The singular loftiness of the mind of Paul, though it may be seen to greater advantage in his other writings which treat of weightier matters, is also attested by this Epistle, in which, while he handles a subject otherwise low and mean, he rises to God with his wonted elevation. Sending back a runaway slave and thief, he supplicates pardon for him. But in pleading this cause, he discourses about Christian forbearance with such ability, that he appears to speak about the interests of the whole Church rather than the private affairs of a single individual. In behalf of a man of the lowest condition, he demeans himself so modestly and humbly, that nowhere else is the meekness of his temper painted in a more lively manner.
1.A prisoner of Jesus Christ. In the same sense in which he elsewhere calls himself an Apostle of Christ, or a minister of Christ, he now calls himself “a prisoner of Christ;” because the chains by which he was bound on account of the gospel, were the ornaments or badges of that embassy which he exercised for Christ. Accordingly, he mentions them for the sake of strengthening his authority; not that he was afraid of being despised, (for Philemon undoubtedly had so great reverence and esteem for him, that there was no need of assuming any title,) but because he was about to plead the cause of a runaway slave, the principal part of which was entreaty for forgiveness.
To Philemon our friend and fellow-laborer. It is probable that this “Philemon” belonged to the order of pastors; for the title with which he adorns him, when he calls him fellow-laborer, is a title which he is not accustomed to bestow on a private individual.
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ – It has already been noted, in the preface, that Paul was a prisoner at Rome when he wrote this epistle, and those to the Colossians and Philippians. But some think that the term prisoner does not sufficiently point out the apostle’s state, and that the original word δεσμιος should be translated bound with a chain: this is certainly its meaning; and it shows us in some measure his circumstances – one arm was bound with a chain to the arm of the soldier to whose custody he had been delivered.
It has also been remarked that Paul does not call himself an apostle here, because the letter was a letter of friendship, and on private concerns. But the MSS. are not entirely agreed on this subject. Two MSS. have δουλος, a servant; the Codex Claromontanus and the Codex Sangermanensis, both in the Greek and Latin, have αποστολος, apostle; and Cassiodorus has αποστολος δεσμιος, Paul, an imprisoned apostle of Jesus Christ. They, however, generally agree in the omission of the word αποστολος.
Unto Philemon our dearly beloved – There is a peculiarity in the use of proper names in this epistle which is not found in any other part of St. Paul’s writings. The names to which we refer are Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus.
Philemon, Φιλημων. Affectionate or beloved, from φιλημα, a kiss; this led the apostle to say: To Philemon our Dearly Beloved.
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ – A prisoner at Rome in the cause of Jesus Christ; Eph_3:1 note; 2Ti_1:8 note.
And Timothy our brother – Timothy, it seems, had come to him agreeably to his request; 2Ti_4:9. Paul not unfrequently joins his name with his own in his epistles; 2Co_1:1; Phi_1:1; Col_1:1; 1Th_1:1; 2Th_1:1. As Timothy was of that region of country, and as he had accompanied Paul in his travels, he was doubtless acquainted with Philemon.
Unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-labourer – See Introduction, Section 1. The word rendered “fellow-laborer” συνεργω sunergō, does not determine what office he held, if he held any, or in what respects he was a fellow-laborer with Paul. It means a co-worker, or helper, and doubtless here means that he was a helper or fellow-worker in the great cause to which Paul had devoted his life, but whether as a preacher, or deacon, or a private Christian, can not be ascertained. It is commonly, in the New Testament, applied to ministers of the gospel, though by no means exclusively, and in several instances it cannot be determined whether it denotes ministers of the gospel, or those who furthered the cause of religion, and cooperated with the apostle in some other way than preaching. See the following places, which are the only ones where it occurs in the New Testament; Rom_16:3, Rom_16:9,Rom_16:21; 1Co_3:9; 2Co_1:24; 2Co_8:23; Phi_2:25; Phi_4:3; Col_4:11; 1Th_3:2; Phm_1:24; 3Jo_1:8.
A prisoner of Jesus Christ (δέσμιος)
A prisoner for Christ’s sake. This is the only salutation in which Paul so styles himself. The word is appropriate to his confinement at Rome. Apostle would not have suited a private letter, and one in which Paul takes the ground of personal friendship and not of apostolic authority. A similar omission of the official title occurs in the Epistles to the Thessalonians and Philippians, and is accounted for on the similar ground of his affectionate relations with the Macedonian churches. Contrast the salutation to the Galatians.
Timothy, our brother
Lit., the brother. Timothy could not be called an apostle. He is distinctly excluded from this office in 2Co_1:1; Col_1:1; compare Phi_1:1. In Philippians and Philemon, after the mention of Timothy the plural is dropped. In Colossians it is maintained throughout the thanksgiving only. The title brother is used of Quartus, Rom_16:23; Sosthenes, 1Co_1:1; Apollos, 1Co_16:12.
An inhabitant, and possibly a native of Colossae in Phrygia. The name figured in the beautiful Phrygian legend of Baucis and Philemon, related by Ovid (“Metamorphoses,” viii., 626 sqq. See note on Act_14:11). He was one of Paul’s converts (Phm_1:19), and his labors in the Gospel at Colossae are attested by the title fellow-laborer, and illustrated by his placing his house at the disposal of the Colossian Christians for their meetings (Phm_1:2). The statements that he subsequently became bishop of Colossae and suffered martyrdom are legendary.
Grace to you and peace,etc.Nothing is more desirable than to have God propitious to us, and this is signified by grace; and then to have prosperity and success in all things flowing from him, and this is intimated by peace; for however things may seem to smile on us, if God be angry, even blessing itself is turned to a curse. The very foundation then of our felicity is the favor of God, by which we enjoy true and solid prosperity, and by which also our salvation is promoted even when we are in adversities. And then as he prays to God for peace, we must understand, that whatever good comes to us, it is the fruit of divine benevolence. Nor must we omit to notice, that he prays at the same time to the Lord Jesus Christ for these blessings. Worthily indeed is this honor rendered to him, who is not only the administrator and dispenser of his Father’s bounty to us, but also works all things in connection with him. It was, however, the special object of the Apostle to show, that through him all God’s blessings come to us.
There are those who prefer to regard the word peace as signifying quietness of conscience; and that this meaning belongs to it sometimes, I do not deny: but since it is certain that the Apostle wished to give us here a summary of God’s blessings, the former meaning, which is adduced by Bucer, is much the most suitable. Anxiously wishing then to the godly what makes up real happiness, he betakes himself, as he did before, to the very fountain itself, even the favor of God, which not only alone brings to us eternal felicity but is also the source of all blessings in this life.
Grace to you – χαρις υμιν; May you be partakers of the Divine favor, the source whence every blessing is derived.
I think it necessary, once for all, to give the several acceptations of this word grace which occur in the sacred writings.
1. The word χαριν signifies in general favor or benevolence, but especially that favor which is powerful and active, and loads its objects with benefits. Luk_1:30 : Fear not, Mary, thou hast found Favor, χαριν, with God. Luk_2:40 : And the child grew – and the Grace of God, χαρις θεου, the favor of God was upon him. Luk_1:52 : And Jesus increased in Favor, χαριτι Grace, with God and man. Act_2:47 : Having Favor, χαριν, Grace, with all the people. Act_4:33 : And great Grace, χαρις, Favor, was upon them all. The apostles were at that time in universal favor with the multitude. In this sense the word occurs in a great variety of places, both in the Old and New Testaments.
2. Hence it is often used for the blessing which it dispenses; for, if God be favourably disposed towards a person, his beneficent acts, in that person’s behalf, will be a necessary consequence of such favor. Joh_1:14 : Full of Grace and truth; accomplished in all spiritual blessings. Joh_1:16 : And Grace upon Grace: he who is full of the most excellent blessings, confers them liberally on all believers. Act_11:23 : When he had seen the Grace of God, i.e. had the fullest evidence that they were richly endowed with heavenly gifts. 1Co_1:4 : For the Grace of God which is given you – the Divine blessings conferred upon you. 2Co_9:8 : God is able to make all Grace abound toward you; i.e. to enrich you with every benediction. This is also a very common acceptation of the word; and in this sense the word grace or favor is now generally understood among religious people. The grace of God meaning with them some Divine or spiritual blessing communicated.
3. It is sometimes taken for the whole of the Christian religion, as being the grandest possible display of God’s favor to a lost, ruined world: and in this sense it appears to be used, Joh_1:17 : For the Law was given by Moses; but Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ: where the term Grace is evidently opposed to Law; the latter meaning the Mosaic, the other the Christian, dispensation. Act_13:43 : Barnabas persuaded them to continue in the Grace of God; i.e. to hold fast their profession of the religion of Christ. Rom_6:14 : Ye are not under the Law, but under Grace – ye are no longer under obligation to fulfill the Mosaic precepts, but are under the Christian dispensation. See also Rom_6:15; and see 2Co_1:12; 2Co_6:1; Gal_1:6; Col_1:6; 2Ti_2:1, Tit_2:11 : The Grace of God, that bringeth salvation unto all men, hath appeared. The Jewish religion was restricted in its benefits to a few; but the Christian religion proposes the salvation of all men; and the author of it has become a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Heb_12:15 : Looking diligently lest any man fall from the Grace of God – lest any man apostatize from the Christian religion, and the blessings of pardon and holiness which he has received through it. 1Pe_5:12 : This is the true Grace of God wherein ye stand – the Christian religion which ye have received is the genuine religion of God.
4. It signifies all the blessings and benefits which Christ has purchased, and which he gives to true believers, both in time and eternity. See Rom_5:15, Rom_5:17, where the grace of God is opposed to death; i.e. to all the wretchedness and misery brought into the world by Adam’s transgression. 1Co_16:23 : The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all – May every blessing purchased by Christ’s passion and death be the portion of you all. Gal_5:4 : Ye are fallen from Grace – ye have lost the blessings of the Gospel by submitting to circumcision.
5. It signifies the apostolic and ministerial office, or the authority to propagate the Christian religion, and the unction or influence by which that office is executed; so in the 5th verse of this chapter, (Rom_1:5) as has been already noted: By whom we have received Grace and apostleship, or, the apostolic office. Rom_13:3 : I say, through the Grace given unto me; i.e. I command you, by the authority of my apostolic office, etc. See also Rom_13:6.
6. It signifies a gift, salary, or money collected for the use of the poor. 1Co_16:3 : Whomsoever ye shall approve – them will I send to bring your Liberality, την χαριν υμων, your Grace; i.e. the collection made for the poor saints: see 1Co_16:1. 2Co_8:4 : Praying us – that we would receive the Gift, την χαριν, the Grace, the contribution made in the Churches of Macedonia, for the relief of the poor. In this sense it is used in Ecclus. 17:22: He will keep the Good Deeds of man, χαριν, the same as ελεημοσυνη, alms, in the beginning of the verse; and it signifies a kind or friendly act, in the same author. Ecclus. 29:16: Forget not the Friendship, χαριτας, of thy surety. Graces or χαρις, was a deity among the ancients; and the three Graces, αι τρεις χαριτες, were called Pitho, Aglaia, and Euphrosyne; πειθω, mild persuasion; αγλαια, dignity; ευφροσυνη, liberality and joyfulness; and these were always painted naked, to show that all benefits should be gratuitous, this being essential to the nature of a gift. See Suidas, in χαριτας.
7. It sometimes signifies merely thanks or thanksgiving. See Luk_17:9 : Doth he thank, μη χαριν εχει, that servant? Rom_6:17 : But God be Thanked, χαρις οε τω θεω. 1Co_10:30 : For if I by Grace, χαριτι, Thanksgiving, as our margin has it, and properly.
8. It signifies remuneration, wages, or reward Luk_6:32-34 : If ye love them that love you – do good to them which do good to you – lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what Thank have ye? ποια υμιν χαρις εστι; what Reward have ye? This appears, from the parallel place, Mat_5:46, to be most evidently the meaning: τινα μισθον εχετε; what Reward have ye? The word is used in this sense by several Greek writers.
9. It signifies whatever is the means of procuring the favor or kindness of another. 1Pe_2:19, 1Pe_2:20 : For this is Thankworthy, τουτο γαρ χαρις παρα τῳ Θεῳ, this is the means of Procuring Favor from God.
10. It signifies joy, pleasure, and gratification, which is the, meaning of cara, and with which it is often confounded in the New Testament. Phm_1:7 : For we have great Joy, χαριν γαρ εχομεν πολλην. Tobit 7:18: The Lord give thee Joy, χαριν, for this thy sorrow. In this sense the word is used by the best Greek writers; and in this sense it appears to be used, 2Co_1:15.
11. It signifies the performance of an act which is pleasing or grateful to others. Act_24:27 : Felix, willing to show the Jews a Pleasure, χαριτας καταθεσθαι, to perform an act which he knew would be highly gratifying to them.
12. It signifies whatever has the power or influence to procure favor, etc. Suavity, kindness, benevolence, gentle demeanour. Luk_4:22 : All wondered at the Gracious Words, τοις λογοις της χαριτος, the benevolent, kind, and tender expressions; such as his text, Luk_4:18, would naturally lead him to speak. He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, etc. Eph_4:29; Col_4:6 : Let your speech be always with Grace; i.e. gracious, kind, benevolent, savouring of the doctrine of Christ: it is thus used by several Greek writers. See Schleusner. As the word χαρις Grace, most frequently signifies some blessing or benefit calculated to promote human happiness, it is generally derived from χαρω, I rejoice, because of the effect produced by the blessing.
And peace – ειρηνη, the same as שלום shalom in Hebrew, generally signifying all kinds of blessing, but especially harmony and unity, and the bond of such unity. The most probable derivation of the word ειρηνη is from ειρω, I bind, and εν, one – because peace unites and binds those who were, by discord, before disunited. In the New Testament it signifies –
1. Peace, public or private, in the general acceptation of the word, as implying reconciliation and friendship; and to the etymology of the word the apostle seems to allude in Eph_4:3 : Endeavouring to keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace. Act_12:20 : They of Tyre and Sidon desired Peace – they sought reconciliation, with Herod, by means of Blastus, the king’s chamberlain.
2. It signifies regularity, good order. 1Co_14:33 : God is not the God of confusion, but of Peace.
3. It signifies the labor or study of preserving peace and concord; and this is supposed to be its meaning, Mat_10:34; Luk_12:51; and Act_7:26. Rom_14:17 : For the kingdom of God is righteousness and Peace – the Christian dispensation admits of no contention, but inculcates peace. 1Co_7:15 : God hath called us to Peace – to labor to preserve quietness and concord. Heb_12:14 : Follow Peace – labor to preserve it.
4. It signifies the author or procurer of peace and concord. Eph_2:14 : He is our Peace – the author of concord betwixt Jews and Gentiles.
5. It signifies the Gospel and its blessings. Eph_2:17 : And came and preached Peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
6. It signifies all kinds of mental and corporeal happiness, and especially the happiness of Christians. Luk_1:79 : To guide our feet into the way of Peace – to show us the way to obtain true happiness. Luk_19:42 : The things which belong unto thy Peace – that by which thou mightest have been made truly happy. 1Th_5:23 : The very God of Peace – God, the only source of true felicity. Joh_16:33 : These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have Peace – that ye might have confidence and happiness in believing on me as your only Savior.
7. It signifies good wishes and affectionate prayers. Mat_10:13 : And if the house be worthy, let your Peace come upon it. Our Lord commands his disciples, Mat_10:12, to salute the house into which they entered; and this was done by saying, Peace be unto this house! that is, Let every blessing, spiritual and temporal, be the portion of this family! See Luk_10:6; Joh_14:27; Act_15:33 : They were let go in Peace – they had the most fervent and affectionate prayers of the Church.
8. It signifies praise. Luk_19:38 : Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! – May all the heavenly host praise God, and give him the highest honor!
9. It signifies benignity, benevolence, favor. Rom_5:1 : Being justified by faith, we have Peace with God – In consequence of having our sins forgiven, we have a clear sense of the Divine favor. Phi_4:7 : The Peace of God which passeth all understanding – the inexpressible blessedness of a sense of the Divine favor. See Schleusner’s Lexicon.
From God our Father – The apostle wishes them all the blessings which can flow from God, as the fountain of grace, producing in them all the happiness which a heart filled with the peace of God can possess; all of which are to be communicated to them through the Lord Jesus Christ. See the note on Act_28:31.
Grace – This word properly means “favor.” It is very often used in the New Testament, and is employed in the sense of benignity or benevolence; felicity, or a prosperous state of affairs; the Christian religion, as the highest expression of the benevolence or favor of God; the happiness which Christianity confers on its friends in this and the future life; the apostolic office; charity, or alms; thanksgiving; joy, or pleasure; and the benefits produced on the Christian’s heart and life by religion – the grace of meekness, patience, charity, etc., “Schleusner.” In this place, and in similar places in the beginning of the apostolic epistles, it seems to be a word including all those blessings that are applicable to Christians in common; denoting an ardent wish that all the mercies and favors of God for time and eternity, blended under the general name grace, may be conferred on them. It is to be understood as connected with a word implying invocation. I pray, or I desire, that grace, etc. may be conferred on you. It is the customary form of salutation in nearly all the apostolic epistles; 1Co_1:3; 2Co_1:2; Gal_1:3; Eph_1:2; Phi_1:2; Col_1:2; 1Th_1:1; 2Th_1:2; Phm_1:3.
And peace – Peace is the state of freedom from war. As war conveys the idea of discord and numberless calamities and dangers, so peace is the opposite, and conveys the idea of concord, safety, and prosperity. Thus, to wish one peace was the same as to wish him all safety and prosperity. This form of salutation was common among the Hebrews. Gen_43:23, “peace to you! fear not;” Jdg_6:23; Jdg_19:20; Luk_24:36. But the word “peace” is also used in contrast with that state of agitation and conflict which a sinner has with his conscience. and with God. The sinner is like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, Isa_57:20. The Christian is at peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, Rom_5:1. By this word, denoting reconciliation with God, the blessings of the Christian religion are often described in the scriptures, Rom_8:6; Rom_14:17; Rom_15:13; Gal_5:22; Phi_4:7. A prayer for peace, therefore, in the epistles, is not a mere formal salutation, but has a special reference to those “spiritual” blessings which result from reconciliation with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
From God our Father – The Father of all Christians. He is the Father of all his creatures, as they are his offspring, Act_17:28-29. He is especially the Father of all Christians, as they have been “begotten by him to a lively hope,” have been adopted into his family, and are like him; Mat_5:45; 1Pe_1:3; 1Jo_5:1; 1Jo_3:1-2. The expression here is equivalent to a prayer that God the Father would bestow grace and peace on the Romans. It implies that these blessings proceed from God, and are to be expected from him.
And the Lord Jesus Christ – From him. The Lord Jesus Christ is especially regarded in the New Testament as the Source of peace, and the Procurer of it; see Luk_2:14; Luk_19:38, Luk_19:42; Joh_14:27; Joh_16:33; Act_10:36; Rom_5:1; Eph_2:17. Each of these places will show with what propriety peace was invoked from the Lord Jesus. From thus connecting the Lord Jesus with the Father in this place, we may see,
(1) That the apostle regarded him as the source of grace and peace as really as he did the Father.
(2) he introduced them in the same connection, and with reference to the bestowment of the same blessings.
(3) if the mention of the Father in this connection implies a prayer to him, or an act of worship, the mention of the Lord Jesus implies the same thing, and was an act of homage to him.
(4) all this shows that his mind was familiarized to the idea that he was divine.
No man would introduce his name in such connections if he did not believe that he was equal with God; compare Phi_2:2-11. It is from this incidental and unstudied manner of expression, that we have one of the most striking proofs of the manner in which the sacred writers regarded the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. I give thanks to my God. It deserves attention, that he at the same time prays for that very thing for which he “gives thanks.” Even the most perfect, so long as they live in the world, never have so good ground for congratulation as not to need prayers, that God may grant to them, not only to persevere till the end, but likewise to make progress from day to day.
I thank my God – That is, for what I hear of you.
Making mention of thee always in my prayers – See a similar declaration respecting the church at Ephesus, Eph_1:16. It would appear from this that Paul, in his private devotions, was in the habit of mentioning churches and individuals by name. It would seem, also, that though he was a prisoner, yet he somehow found opportunity for secret devotion. And it would appear further, that, though encompassed with many cares and sorrows, and about to be put on trial for his life, he did not forget to remember a Christian brother though far distant from him, and to bear him on his heart before the throne of grace. To remember with affectionate concern these churches and individuals, as he did, Paul must have been a man of much prayer.
5. Hearing of thy love and faith.This praise, which he bestows on Philemon, includes briefly the whole perfection of a Christian man. It consists of two parts, faith in Christ, and love towards our neighbors; for to these all the actions and all the duties of our life relate. Faith is said to be in Christ, because to him it especially looks; in like manner as in no other way than through him alone can God the Father be known, and in no other than in Him can we find any of the blessings which faith seeks.
And towards all saints. He does not thus limit this loveto the saints,as if there ought to be none towards others; for, since the doctrine of “love” is, that “we should not despise our flesh,” (Isa_58:7 ) and that we should honor the image of God which is engraven on our nature, undoubtedly it includes all mankind. But since they that are of the household of faith are united with us by a closer bond of relationship, and since God peculiarly recommends them to us, for this reason they justly hold the highest rank.
The arrangement of the passage is somewhat confused; but there is no obscurity in the meaning, except that it is doubtful whether the adverb always(in the 4th verse) is connected with the first clause, “I give thanks always to my God,” or with the second clause, “making mention of thee always in my prayers.” The meaning may be brought out in this manner, that, whenever the Apostle offered prayer for Philemon, he interwove thanksgiving with it; that is, because Philemon’s piety afforded ground of rejoicing; for we often pray for those in whom nothing is to be found but what gives occasion for grief and tears. Yet the second mode of pointing is generally preferred, that Paul “gives thanks for Philemon, and always makes mention of him in his prayers.” Let my readers be at full liberty to judge for themselves; but, for my own part, I think that the former meaning is more appropriate.
In the rest of the passage there is an inversion of the natural order; for, after having spoken of “love” and “faith,” he adds, “towards Christ and towards saints,” while, on the contrary, the contrast would demand that “Christ” should be put in the second part of the clause as the object to which our faith looks.
6. That the communication of thy faith may be effectual. This clause is somewhat obscure; but I shall endeavor to elucidate it in such a manner that my readers may somewhat understand Paul’s meaning. First, it ought to be known that the Apostle is not continuing to give the praise of Philemon, but that, on the contrary, he expresses those blessings for which he prays to God. These words are connected with what he had formerly said, that he “makes mention of him in his prayers.” (Phl_1:4.) What blessing then did he ask for Philemon? That his faith, exercising itself by good works, might be proved to be true, and not unprofitable. He calls it “the communication of faith,” because it does not remain inactive and concealed within, but is manifested to men by actual effects. Although faith has a hidden residence in the heart, yet it communicates itself to men by good works. It is, therefore, as if he had said, “That thy faith, by communicating itself, may demonstrate its efficacy in every good thing.”
The knowledge of every good thing denotes experience. He wishes that, by its effects, faith may be proved to be effectual. This takes place, when the men with whom we converse know our godly and holy life; and therefore, he says, of every good thing which is in you; for everything in us that is good makes known our faith.
Towards Christ Jesus.The phrase εἰς Χριστόν may be explained to mean “through Christ.” But, for my own part, if I were at liberty, I would rather translate it as equivalent to ἐν Χριστῶ, “in Christ;” for the gifts of God dwell in us in such a manner, that nevertheless, we are partakers of them only so far as we are members of Christ. Yet because the words in you go before, I am afraid that the harshness of the expression would give offense. Accordingly, I have not ventured to make any alteration in the words, but only wished to mention it to my readers, that, after full consideration, they may choose either of those meanings which they prefer.
That the communication of thy faith – The words ἡ κοινωνια της πιστεως σου, the fellowship or communication of thy faith, may be understood as referring to the work of love towards the saints – the poor Christians, which his faith in Christ enabled him to perform, faith being taken here for its effects; and indeed the word κοινωνια itself is not unfrequently used to denote liberality, almsgiving; and this is very properly remarked by Theophylact here: Κοινωνιαν πιστεως ελεημοσυνην καλει, ὡς απο πιστεως πολλης γενομενην· He terms almsgiving the communication of faith, because it is the fruit of much faith.”
May become effectual – Dr. Macknight understands these words thus: “That the many good offices which thou dost to the saints may become effectual in bringing others to the acknowledgment of every good disposition which is in you towards Christ Jesus, or towards his members.”
Instead of ενεργης, energetic or effectual, the Vulgate and some of the fathers, as well as several Latin MSS., have read εναργης, evident. This makes a very good sense, and seems to agree best with the scope of the place.
Instead of εν ὑμιν, in You, εν ἡμιν in Us, is the reading of all the best MSS., as well as of several versions and fathers.
Connect with making mention.
The communication of thy faith (ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου).
Κοινωνία fellowship is often used in the active sense of impartation, as communication, contribution, almsgiving. So Rom_15:26; 2Co_9:13; Heb_13:16. This is the sense here: the active sympathy and charity growing out of your faith.
May become effectual (ἐνεργὴς)
See on Jam_5:16. This adjective, and the kindred ἐνεργέω to work, be effectual, ἐνέργημα working, operation, and ἐνέργεια energy, power in exercise, are used in the New Testament only of superhuman power, good or evil. Compare Eph_1:19; Mat_14:2; Phi_2:13; 1Co_12:10; Heb_4:12.
In the knowledge (ἐν ἐπιγνώσει)
In denotes the sphere or element in which Philemon’s charity will become effective. His liberality and love will result in perfect knowledge of God’s good gifts. In the sphere of christian charity he will be helped to a full experience and appropriation of these. He that gives for Christ’s sake becomes enriched in the knowledge of Christ. Knowledge is full, perfect knowledge; an element of Paul’s prayer for his readers in all the four epistles of the captivity.
Read in us.
In Christ Jesus (εἰς Χριστὸν Ἱησοῦν)
Connect with may become effectual, and render, as Rev., unto Christ; that is, unto Christ’s glory.
7. We have much grace and consolation.Although this reading is found in the majority of Greek copies, yet I think that it ought to be translated joy; for, since there is little difference betweenχάριν and χαράν, it would be easy to mistake a single letter. Besides, Paul elsewhere employs the wordχάριν to mean “joy;” at least, if we believe Chrysostom on this matter. What has “grace” to do with “consolation?”
For thy love.It is plain enough what he means, that he has great joy and consolation, because Philemon administered relief to the necessities of the godly. This was singular love, to feel so much joy on account of the benefit received by others. Besides, the Apostle does not only speak of his personal joy, but says that many rejoiced on account of the kindness and benevolence with which Philemon had aided religious men.
Because the bowels of the saints have been refreshed by thee, brother.“To refresh the bowels” is an expression used by Paul to mean, to give relief from distresses, or to aid the wretched in such a manner that, having their minds composed, and being free from all uneasiness and grief, they may find repose. “The bowels” mean the affections, and ἀνάπαυσις denotes tranquillity; and therefore they are greatly mistaken who torture this passage so as to make it refer to the belly and the nourishment of the body.
For we have great joy and consolation in thy love – In thy love toward Christians. The word here rendered “joy” (χάριν charin), properly means grace. A large number of manuscripts, however, instead of this word, have χαρὰν charan, Charan, joy. See Wetstein. This reading has been adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, and Hahn.
Because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother – For your kindness to them. The word “bowels” here probably means minds, hearts, for it is used in the Scriptures to denote the affections. The sense is, that the kindness which he had shown to Christians had done much to make them happy. On the word refreshed, see 2Co_7:13; 2Ti_1:16.
8.Wherefore, while I have great confidence in Christ to command thee. That is, “though I have authority so that I might justly command thee, yet thy love makes me prefer to entreat thee.”
Seeing that I have these proofs of thy love. Connect with I rather beseech (Phm_1:9).
I might be much bold (πολλὴν παῤῥησίαν ἔχων)
Better, as Rev., I have all boldness. Παῤῥησία boldness is opposed to fear, Joh_7:13; to ambiguity or reserve, Joh_11:14. The idea of publicity may attach to it as subsidiary, Joh_7:4.
As holding apostolic authority from Christ.
That which is convenient (τὸ ἀνῆκον)
Rev., befitting. Convenient is used in A.V., in the earlier and stricter sense of suitable. Compare Eph_5:4. Thus Latimer: “Works which are good and convenient to be done.” Applied to persons, as Hooper: “Apt and convenient persons.” The modern sense merges the idea of essential fitness. The verb ἀνήκω originally means to come up to; hence of that which comes up to the mark; fitting. Compare Col_3:18; Eph_5:4. It conveys here a delicate hint that the kindly reception of Onesimus will be a becoming thing.
9.Being such a one. He claims the right to command on two grounds, that he is an elder, and that he is a prisoner for Christ. He says that, on account of Philemon’s love, he chooses rather to entreat, because we interpose authority in commanding those things which we wish to extort by necessity even from the unwilling, but there is no need of commanding those who willingly obey. And because they who are ready of their own accord to do their duty listen more willingly to a calm statement of what is necessary to be done than to the exercise of authority, with good reason does Paul, when he has to deal with an obedient man, use entreaty. By his example he shows that pastors should endeavor to draw disciples gently rather than to drag them by force; and indeed, when, by condescending to entreaty, he foregoes his right, this has far greater power to obtain his wish than if he issued a command. Besides, he claims nothing for himself, but in Christ, that is, on account of the office which he has received from him; for he does not mean that they whom Christ has appointed to be apostles are destitute of authority.
What is proper.By adding this, he means that teachers have not power to enact whatever they please, but that their authority is confined within these limits, that they must not command anything but “what is proper,” and, in other respects, consistent with every man’s duty. Hence (as I said a little before) pastors are reminded that the hearts of their people must be soothed with all possible gentleness, wherever this method is likely to be more advantageous, but yet so as to know that they who are treated so gently have nothing less exacted from them than what they ought to do.
The designation “elder,” here, denotes not age, but office. He calls himself an apostle for this reason, that the person with whom he has to deal, and with whom he talks familiarly, is a fellow-laborer in the ministry of the word.
Paul the aged – If we allow St. Paul to have been about 25 years of age at the utmost, in the year 31, when he was assisting at the martyrdom of Stephen, Act_7:58; as this epistle was written about a.d. 62, he could not have been at this time more than about 56 years old. This could not constitute him an aged man in our sense of the term; yet, when the whole length of his life is taken in, being martyred about four years after this, he may not improperly be considered an aged or elderly man, though it is generally allowed that his martyrdom took place in the 66th year of our Lord.
But the word πρεσβυς signifies, not only an old man, but also an ambassador; because old or elderly men were chosen to fulfill such an office, because of their experience and solidity; and πρεσβυτης, for πρεσβευτης, is used in the same sense and for the same reason by the Septuagint; hence some have thought that we should translate here, Paul the ambassador. This would agree very well with the scope and even the design of the place.
Yet for love’s sake – For the love which you bear me, and for the common cause.
I rather beseech thee – Rather than command thee.
Being such an one as Paul the aged – πρεσβυτης presbutēs – an old man. We have no means of ascertaining the exact age of Paul at this time, and I do not recollect that he ever alludes to his age, though he often does to his infirmities, in any place except here. Doddridge supposes that at the time when Stephen was stoned, when he is called “a young man” (νεανίας neanias, Act_7:58), he was 24 years of age, in which case he would now have been about 53. Chrysostom supposes that he may have been 35 years old at the time of his conversion, which would have made him about 63 at this time. The difficulty of determining with any degree of accuracy the age of the apostle at this time, arises from the indefinite nature of the word used by Luke, Act_7:58, and rendered “a young man.” That word, like the corresponding word νεανίσκος neaniskos, was applied to men in the vigor of manhood up to the age of 40 years.
Phavorinus says a man is called νεανίσκος neaniskos, a young man, until he is 28; and πρεσβύτης presbutēs, presbutēs, from 49 until he is 56. Varro says that a man is young (“juvenis”), until he is 45, and aged at 60. Whitby. These periods of time, however, are very indefinite, but it will accord well with the usual meaning of the words to suppose that Paul was in the neighborhood of 30 when he was converted, and that he was now not far from 60. We are to remember also, that the constitution of Paul may have been much broken by his labors, his perils, and his trials. Not advanced probably to the usual limit of human life, he may have had all the characteristics of a very aged man; compare the note of Benson. The argument here is, that we feel that it is proper, as far as we can, to grant the request of an old man. Paul thus felt that it was reasonable to suppose that Philemon would not refuse to gratify the wishes of an aged servant of Christ, who had spent the vigor of his life in the service of their common Master. It should be a very strong case when we refuse to gratify the wishes of an aged Christian in anything, especially if he has rendered important services to the church and the world.
And now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ – In the cause of Jesus Christ; or a prisoner for endeavoring to make him known to the world; compare the Eph_3:1; Eph_4:1; Eph_6:20 notes; Col_4:10 note. The argument here is, that it might be presumed that Philemon would not refuse the request of one who was suffering in prison on account of their common religion. For such a prisoner we should be ready to do all that we can to mitigate the sorrows of his confinement, and to make his condition comfortable.
Paul the aged (Paulos presbutēs). Paul is called neanias (a young man) at the stoning of Stephen (Act_7:58). He was perhaps a bit under sixty now. Hippocrates calls a man presbutēs from 49 to 56 and gerōn after that. The papyri use presbutēs for old man as in Luk_1:18 of Zacharias and in Tit_2:2. But in Eph_6:20 Paul says presbeuō en halusei (I am an ambassador in a chain). Hence Lightfoot holds that here presbutēs = presbeutēs because of common confusion by the scribes between u and eu. In the lxx four times the two words are used interchangeably. There is some confusion also in the papyri and the inscriptions. Undoubtedly ambassador (presbeutēs) is possible here as in Eph_6:20 (presbeuō) though there is no real reason why Paul should not term himself properly “Paul the aged.”
10. I beseech thee for my son. Since less weight is commonly attached to those prayers which are not founded in some cause of just commendation, Paul shows that Onesimus is so closely related to him as to afford a good reason for supplicating in his behalf. Here it is of importance to consider how deep is his condescension, when he gives the name of “son” to a slave, and a runaway, and a thief.
When he says that Onesimus has been begotten by him this must be understood to mean, that it was done by his ministry, and not by his power. To renew a soul of man and form it anew to the image of God — is not a human work, and it is of this spiritual regeneration that he now speaks. Yet because the soul is regenerated by faith, and “faith is by hearing,” (Rom_10:17,) on that, account he who administers the doctrine holds the place of a parent. Moreover, because the word of God preached by man is the seed of eternal life, we need not wonder that he from whose mouth we receive that seed is called a father. Yet, at the same time, we must believe that, while the ministry of a man is efficacious in regenerating the soul, yet, strictly speaking, God himself regenerates by the power of his Spirit. These modes of expression, therefore, do not imply any opposition between God and man, but only show what God does by means of men. When he says that he had begotten him in his bonds, this circumstance adds weight to the commendation.
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus – That is, my son in the gospel; one to whom I sustain the relation of a spiritual father; compare the notes at 1Ti_1:2. The address and tact of Paul here are worthy of particular observation. Any other mode of bringing the case before the mind of Philemon might have repelled him. If he had simply said, “I beseech thee for Onesimus;” or, “I beseech thee for thy servant Onesimus,” he would at once have reverted to his former conduct, and remembered all his ingratitude and disobedience. But the phrase “my son,” makes the way easy for the mention of his name, for he had already found the way to his heart before his eye lighted on his name, by the mention of the relation which he sustained to himself. Who could refuse to such a man as Paul – a laborious servant of Christ – an aged man, exhausted with his many sufferings and toils – and a prisoner – a request which he made for one whom he regarded as his son?
It may be added, that the delicate address of the apostle in introducing the subject, is better seen in the original than in our translation. In the original, the name Onesimus is reserved to come in last in the sentence. The order of the Greek is this: “I entreat thee concerning a son of mine, whom I have begotten in my bonds – Onesimus.” Here the name is not suggested, until he had mentioned that he sustained to him the relation of a son, and also until he had added that his conversion was the fruit of his labors while he was a prisoner. Then, when the name of Onesimus is mentioned, it would occur to Philemon not primarily as the name of an ungrateful and disobedient servant, but as the interesting case of one converted by the labors of his own friend in prison. Was there ever more delicacy evinced in preparing the way for disarming one of prejudice, and carrying an appeal to his heart?
Whom I have begotten in my bonds – Who has been converted by my efforts while I have been a prisoner. On the phrase “whom I have begotten,” see 1Co_4:15. Nothing is said of the way in which he had become acquainted with Onesimus, or why he had put himself under the teaching of Paul; see the introduction, Section 2. See (3) below.
Resuming the beseech of Phm_1:9. I beseech, I repeat.
The name is withheld until Paul has favorably disposed Philemon to his request. The word means helpful, and it was a common name for slaves. The same idea was expressed by other names, as Chresimus, Chrestus (useful); Onesiphorus (profit-bringer, 2Ti_1:16); Symphorus (suitable). Onesimus was a runaway Phrygian slave, who had committed some crime and therefore had fled from his master and hidden himself in Rome. Under Roman law the slave was a chattel. Varro classified slaves among implements, which he classifies as vocalia, articulate speaking implements, as slaves; semivocalia, having a voice but not articulating, as oxen; muta, dumb, as wagons. The attitude of the law toward the slave was expressed in the formula servile caput nullum jus habet; the slave has no right. The master’s power was unlimited. He might mutilate, torture, or kill the slave at his pleasure. Pollio, in the time of Augustus, ordered a slave to be thrown into a pond of voracious lampreys. Augustus interfered, but afterward ordered a slave of his own to be crucified on the mast of a ship for eating a favorite quail. Juvenal describes a profligate woman ordering a slave to be crucified. Some one remonstrates. She replies: “So then a slave is a man, is he! ‘He has done nothing,’ you say. Granted. I command it. Let my pleasure stand for a reason” (vi., 219). Martial records an instance of a master cutting out a slave’s tongue. The old Roman legislation imposed death for killing a plough-ox; but the murderer of a slave was not called to account. Tracking fugitive slaves was a trade. Recovered slaves were branded on the forehead, condemned to double labor, and sometimes thrown to the beasts in the amphitheater. The slave population was enormous. Some proprietors had as many as twenty thousand.
Have begotten in my bonds
Made a convert while I was a prisoner.
Which in time past was to thee unprofitable – Either because he was indolent; because he had wronged him (compare the notes at Phm_1:18), or because he had run away from him. It is possible that there may be an allusion here to the meaning of the name “Onesimus,” which denotes “profitable” (from ὀνίνημι oninēmi, future ὀνήσω onēsō, to be useful, to be profitable, to help), and that Paul means to say that he had hitherto not well answered to the meaning of his own name, but that now he would be found to do so.
But now profitable to thee – The Greek here is εὔχρηστον euchrēston, but the meaning is about the same as that of the word Onesimus. It denotes very useful. In 2Ti_2:21, it is rendered “meet for use;” in 2Ti_4:11, and here, profitable. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament.
And to me – Paul had doubtless found him useful to him as Christian brother in his bonds, and it is easy to conceive that, in his circumstances, he would greatly desire to retain him with him.
12. Receive him, that is, my bowels. Nothing could have been more powerful for assuaging the wrath of Philemon; for if he had refused to forgive his slave, he would thus have used cruelty against “the bowels” of Paul. This is remarkable kindness displayed by Paul, that he did not hesitate to receive, as it were into his bowels, a contemptible slave, and thief, and runaway, so as to defend him from the indignation of his master. And, indeed, if the conversion of a man to God were estimated by us, at its proper value, we too would embrace, in the same manner, those who should give evidence that they had truly and sincerely repented.
Whom I have sent again – The Christian religion never cancels any civil relations; a slave, on being converted, and becoming a free man of Christ, has no right to claim, on that ground, emancipation from the service of his master. Justice, therefore, required St. Paul to send back Onesimus to his master, and conscience obliged Onesimus to agree in the propriety of the measure; but love to the servant induced the apostle to write this conciliating letter to the master.
Whom I have sent again – That is, to Philemon. This was, doubtless, at his own request, for:
(1) there is not the slightest evidence that he compelled him, or even urged him to go. The language is just such as would have been used on the supposition either that he requested him to go and bear a letter to Colosse, or that Onesimus desired to go, and that Paul sent him agreeably to his request; compare Phi_2:25. “Yet I suppose it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother, and companion in labor,” etc.; Col_4:7-8. “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate,” etc. But Epaphroditus and Tychicus were not sent against their own will – nor is there any more reason to think that Onesimus was; see the introduction, Section 2. See (4) below.
(2) Paul had no power to send Onesimus back to his master unless he chose to go. He had no civil authority; he had no guard to accompany him; he could entrust him to no sheriff to convey him from place to place, and he had no means of controlling him, if he chose to go to any other place than Colosse. He could indeed have sent him away from himself; he could have told him to go to Colossae, but his power ended there. Onesimus then could have gone where he pleased. But there is no evidence that Paul even told him to go to Colossae against his own inclination, or that he would have sent him away at all unless he had himself requested it.
(3) there may have been many reasons why Onesimus desired to return to Colosse, and no one can prove that he did not express that desire to Paul, and that his “sending” him was not in consequence of such a request. He may have had friends and relatives there; or, being now converted, be may have been sensible that he had wronged his former master, and that he ought to return and repair the wrong; or he may have been poor, and a stranger in Rome, and may have been greatly disappointed in what he had expected to find there when he left Philemon, and may have desired to return to the comparative comforts of his former condition.
(4) it may be added, therefore,
(a) that this passage should not be adduced to prove that we ought to send back runaway slaves to their former masters against their own consent; or to justify the laws which require magistrates to do it; or to show that they who have escaped should be arrested and forcibly detained; or to justify any sort of influence over a runaway slave to induce him to return to his former master. There is not the least evidence that any of these things occurred in the case before us, and if this instance is ever appealed to, it should be to justify what Paul did – and nothing else.
(b) The passage shows that it is right to aid a servant of any kind to return to his master, if he desires it. It is right to give him a “letter,” and to plead earnestly for his favorable reception if he has in any way wronged his master – for Paul did this. On the same principle it would be right to give him pecuniary assistance to enable him to return – for there may be cases where one who has fled from servitude might wish to return. There may be instances where one has had a kind master, with whom he would feel that on the whole he could be more happy than in his present circumstances. Such cases, however, are exceedingly rare. Or there may be instances where one may have relatives that are in the neighborhood or in the family of his former master, and the desire to be with them may be so strong that on the whole he would choose to be a servant as he was before, rather than to remain as he is now. In all such cases it is right to render aid – for the example of the apostle Paul goes to sustain this. But it goes no further. So far as appears, he neither advised Onesimus to return, nor did he compel him; nor did he say one word to influence him to do it; – nor did he mean or expect that he would be a slave when he should have been received again by his master; see the notes at Phm_1:16.
Thou, therefore, receive him, that is, mine own bowels – There is great delicacy also in this expression. If he had merely said “receive him,” Philemon might have thought only of him as he formerly was. Paul, therefore, adds, “that is, mine own bowels” – “one whom I so tenderly love that he seems to carry my heart with him wherever he goes.” – Doddridge.
13.Whom I was desirous to keep beside me. This is another argument for the purpose of appeasing Philemon, that Paul sends him back a slave, of whose services, in other respects, he stood greatly in need. It would have been extreme cruelty, to disdain so strong affection manifested by Paul. He likewise states indirectly, that it will be a gratification to himself to have Onesimus sent back to him rather than that he should be harshly treated at home.
That he might minister to me instead of thee in the bonds of the gospel.He now mentions other circumstances: first, Onesimus will supply the place of his master, by performing this service; secondly, Paul himself, through modesty, was unwilling to deprive Philemon of his right; and, thirdly, Philemon will receive more applause, if, after having had his slave restored to him, he shall willingly and generously send him back. From this last consideration we infer, that we ought to aid the martyrs of Christ by every kind office in our power, while they are laboring for the testimony of the gospel; for if exile, imprisonment stripes, blows, and violent seizing of our property, are believed by us to belong to the gospel, as Paul here calls them, whoever refuses to share and partake of them separates himself even from Christ. Undoubtedly the defense of the gospel belongs alike to all. Accordingly, he who endures persecution, for the sake of the gospel, ought not to be regarded as a private individual, but as one who publicly represents the whole Church. Hence it follows, that all believers ought to be united in taking care of it, so that they may not, as is frequently done, leave the gospel to be defended in the person of one man.
I would (ἐβουλόμην)
Rev., I would fain. See on Mat_1:19. The imperfect tense denotes the desire awakened but arrested. See on I would, Phm_1:14.
With me (πρὸς εμαυτὸν)
The preposition expresses more than near or beside. It implies intercourse. See on with God, Joh_1:1.
In thy stead (ὑπὲρ σοῦ)
Rev., correctly, in thy behalf. A beautiful specimen of christian courtesy and tact; assuming that Philemon would have desired to render these services in person.
In the bonds of the Gospel
Connect with me. Bonds with which he is bound for the sake of the Gospel: with which Christ has invested him. A delicate hint at his sufferings is blended with an intimation of the authority which attaches to his appeal as a prisoner of Christ. This language of Paul is imitated by Ignatius. “My bonds exhort you” (Tralles, 12). “He (Jesus Christ) is my witness, in whom I am bound” (Philadelphia, 7). “In whom I bear about my bonds as spiritual pearls” (Ephesians, 11). “In the bonds which I bear about, I sing the praises of the churches” (Magnesians, 1).
14. That thy benefit might not be by constraint. This is drawn from the general rule, that no sacrifices are acceptable to God but those which are freely offered. Paul speaks of almsgiving in the same manner. (2Co_9:7.)Τό ἀγαθον is here put for “acts of kindness,” and willingness is contrasted with constraint, when there is no other opportunity of putting to the test a generous and cheerful act of the will; for that duty which is generously performed, and not through influence exercised by others, is alone entitled to full praise. It is also worthy of observation, that Paul, while he acknowledges that Onesimus was to blame in past time, affirms that he is changed; and lest Philemon should have any doubt that his slave returns to him with a new disposition and different conduct, Paul says that he has made full trial of his repentance by personal knowledge.
That thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity – If the apostle had kept Onesimus in his service, and written to Philemon to forgive him and permit him to stay, to this it is probable he would have agreed; but the benefit thus conceded might have lost much of its real worth by the consideration that, had he been at Colosse, Philemon would not have sent him to Rome; but, being there and in the apostle’s service, he could not with propriety order him home: thus the benefit to the apostle would have appeared to have been of necessity. The apostle, therefore, by sending him back again, gave Philemon the opportunity to do all as if self-moved to it. This is a very delicate touch.
But without thy mind would I do nothing – Nothing in the matter referred to. He would not retain Onesimus in his service, much as he needed his assistance, without the cordial consent of Philemon. He would not give him occasion for hard feeling or complaint, as if Paul had induced him to leave his master, or as if he persuaded him to remain with him when he wished to return – or as if he kept him away from him when he owed him or had wronged him. All that is said here is entirely consistent with the supposition that Onesimus was disposed to return to his master, and with the supposition that Paul did not compel or urge him to do it. For it is probable that if Onesimus had proposed to return, it would have been easy for Paul to have retained him with him. He might have represented his own want of a friend. He might have appealed to his gratitude on account of his efforts for his conversion.
He might have shown him that he was under no moral obligation to go back. He might have refused to give him this letter, and might have so represented to him the dangers of the way, and the probability of a harsh reception, as effectually to have dissuaded him from such a purpose. But, in that case, it is clear that this might have caused hard feeling in the bosom of Philemon, and rather than do that he preferred to let him return to his master, and to plead for him that he might have a kind reception. It is, therefore, by no means necessary to suppose that Paul felt that Onesimus was under obligation to return, or that he was disposed to compel him, or that Onesimus was not inclined to return voluntarily; but all the cirumstances of the case are met by the supposition that, if Paul retained him, Philemon might conceive that he had injured him. Suppose, as seems to have been the case, that Onesimus “owed” Philemon Phm_1:18, and then suppose that Paul had chosen to retain him with himself, and had dissuaded him from returning to him, would not Philemon have had reason to complain of it?
There was, therefore, on every account, great propriety in his saying that he did not wish to use any influence over him to retain him with him when he purposed to return to Colosse, and that he felt that it would be wrong for him to keep him, much as he needed him, without the consent of Philemon. Nor is it necessary, by what is said here, to suppose that Onesimus was a slave, and that Paul believed that Philemon had a right to him and to his services as such. All that he says here would be met by the supposition that he was a hired servant, and would be in fact equally proper even on the supposition that he was an apprentice. In either case, he would feel that he gave just ground of complaint on the part of Philemon if, when Onesimus desired to return, he used any influence to dissuade him from it, and to retain him with himself. It would have been a violation of the rule requiring us to do to others as we would wish them to do unto us, and Paul therefore felt unwilling, much as he needed the services of Onesimus, to make use of any influence to retain him with him without the consent of his master.
That thy benefit – The favor which I might receive from thee by having the services of Onesimus. If Onesimus should remain with him and assist him, he would feel that the benefit which would be conferred by his services would be in fact bestowed by Philemon, for he had a right to the service of Onesimus, and, while Paul enjoyed it, he would be deprived of it. The word rendered “benefit” here – ἀγαθόν agathon – means good, and the sense is, “the good which you would do me;” to wit, by the service of Onesimus.
Should not be as it were of necessity – As it would be it Paul should detain Onesimus with him without affording Philemon an opportunity of expressing his assent. Paul would even then have felt that he was in fact receiving a “good” at the expense of Philemon, but it would not be a voluntary favor on his part.
But willingly – As it would be if he had given his consent that Onesimus should remain with him.
15For perhaps he was separated. If we are angry on account of offenses committed by men, our minds ought to be soothed, when we perceive that those things which were done through malice have been turned to a different end by the purpose of God. A joyful result may be regarded as a remedy for evils, which is held out to us by the hand of God for blotting out offenses. Thus Joseph — when he takes into consideration, that the wonderful providence of God brought it about, that, though he was sold as a slave, yet he was elevated to that high rank, from which he could provide food for his brethren and his father — forgets the treachery and cruelty of his brethren, and says, that he was sent before on their account. (Gen_45:5.)
Paul therefore reminds Philemon that he ought not to be so greatly offended at the flight of his slave, for it was the cause of a benefit not to be regretted. So long as Onesimus was at heart a runaway, Philemon, though he had him in his house, did not actually enjoy him as his property; for he was wicked and unfaithful, and could not be of real advantage. He says, therefore, that he was a wanderer for a little time, that, by changing his place, he might be converted and become a new man. And he prudently softens everything, by calling the flight a departure, and adding, that it was onlyfor a time.
That thou mightest receive him for ever. Lastly, he contrasts the perpetuity of the advantage with the short duration of the loss.
He – departed for a season – This is another most delicate stroke. He departed thy slave, thy unfaithful slave; he departed for a short time; but so has the mercy of God operated in his behalf, and the providence of God in thine, that he now returns, not an unfaithful slave, in whom thou couldst repose no confidence, but as a brother, a beloved brother in the Lord, to be in the same heavenly family with thee for ever. Thou hast, therefore, reason to be thankful to God that he did depart, that he might be restored to thee again infinitely better than he was when be left thee. God has permitted his unfaithfulness, and overruled the whole both to his advantage and thine. The apology for Onesimus is very similar to that made by Joseph for his brethren, Gen_45:5.
For perhaps he therefore departed for a season – Perhaps on this account, or for this reason – διὰ τοῦτο dia touto – he left you for a little time. Greek, “for an hour” – πρὸς ὥραν pros hōran. The meaning is, that it was possible that this was permitted in the Providence of God in order that Onesimus might be brought under the influence of the gospel, and be far more serviceable to Philemon as a Christian, than he could have been in his former relation to him. What appeared to Philemon, therefore, to be a calamity, and what seemed to him to be wrong on the part of Onesimus, might have been permitted to occur in order that he might receive a higher benefit. Such things are not uncommon in human affairs.
That thou shouldest receive him for ever – That is, in the higher relation of a Christian friend and brother; that he might be united to thee in eternal affection; that he might not only be with thee in a far more endearing relation during the present life than he was before, but in the bonds of love in a world that shall never end.
But above a servant, a beloved brother. He next brings forward another advantage of the flight, that Onesimus has not only been corrected by means of it, so as to become a useful slave, but that he has become the “brother” of his master.
Especially to me.Lest the heart of Onesimus, wounded by the offense which was still fresh, should be reluctant to admit the brotherly appellation, Paul claims Onesimus first of all, as his own “brother.” Hence he infers that Philemon is much more closely related to him, because both of them had the same relationship in the Lord according to the Spirit, but, according to the flesh, Onesimus is a member of his family. Here we behold the uncommon modesty of Paul, who bestows on a worthless slave the title of a brother, and even calls him a dearly beloved brother to himself. And, indeed, it would be excessive pride, if we should be ashamed of acknowledging as our brother those whom God accounts to be his sons.
How much more to thee. By these words he does not mean that Philemon is higher in rank according to the Spirit; but the meaning is, “Seeing that he is especially a brother to me, he must be much more so to thee; for there is a twofold relationship between you.”
We must hold it to be an undoubted truth, that Paul does not rashly or lightly (as many people do) answer for a man of whom he knows little, or extol his faith before he has ascertained it by strong proofs, and therefore in the person of Onesimus there is exhibited a memorable example of repentance. We know how wicked the dispositions of slaves were, so that scarcely one in a hundred ever came to be of real use. As to Onesimus, we may conjecture from his flight, that he had been hardened in depravity by long habit and practice. It is therefore uncommon and wonderful virtue to lay aside the vices by which his nature was polluted, so that the Apostle can truly declare that he has now become another man.
From the same source proceeds a profitable doctrine, that the elect of God are sometimes brought to salvation by a method that could not have been believed, contrary to general expectation, by circuitous windings, and even by labyrinths. Onesimus lived in a religious and holy family, and, being banished from it by his own evil actions, he deliberately, as it were, withdraws far from God and from eternal life. Yet God, by hidden providence, wonderfully directs his pernicious flight, so that he meets with Paul.
Not now as a servant – The adverb rendered “not now” (οὐκέτι ouketi), means “no more, no further, no longer.” It implies that he had been before in this condition, but was not to be now; compare Mat_19:6, “They are no more twain.” They were once so, but they are not to be regarded as such now; Mat_22:46, “Neither durst any man, from that day forth ask him any more questions.” They once did it, but now they did not dare to do it; Luk_15:19, “And am no more worthy to be called thy son,” though I once was; Joh_6:66, “And walked no more with him,” though they once did; see also Joh_11:54; Joh_14:19; Joh_17:11; Act_8:39; Gal_4:7; Eph_2:19. This passage then proves that he had been before a servant – δοῦλος doulos – a slave. But still, it is not certain what kind of a servant he was. The word does not necessarily mean slave, nor can it be proved from this passage, or from any other part of the Epistle, that he was at any time a slave; see the Eph_6:5 note, and 1Ti_6:1 note. The word denotes servant of any kind, and it should never be assumed that those to whom it was applied were slaves. It is true that slavery existed in the heathen nations when the gospel was first preached, and it is doubtless true that many slaves were converted (compare the notes at 1Co_7:21), but the mere use of the word does not necessarily prove that he to whom it is applied was a slave. If Onesimus was a slave, there is reason to think that he was of a most respectable character (compare the notes at Col_4:9), and indeed all that is implied in the use of the term here, and all that is said of him, would be met by the supposition that he was a voluntary servant, and that he had been in fact intrusted with important business by Philemon. It would seem from Phm_1:18 (“or oweth thee ought”), that he was in a condition which made it possible for him to hold property, or at least to be intrusted.
But above a servant, a brother beloved – A Christian brother; compare the notes at 1Ti_6:2. He was especially dear to Paul himself as a Christian, and he trusted that he would be so to Philemon.
Specially to me – That is, I feel a special or particular interest in him, and affection for him. This he felt not only on account of the traits of character which he had evinced since his conversion, but because he had been converted under his instrumentality when he was a prisoner. A convert made in such circumstances would be particularly dear to one.
But how much more unto thee – Why, it may be asked, would he then be particularly dear to Philemon? I answer, because:
(1) of the former relation which he sustained to him – a member of his own family, and bound to him by strong ties;
(2) because he would receive him as a penitent, and would have joy in his returning from the error of his ways;
(3) because he might expect him to remain long with him and be of advantage to him as a Christian brother; and,
(4) because he had voluntarily returned, and thus shown that he felt a strong attachment to his former master.
In the flesh – This phrase is properly used in reference to any relation which may exist pertaining to the present world, as contradistinguished from that which is formed primarily by religion, and which would be expressed by the subjoined phrase, “in the Lord.” It might, in itself, refer to any natural relation of blood, or to any formed in business, or to any constituted by mere friendship, or to family alliance, or to any relation having its origin in voluntary or involuntary servitude. It is not necessary to suppose, in order to meet the full force of the expression, either that Onesimus had been a slave, or that he would continue to be regarded as such. Whatever relation of the kind, referred to above, may have existed between him and Philemon, would be appropriately denoted by this phrase. The new and more interesting relation which they were now to sustain to each other, which was formed by religion, is expressed by the phrase “in the Lord.” In both these, Paul hoped that Onesimus would manifest the appropriate spirit of a Christian, and be worthy of his entire confidence.
In the Lord – As a Christian. He will be greatly endeared to your heart as a consistent and worthy follower of the Lord Jesus. – On this important verse then, in relation to the use which is so often made of this Epistle by the advocates of slavery, to show that Paul sanctioned it, and that it is a duty to send back those who have escaped from their masters that they may again be held in bondage, we may remark that:
(1) there is no certain evidence that Onesimus was ever a slave at all. All the proof that he was, is to be found in the word δοῦλος doulos – doulos – in this verse. But, as we have seen, the mere use of this word by no means proves that. All that is necessarily implied by it is that he was in some way the servant of Philemon – whether hired or bought cannot be shown.
(2) at all events, even supposing that he had been a slave, Paul did not mean that he should return as such, or to be regarded as such. He meant, whatever may have been his former relation, and whatever subsequent relation he may have sustained, that he should be regarded as a beloved Christian brother; that the leading conception in regard to him should be that he was a fellow-heir of salvation, a member of the same redeemed church, a candidate for the same heaven.
(3) Paul did not send him back in order that he might be a slave, or with a view that the shackles of servitude should be riveted on him. There is not the slightest evidence that he forced him to return, or that he advised him to do it, or even that he expressed a wish that he would; and when he did send him, it was not as a slave, but as a beloved brother in the Lord. It cannot be shown that the motive for sending him back was in the slightest degree that he should be a slave. No such thing is intimated, nor is any such thing necessary to be supposed in order to a fair interpretation of the passage.
(4) it is clear that, even if Onesimus had been a slave before, it would have been contrary to the wishes of Paul that Philemon should now hold him as such. Paul wished him to regard him “not as a servant,” but as a “beloved brother.” If Philemon complied with his wishes, Onesimus was never afterward regarded or treated as a slave. If he did so regard or treat him, it was contrary to the expressed intention of the apostle, and it is certain that he could never have shown this letter in justification of it. It cannot fail to strike any one that if Philemon followed the spirit of this Epistle, he would not consider Onesimus to be a slave, but if he sustained the relation of a servant at all, it would be as a voluntary member of his household, where, in all respects, he would be regarded and treated, not as a “chattel,” or a “thing,” but as a Christian brother.
(5) this passage, therefore, may be regarded as full proof that it is not right to send a slave back, against his will, to his former master, to be a slave. It is right to help one if he wishes to go back; to give him a letter to his master, as Paul did to Onesimus; to furnish him money to help him on his journey if he desires to return; and to commend him as a Christian brother, if he is such; but beyond that, the example of the apostle Paul does not go. It is perfectly clear that he would not have sent him back to be regarded and treated as a slave, but being able to commend him as a Christian, he was willing to do it, and he expected that he would be treated, not as a slave, but as a Christian. The case before us does not go at all to prove that Paul would have ever sent him back to be a chattel or a thing. If, with his own consent, and by his own wish, we can send a slave back to his master, to be treated as a Christian and as a man, the example of Paul may show that it would be right to do it, but it does not go beyond that.
(6) in confirmation of this, and as a guide in duty now, it may be observed, that Paul had been educated as a Hebrew; that he was thoroughly imbued with the doctrines of the Old Testament, and that one of the elementary principles of that system of religion was, that a runaway slave was in no circumstances to be returned by force to his former master. “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant that is escaped from his master unto thee;” Deu_23:15. It cannot be supposed that, trained as he was in the principles of the Hebrew religion – of which this was a positive and unrepealed law, and imbued with the benevolent spirit of the gospel – a system so hostile to oppression, the apostle Paul would have constrained a slave who had escaped from bondage to return to servitude against his will.
(7) it may be added, that if the principles here acted on by Paul were carried out, slavery would speedily cease in the world. Very soon would it come to an end if masters were to regard those whom they hold, “not as slaves,” but as beloved Christian brothers; not as chattels and things, but as the redeemed children of God. Thus regarding them, they would no longer feel that they might chain them, and task them, and sell them as property. They would feel that as Christians and as men, they were on a level with themselves, and that they who were made in the image of God, and who had been redeemed with the blood of his Son, “ought to be free.”
17If, therefore, thou holdest me to be thy associate. Here he lowers himself still further, by giving up his right and his honor to a runaway, and putting him in his own room, as he will shortly afterwards offer himself to be his cautioner. He reckoned it to be of vast importance that Onesimus should have a mild and gentle master, that immoderate severity might not drive him to despair. That is the object which Paul toils so earnestly to accomplish. And his example warns us how affectionately we ought to aid a sinner who has given us proof of his repentance. And if it is our duty to intercede for others, in order to obtain forgiveness for those who repent, much more should we ourselves treat them with kindness and gentleness.
If there count me therefore a partner – The word rendered “partner” (κοινωνὸς koinōnos, means “a partaker, a companion.” The idea in the word is that of having something in common (κοινὸς koinos) with any one – as common principles; common attachments; a common interest in an enterprise; common hopes. It may be applied to those who hold the same principles of religion, and who have the same hope of heaven, the same views of things, etc. Here the meaning is, that if Philemon regarded Paul as sharing with him in the principles and hopes of religion, or as a brother in the gospel so that he would receive him, he ought to receive Onesimus in the same way. He was actuated by the same principles, and had the same hopes, and had a claim to be received as a Christian brother. His receiving Onesimus would be interpreted by Paul as proof that he regarded him as a partaker of the hopes of the gospel, and as a companion and friend.
18If in any thing he hath done thee injury. Hence we may infer that Onesimus had likewise stolen something from his master, as was customary with fugitives; and yet he softens the criminality of the act, by adding, or if he oweth thee anythingNot only was there a bond between them recognised by civil law, but the slave had become indebted to his master by the wrong which he had inflicted on him. So much the greater, therefore, was the kindness of Paul, who was even ready to give satisfaction for a crime.
If he hath wronged thee – Either by escaping from you, or by failing to perform what he had agreed to, or by unfaithfulness when he was with you as a servant, or by taking your property when he went away. Any of these methods would meet all that is said here, and it is impossible to determine in which of them he had done Philemon wrong. It may be observed, however, that the apostle evinces much delicacy in this matter. He does not say that he had wronged him, but he makes a supposition that he might have done it. Doubtless, Philemon would suppose that he had done it, even if he had done no more than to escape from him, and, whatever Paul’s views of that might be, he says that even if it were so, he would wish him to set that over to his account. He took the blame on himself, and asked Philemon not to remember it against Onesimus.
Or oweth thee ought – It appears from this, that Onesimus, whatever may have been his former condition, was capable of holding property, and of contracting debts. It is possible that he might have borrowed money of Philemon, or he may have been regarded as a tenant, and may not have paid the rent of his farm, or the apostle may mean that he had owed him service which he had not performed. Conjecture is useless as to the way in which the debt had been contracted.
Put that on mine account – Reckon, or impute that to me – εμοὶ ἐλλόγα emoi elloga. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in Rom_5:13, where it is rendered imputed. See the notes at that passage. It means to “reckon;” to put to one’s account, to wit, what properly belongs to him, or what he assumes. It never implies that that is to be charged on one which does not properly belong to him, either as his own act, or as that which he has assumed. In this case, it would have been manifestly unjust for Philemon to charge the wrong which Onesimus had done, or what he owed him, to the apostle Paul without his consent; and it cannot be inferred from what Paul says here that it would have been right to do so. The steps in the case were these:
(1) Onesimus, not Paul, had done the wrong.
(2) Paul was not guilty of it, or blameworthy for it, and never in any way, or by any process, could be made to be, or conceived to be. It would be true forever that Onesimus and not he had done the wrong.
(3) Paul assumed the debt and the wrong to himself. He was willing, by putting himself in the place of Onesimus, to bear the consequences, and to have Onesimus treated as if he had not done it. When he had voluntarily assumed it, it was right to treat him as if he had done so; that is, to hold him responsible. A man may assume a debt if he pleases, and then he may be held answerable for it.
(4) if he had not assumed this himself, it never could have been right for Philemon to charge it on him. No possible supposition could make it right. No agency which he had in the conversion of Onesimus; no friendship which he had for him; no favor which he had shown him, could make it right. The consent, the concurrence on the part of Paul was absolutely necessary in order that he should be in any way responsible for what Onesimus had done.
(5) the same principle prevails in imputation everywhere.
(a) What we have done is chargeable upon us.
(b) If we have not done a thing, or have not assumed it by a voluntary act, it is not right to charge it upon us.
(c) God reckons things as they are.
The Saviour voluntarily assumed the place of man, and God reckoned, or considered it so. He did not hold him guilty or blameworthy in the case; but as he had voluntarily taken the place of the sinner, he was treated as if he had been a sinner. God, in like manner, does not charge on man crimes of which he is not guilty. He does not hold him to be blameworthy, or ill-deserving for the sin of Adam, or any other sin but his own. He reckons things as they are. Adam sinned, and he alone was held to be blameworthy or ill-deserving for the act. By a divine constitution (compare the notes at Rom_5:12, following), he had appointed that if he sinned, the consequences or results should pass over and terminate on his posterity – as the consequences of the sin of the drunkard pass over and terminate on his sons, and God reckons this to be so – and treats the race accordingly. He never reckons those to be guilty who are not guilty; or those to be ill-deserving who are not ill-deserving; nor does he punish one for what another has done. When Paul, therefore, voluntarily assumed a debt or an obligation, what he did should not be urged as an argument to prove that it would be right for God to charge on all the posterity of Adam the sin of their first father, or to hold them guilty for an offence committed ages before they had an existence. The case should be adduced to demonstrate one point only – that when a man assumes a debt, or voluntarily takes a wrong done upon himself, it is right to hold him responsible for it.
(See the subject of imputation discussed in the supplementary notes, Rom_5:12, Rom_5:19; 2Co_5:19, 2Co_5:21 notes; Gal_3:13 note.)
19Not to tell thee that thou owest to me thyself. By this expression he intended to describe how confidently he believes that he will obtain it; as if he had said, “There is nothing that thou couldest refuse to give me, even though I should demand thyself.” To the same purpose is what follows about lodging and other matters, as we shall immediately see.
There remains one question. How does Paul — who, if he had not been aided by the churches, had not the means of living sparingly and frugally — promise to pay money? Amidst such poverty and want this does certainly appear to be a ridiculous promise; but it is easy to see that, by this form of expression, Paul beseeches Philemon not to ask anything back from his slave. Though he does not speak ironically, yet, by an indirect figure, he requests him to blot out and cancel this account. The meaning, therefore, is — “I wish that thou shouldest not contend with thy slave, unless thou choosest to have me for thy debtor in his stead.” For he immediately adds that Philemon is altogether his own; and he who claims the whole man as his property, need not give himself uneasiness about paying money.
I Paul have written it with mine own hand – It has been inferred from this, that Paul wrote this entire Epistle with his own hand, though this was contrary to his usual practice; compare the Rom_16:22 note; 1Co_16:21 note; Gal_6:11 note. He undoubtedly meant to refer to this as a mark of special favor toward Philemon, and as furnishing security that he would certainly be bound for what he had promised.
I will repay it – I will be security for it. It is not probable that Paul supposed that Philemon would rigidly exact it from him, but if he did, he would feel himself bound to pay it.
Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides – Paul had doubtless been the means of the conversion of Philemon, and whatever hope he cherished of eternal life, was to be traced to his instrumentality. Paul says that this was equivalent to his owing himself to him. His very life – his eternal welfare – was to be traced to his labors. What he asked now of him was a small matter compared with this, and he seems to have supposed – what was probably true – that for this consideration, Philemon would not think of exacting of him what he had voluntarily obligated himself to obey.
20Yea, brother. This affirmation is used in order to increase the ardor of the exhortation; as if he had said — “Now shall it be clearly proved that there hath been no variance between thee and me, but that, on the contrary, thou art sincerely attached to me, and that all that thou hadst is at my disposal, if thou pardon offenses and receive into favor him who is so closely related to me.”
Refresh my bowels in the Lord.He again repeats the same form of expressions which he had previously employed. Hence we infer that the faith of the gospel does not overturn civil government, or set aside the power and authority which masters have over slaves. For Philemon was not a man of the ordinary rank, but a fellow-laborer of Paul in cultivating Christ’s vineyard; and yet that power over a slave which was permitted by the law is not taken away, but he is only commanded to receive him kindly by granting forgiveness, and is even humbly besought by Paul to restore him to his former condition.
When Paul pleads so humbly in behalf of another, we are reminded how far distant they are from true repentance who obstinately excuse their vices, or who, without shame and without tokens of humility, acknowledge indeed that they have sinned, but in such a manner as if they had never sinned. When Onesimus saw so distinguished an apostle of Christ plead so eagerly in his behalf, he, must undoubtedly have been much more humbled, that he might bend the heart of his master to be merciful to him. To the same purpose is the excuse which he offers (Phl_1:21 ) for writing so boldly, because he knew that Philemon would do more than he had been requested.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
let me — “me” is emphatic: “Let me have profit (so Greek ‘for joy,’ onainen, referring to the name Onesimus, ‘profitable’) from thee, as thou shouldst have had from Onesimus”; for “thou owest thine ownself to me.”
in the Lord — not in worldly gain, but in thine increase in the graces of the Lord’s Spirit [Alford].
my bowels — my heart. Gratify my feelings by granting this request.
in the Lord — The oldest manuscripts read, “in Christ,” the element or sphere in which this act of Christian love naturally ought to have place.
Obedience (hupakoēi). “Compliance” seems less harsh to us in the light of Phm_1:9.
I write (egrapsa). Epistolary aorist again.
Even beyond what I say (kai huper ha legō). That can only mean that Paul “knows” (eidōs, second perfect active participle of oida) that Philemon will set Onesimus free. He prefers that it come as Philemon’s idea and wish rather than as a command from Paul. Paul has been criticized for not denouncing slavery in plain terms. But, when one considers the actual conditions in the Roman empire, he is a wise man who can suggest a better plan than the one pursued here for the ultimate overthrow of slavery.
22But at the same time prepare for me a lodging. This confidence must have powerfully excited and moved Philemon; and next, he holds out to him the hope of being gratified by his own arrival. Although we do not know whether or not Paul was afterwards released from prison, yet there is no absurdity in this statement, even though he was disappointed of the hope which he cherished about God’s temporal kindness. He had no confident hope of his release, further than if it pleased God. Accordingly, he always kept his mind in suspense, till the will of God was made known by the result.
That through your prayers I shall be given to you. Here it deserves notice, that he says that everything that believers obtain “through their prayers,” is “given” to them; for hence we infer that our prayers, though they are not unsuccessful, yet have no power through their own merit; for what is yielded to them is of free grace.
But withal prepare me also a lodging – Does not the apostle mention this as conferring an obligation on Philemon? I will begin to repay thee by taking up my abode at thy house, as soon as I shall be enlarged from prison. But some think he wished Philemon to hire him a house, that he might have a lodging of his own when he returned to Colosse.
For I trust that through your prayers – It is very likely that this epistle was written a short time before the liberation of the apostle from his first imprisonment at Rome. See Act_28:30, and Phi_2:24; and that he had that liberation now in full prospect.
Simultaneously with the fulfillment of my request.