Summary: This book is a picture of salvation.


Paul had led Philemon to Christ, a rich businessman in Colossae, 100 miles from Ephesus. Paul probably never visited Colossae (Col. 1:7; 2:7). Philemon owned slaves, and one slave, Onesimus, stole valuables and ran away to Rome, thinking he couldn’t be found in that large cosmopolitan capital of the world.

Paul spent two years in house arrest in Rome, chained constantly to a soldier. Providence brought Paul and Onesimus together, and Onesimus was converted. Since Onesimus understood service, he took over duties at Paul’s home. Paul sends a letter to the church at Colossae by Tychicus (Col. 4:7), and sent a second letter (Philemon) along with Onesimus.

The book is a picture of salvation. Philemon pictures God the Father who was offended by sinners who can now punish his runaway prodigal. Onesimus pictures all sinners who rebel and sin against God their owner. Paul is a picture of Christ who intercedes for prodigals, telling the Father, “I will repay” (v. 19). Christ makes the sinner useful and asks the Father to receive the sinner and use him in service.


1. There is a special bond between a soul winner and a convert. “I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten” (v. 10). “You owe me, even your own self” (v. 19).

2. Paul demonstrated how the gospel transforms slavery.

a. Slavery has evil roots, but Paul didn’t address its injustice.

b. Roman law could have crucified Onesimus as a thief and runaway slave.

c. Slavery was a part of Roman culture. “Whom I wish to keep with me on your behalf . . . that he might minister to me” (v. 13).

d. The gospel restructures relationships within the Christian community. “That you might receive him forever no longer as a slave, but more than a brother – a beloved brother” (v. 15-16).

e. America must pray identificational repentance. We can’t repent for our forefathers, we pray concerning the consequences of their sin that affect us.

3. We should be in a restructure ministry.

4. No one can run away from the reach of providence. “He departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever” (v. 15).

5. Salvation transforms relationships. “No longer a slave but . . . a beloved brother” (v. 16).

6. Love is the greatest motivation. “For love’s sake, I appeal to you” (v. 9).

7. Respect other people’s property. “I wish to keep with me . . . but without your consent” (v. 131-4).

8. Christian relationship overshadows all the other relationships.

a. Paul to Philemon, mentoring.

b. Paul to Onesimus, directing.

c. Onesimus to Philemon, submit and return.

d. Onesimus to Paul, gratitude.

e. Philemon to Onesimus, forgiveness and receive.

f. Philemon from Paul, learn and obey.

9. God uses believers to encourage one another. Onesimus, “sharing of your faith . . . refreshed by you” (v. 6-7).

10. Trust people to do right, but checkup. “Receive him as you would me” (v. 17). “Prepare a guest room for me” (v. 22).

11. Motivate best by positive future vision. “Let me have joy from you in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience” (v. 20-21).

a. Not threats.

b. Not guilt.

c. But a future relationship. “Prepare a guest room for me” (v. 22).

12. The church was not a building. “The church in your house.” An assembly of baptized believers, in whom Christ dwells, committed to the discipline of God’s Word, organized to carry out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, to administer the ordinances, and led by spiritually gifted ministers.”

13. “Wherefore” Paul makes a bold request based on Philemon’s testimony.

14. Play on words. Onesimus means “profitable.” He who was unprofitable, but now profitable” (v. 11).

15. Good actions come out of good motives. “Without your consent” (v. 14).

16. Go the extra mile. “If he has wronged you, or owes you anything, put that on my account” (v. 18).


1. If you were Onesimus, would you go back?

2. If you were Philemon, would you forgive Onesimus? Give him freedom?

3. If you were Paul, what else could you do?

If you have never really accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, would you do it right now? Do not delay or put it off. If you would like to receive Christ by faith, pray this simple prayer in your heart:

Dear Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for my sins on the cross, and rose again the third day. I repent of my sins. By faith I receive the Lord Jesus as my Savior. You promised to save me, and I believe You, because You are God and cannot lie. I believe right now that the Lord Jesus is my personal Savior, and that all my sins are forgiven through His precious blood. I thank You, dear Lord, for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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