Summary: A plea for forgiveness to Philemon and to the church today.
Many of us are aware that much of the New Testament was written by the Apostle Paul. 13 out of the 27 New Testament books are written by Paul. Romans, Corinthians, and Titus are some of the more popular books written by Paul. When written, Paul didnʼt divide the ʻbooksʼ into chapters or verses, and they were not actually called ʻbooksʼ. Rather, they are called letters and were written for specific churches or people. Often, someone wrote the letter while Paul spoke the words. Other times, Paul was the person dictating the letter.
This morning, we are going to focus on a letter written by Paul called a ʻPrison Epistleʼ or ʻPrison Letterʼ. While under house arrest in Rome, Paul encounters a run-away slave. After his encounter with the run-away slave, Paul writes a letter to his owner, Philemon, pleading on behalf of the run-away slave.
With this in mind, letʼs open up the Word of God to this specific letter called ʻPhilemonʼ, explore the text and ask God to show us who He is through the text and how we can give Him glory. Will you stand with me as we read Philemon.
Opening Prayer from Psalm 119:129-133
Father, Your statutes are wonderful; therefore we obey them. The unfolding of Your Words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. We open our mouth and pant, longing for Your commands. Turn to us and have mercy on us, as You always do to those who love Your Name. Direct our footsteps according to Your Word; let no sin rule over us. In the authority of the name of Your Son Jesus we pray . . . Amen.
I. Paulʼs Greeting (Verses 1-3)
The Apostle begins this letter as he does with all of his letters, with a greeting. When reading the letters of Paul, understand this was a typical opening of letter writing within the ancient Roman civilization. Within his greeting, we are able to see who Paul is and who he is writing to.
First, Paul identifies himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. The book of Acts give us more detail about the reason of his imprisonment, but for the purpose of the sermon this morning, understand that Paul is writing from a house with a soldier to guard him (Acts 28:16). While under house arrest, Paul didnʼt use the time to mourn or hide the fact he is in prison, rather as a time to advance the Gospel.
Paul also makes known who he is writing to: Philemon. Within the greeting, Paul greets the family of Philemon and the church that meets in his home. Paul describes Philemon as a dear friend, someone who is esteemed, and a fellow worker. The work Paul is referring to here is the work of advancing the Kingdom of God (Colossians 4:11).
After the greeting, Paul shares with Philemon a prayer for Philemon and the thanks he gives to God in verses 4-7. Letʼs look at Paulʼs prayer:
II.Paulʼs Prayer (Verses 4-7)
Philemon is known by Paul for his faith in Christ and for his love for all the saints. Paul said he gives God thanks for the faith and love God has given Philemon. Paul also shares how he prays for Philemon: To be active in sharing his faith! Paul tells Philemon the benefit of sharing his faith is that he will have full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ (verse 6). Sure, sharing the faith can be intimating and may even cost you your life, but Paul gives Philemon a proper understanding of the purpose sharing his faith.
We can see here the characteristics that Philemon is known for doesnʼt just benefit who Philemon is, rather it encourages Paul and refreshes the hearts of the saints.
After his prayer and thanksgiving, Paul makes an appeal to Philemon in verses 8-22.
III.Paulʼs Appeal (Verses 8-22)
With his appeal, Paul begins by saying in Christ he has the freedom to speak without holding back, like he had done with other letters (like Corinthians). Rather, he appeals to him on the basis of love in the behalf of Onesimus. For Paul, the issue he is preparing to speak about is one of the utmost importance and needs to be addressed.
Onesimus, we learn in verse 16, was a slave for Philemon. Onesimus ran away and through the providence on God, came in contact with the Apostle Paul while under house arrest. When Paul writes and says Onesimus became his son, it means Paul shared the Gospel with him and he believed the Good News of Jesus.
At some point, Onesimus wronged Philemon which led to Onesimus running away. In some circumstances, this type of offense committed by Onesimus was punishable by death, depending on the owner. After conversion, Onesimus stays with Paul and becomes useful to the work of the ministry.