will be made and a reconciliation will occur between two believers in Christ which will last a lifetime.

May we glorify the Lord today with biblical love for Him and for one another.

Soli deo Gloria!   

The Epistle to Philemon: My Very Heart.

12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” (Philemon 12–14 (ESV)

The Apostle Paul told Philemon that Onesimus was coming home. Paul was sending him back. In effect, he said he was sending back his very heart. Onesimus had become near and dear to the apostle.

In fact, Paul continued to say that he would have gladly keep Onesimus with him. This was so the young man could help the elder apostle while he remained in prison.

However, the situation became a matter of doing what was best instead of what was good. While it would have been good for Paul to keep Onesimus with him in Rome, it would be best for Onesimus to return to Philemon in Colossae.

Paul desired that Philemon would welcome back Onesimus because he wanted to and not because he had to. He also wanted Philemon to not be surprised by the apostle’s proposed action but rather to willingly and positively consent to such a plan.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Paul gave up part of his own comfort and well-being in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, though Luke and a few others were still around to help the apostle (vv. 23–24). Yet Paul was not only sacrificing some of his physical well-being but also a close relationship, because sending Onesimus back meant sending back “his heart” (v. 12). The apostle was risking the loss of fellowship with Onesimus forever, as Philemon might have chosen to keep him in Colossae and not to free him.”   

Who do you consider your close friends? One pastor writes, “Do you have relationships with other believers that would enable you to say with Paul that you would be sending away your “heart” if you were to move or otherwise lose the chance for face-to-face fellowship? God did not make us to function alone as believers, and we all need close Christian friendships to help us grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus. What are you doing to forge these relationships?

Have a blessed day in the Lord. Perhaps consider texting, emailing or calling a friend to let them know how much they mean to you.

Soli deo Gloria!  

The Epistle to Philemon: Paul’s Plea for Onesimus.

10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)” (Philemon 10–11 ESV).

Mentoring is the task and responsibility of advising or training someone who is younger or inexperienced. A mentor counsels, guides, teaches, supports and advises children, employees, a church congregation or students of all ages. The word mentor originated from the Greek word Mentōr. This was the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey.

The Apostle Paul knew well what it was like to be mentored. Barnabas was a mentor to Paul when he was a new Christian. Later they became missionaries. God used them in beginning many churches (Acts 4:32-37; 9:26-30; 11:19-26; 13:1-14:28). Barnabas encouraged Paul as a new believer in Christ when others remained skeptical of his conversion.

What Paul learned from Barnabas he put into practice with others such as Timothy, Titus, Philemon and Onesimus. In today’s text, the apostle called Onesimus his child. The word child (τέκνον; teknon) means a dear friend or a dear man. While the word may refer to a biological child it can also mean an individual for whom there is great affection. Onesimus was just such a dear friend to Paul.

Paul continuously appealed (παρακαλέω; parakaleo) to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. While as of yet, no reason is given for what circumstances prompted Paul to make such an earnest plea, an earnest plea was made.

Paul became Onesimus’ spiritual father while they were both imprisoned in Rome. While Paul was still a prisoner, Onesimus was free and prepared to come home to Colossae and to the house of Philemon.  

Paul acknowledged that Onesimus was formerly useless (ἄχρηστος; achrestos) or worthless to Philemon. However, not only did Paul presently refer to the young man as useful to him but also to Philemon.   

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “External conformity to the law of the Lord is not enough to please Him. Certainly, it is better to follow the commands even when we lack a desire to do so than it is to ignore the law completely, but a “good” deed is truly and fully good only if it has the right motivation — love for God and neighbor (Luke 10:25–28).”

“Love, in fact, is primary in Christian ethics. Paul appealed to Philemon to act in love and did not command him to free Onesimus because he wanted to be sure that Philemon’s motives would please the Lord (Philem. 8–10). There is no exhausting what love would have us do in service to God and neighbor; true love always moves us to do more than the letter of the law, encouraging us to go above and beyond duty’s call.”

Who has God called you to self-sacrificially love? Remember, it may not be an individual you necessarily like or with whom you agree on most subjects. Self-sacrificial love is a love of the will and not emotion. However, when the will is right the emotions will follow.

Soli deo Gloria!   

The Epistle to Philemon: Paul’s Plea to Philemon.  

“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—“ (Philemon 8–9 (ESV)

Today’s text focuses upon the Apostle Paul’s personal mentoring and advising on behalf of his brother in Christ, Philemon. the apostle’s introductory greetings and remarks are concluded. For the apostle, it is time now to address the heart of the matter with his fellow worker in the faith.

Paul admitted that he could have commanded Philemon to do what is required of every believer. What is required, and what Paul will speak of, is the doctrine and discipline of Christian love. As previously mentioned, this love is a self-sacrificial love of the will (I Cor. 13:1-8). It was a discipline for what Philemon had a reputation for having. What this man had displayed in the past Paul appealed to him to practice in the present.

The apostle approached the situation, and his friend, with the perspective of being a mentor to a younger protégé. Paul acknowledged that he was an old man when he wrote this letter. He was also imprisoned for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, advancing years and a great distance would not dissuade the elder Christian statesman from mentoring his younger brother in Christ.

Mentoring is the task and responsibility of advising or training someone who is younger or inexperienced. A mentor counsels, guides, teaches, supports and advises children, employees, a church congregation or students of all ages. The word mentor originated from the Greek word Mentōr. This was the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “The apostle uses all his personal force to bring about a Christian answer to a very serious problem. Paul’s judgment appears to be that Philemon should show mercy to the offending slave, for the sake of Christian love toward a fellow Christian. Paul’s letter is passionate but carefully composed to achieve the desired end. The document was written in his own hand (vs. 19), and is much more than an example of rhetoric. It brings us close to Paul’s ministry, so that we can practically feel his profound desire to make Christian love the first rule of human action.”

In our relationships with fellow believers, may self-sacrificial agape love always be the standard for which we are known. I encourage you to read and meditate upon I John 4:7-11 today.

Soli deo Gloria!  

The Epistle to Philemon: Joy and Comfort.

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 7 (ESV)

I realize that it is the beginning of June but today’s text reminds me of a familiar Christmas Carol: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The reason being is because of the carol’s chorus which contains the refrain, Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. Oh tidings of comfort and joy. The comfort and joy spoken of in this holiday hymn parallels the joy and comfort Paul derived from Philemon.

The word derived (ἔχω; echo) simply means to have or to possess. What the apostle possessed and had was great joy and comfort. Joy (χαρά; chara) is great happiness and gladness. Comfort (παράκλησις; paraklesis) is encouragement and consolation.

Paul had great joy and comfort from Philemon’s love. Love (ἀγάπη; agape) is a self-sacrificial love of the will. It is not a love based upon one’s emotions in the moment. I Corinthians 13:1-8 describes this love as patient, kind, lacking envy and boasting. It is not rude, it does not insist on its own way, and it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.

It was because of Philemon’s love that not only was Paul filled with joy and encouragement, but other believers in Christ had also been spiritual refreshed. To be refreshed (ἀναπαύω; anapauo) means to receive rest while in the aftermath of exhausting labor.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “After reading Philemon in its entirety, it is clear that Paul regarded Philemon as a true brother in Christ and as one who exercised a profound ministry in the church at Colossae. We saw in verse 5 that Philemon had a great love for “all the saints.” In today’s passage, the apostle expands upon this thought, referring to Philemon as one who “refreshed” the hearts of all the saints in the Colossian church. This expression indicates that Philemon’s love was not merely superficial but deep and long lasting, refreshing to other believers at the most significant levels, perhaps through encouragement, discipleship, financial support, and prayer.”

Who has been a source of spiritual and biblical joy and comfort in your life? How have you brought spiritual refreshment into an individual’s life today? How may you?

Soli deo Gloria!

The Epistle to Philemon: The Full Knowledge of Every Good Thing.

“…and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 6 (ESV)  

Philemon 6 continues Paul’s prayer which began in vs. 4-5. The apostle continued to pray for his brother in Christ. Paul’s prayer in today’s text takes the form of a cause and effect statement.

I pray that the sharing of your faith. The word sharing (κοινωνία; koinonia) means fellowship, close association and participation. Philemon had a reputation as a disciple who shared his faith. His faith was closely associated with who he was in life and living. Philemon’s trust in, dependence upon, commitment to and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ was evidenced in how he lived his life.

Paul prayed that Philemon’s sincere faith would become effective (ἐνεργής γίνομαι; energes ginomai). This meant that Philemon’s personal faith was to continue to be active in the future in order to cause something to happen.

The Holy Spirit does not leave us wondering as to what Paul meant. Philemon’s faith was to effectively bring about the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. What is meant by this statement?

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Verse 6 is difficult to interpret, and there are many options as to what the apostle meant when he wrote it. Most of these options, however, are nuanced ways of saying the same thing. Basically, “sharing of your faith” refers to the fellowship in Jesus that all believers have with one another. Paul’s hope for Philemon was that this shared fellowship would help him understand what was an oblique request for the freeing of his slave Onesimus and enable him to respond rightly to the apostle’s appeal.”

“To put it another way, verse 6 is Paul’s reminder to Philemon that he and the other Christians in Colossae shared a bond that had to be considered when making the decision itself and in relation to the effects that freeing Onesimus might have on the church. The covenant community has something to say about “private” matters, and every private moral decision we make impacts the body of Christ, particularly when these decisions cannot help but be made public (Ruth 41 Cor. 5). It is false to say ethical decisions, whether about marriage or money, for example — are none of the church’s business. No Christian, of course, may bind us where Scripture leaves us free, but we fool ourselves if we believe our choices are uninfluenced by other believers or have no ramifications for God’s people.”

Too often, believers in Christ rarely consult other believers and elders in the church before making a decision. This emphasizes the non-biblical individualism that influences even the thinking of Christians. The church is not to legalistically bind the conscience of believers, though some churches and church leaders try to do so. However, the advice of other godly people is invaluable when we encounter choices that appear to be equally acceptable before God.

One of the ways we can discover the will of God is through the mature counsel of godly leaders and fellow believers in Christ. When appropriate and needed, may we seek such godly counsel.

Soli deo Gloria!