The Berean Expositor
Volume 44 - Page 190 of 247
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pp. 210 - 215
This delightful little epistle, which is so often neglected because of its brevity and
personal nature, has much to teach the believer in Christ. Since it belongs to the post
Acts 28: period this should especially concern the members of the Body of Christ who
are now being called out. True it does not contain the depth of teaching as set out in
Ephesians and Colossians, nor the exhortations to `run the race' in view of the prize set
before us, of Philippians and II Timothy, but it does lay down an important principle
which every believer ought to note. It reveals Paul's attitude to one of the evils of his
time--slavery, and so indicates what should be the practice of the present day believer to
the evils of his day. Before this is pursued at any length, a brief outline of the story
behind the epistle may be of help in understanding why the letter was composed at all.
The story behind the epistle.
Philemon was a Colossian, or at any rater an inhabitant of Colosse. This is apparent
from Col. 4: 8, 9 and Philemon 10, 12:
"Whom I have sent unto you . . . . . with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother,
who is one of you."
"Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds . . . . . . . whom I have sent again
(R.V. `back to thee')."
If Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, was one of the Colossians, it is reasonable to
suppose that since he was being sent back to Philemon, then Philemon himself was at
Colosse, and almost certainly resident there. This being so it is interesting to note the
reference to the "church in thy house" (Philemon 2)*, which could have been the meeting
place of the Colossian believers. It also reveals how Philemon may have come to deserve
the commendation of Paul, "the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother" (7).
How important a place hospitality must have held for these early believers who had no
splendid buildings in which to meet.
[* - (# or number) indicates the verse in the epistle to Philemon.]
Philemon seems to have become a believer under the ministry of Paul, but where and
when is not apparent from Scripture. It is possible that the Apostle's long stay at Ephesus
when "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19: 10), may
have been the time when Philemon came to owe Paul, "even thine own self besides"
(19)--an undoubted reference to his conversion. Since that event Philemon had become
a beloved brother of Paul, in whom the Apostle had confidence concerning his wishes,
both with respect to what he asked for Onesimus, and for the preparation of a lodging,
should he be released from prison (21, 22). Philemon evidently did not disappoint Paul,
or else the epistle which bears his name would hardly have been passed down to us.