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The 18th book of the New Testament

This is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Philemon (a rich member of the Church at Collose). This letter is more of a personal nature, advising his friend Philemon on how to handle the issue of his runaway servant, Onesimus.

Next Book: Hebrews
Previous Book: Titus
back to the King James Bible

Chapter 1

1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, 1:2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: 1:3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, 1:5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; 1:6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

1:7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

1:8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, 1:9 Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

1:10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: 1:11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: 1:12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: 1:13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 1:14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

1:15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 1:16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? 1:17 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

1:18 If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 1:19 I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

1:20 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.

1:21 Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

1:22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

1:25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
Book: Philemon

Philemon was an inhabitant of Colosse, a person of some note
and wealth, and a convert under the ministry of St. Paul.
Onesimus was the Slave of Philemon: having run away from his
master, he went to Rome, where he was converted to the Christian
Faith, By the Word as set forth By Paul, who kept him till his
conduct proved the Truth and sincerity of his Conversion. He
wished to repair the injury he had done to his master, but
fearing the Punishment his Offence deserved might be inflicted,
he entreated the Apostle to write to Philemon. And St. Paul
seems No where to reason more beautifully, or to entreat more
forcibly, than in this epistle.

Chapter: 1

The Apostle's joy and praise for Philemon's steady Faith in
the Lord Jesus, and Love to all the saints. (1-7) He recommends
Onesimus as one who would make rich amends for the misconduct of
which he had been guilty; and On behalf of whom the Apostle
promises to make up any loss Philemon had sustained. (8-22)
Salutations and a blessing. (23-25)

1-7 Faith in Christ, and Love to him, should unite saints more
closely than any outward relation can unite the people of the
world. Paul in his private prayers was particular in remembering
his friends. We must remember Christian friends much and often,
as their cases may need, bearing them in our thoughts, and upon
our hearts, before our God. Different sentiments and ways in
what is not essential, must not make difference of Affection, as
to the Truth. He inquired concerning his friends, as to the
Truth, growth, and fruitfulness of their graces, their Faith in
Christ, and Love to him, and to all the saints. The good which
Philemon did, was matter of joy and comfort to him and others,
who therefore desired that he would continue and abound in good
fruits, more and more, to God's honour.

8-14 It does not lower any one to condescend, and sometimes
even to beseech, where, in strictness of right, we might
command: the Apostle argues from Love, rather than authority, in
behalf of one converted through his means; and this was
Onesimus. In allusion to that name, which signifies
"profitable," the Apostle allows that in time past he had been
unprofitable to Philemon, but hastens to mention the change By
which he had become profitable. Unholy persons are unprofitable;
they answer not the great End of their being. But what happy
changes Conversion makes! of evil, good; of unprofitable,
useful. Religious servants are treasures in a family. Such will
make Conscience of their time and trusts, and manage all they
can for the best. No prospect of usefulness should lead any to
neglect their obligations, or to fail in obedience to superiors.
One great evidence of true Repentance consists in returning to
practise the duties which have been neglected. In his
unconverted state, Onesimus had withdrawn, to his master's
injury; but now he had seen his Sin and repented, he was willing
and desirous to return to his duty. Little do men know for what
purposes the Lord leaves some to change their situations, or
engage in undertakings, perhaps from evil motives. Had not the
Lord overruled some of our ungodly projects, we may reflect upon
cases, in which our Destruction must have been sure.

15-22 When we speak of the nature of any Sin or Offence against
God, the evil of it is not to be lessened; but in a penitent
sinner, as God covers it, So must we. Such changed characters
often become a blessing to all among whom they reside.
Christianity does not do away our duties to others, but directs
to the right doing of them. True penitents will be open in
owning their faults, as doubtless Onesimus had been to Paul,
upon his being awakened and brought to Repentance; especially in
cases of injury done to others. The Communion of saints does not
destroy distinction of property. This Passage is an instance of
that being imputed to one, which is contracted By another; and
of one becoming answerable for another, By a voluntary
engagement, that he might be freed from the Punishment due to
his crimes, according to the doctrine that Christ of his own
will bore the Punishment of our sins, that we might receive the
reward of his Righteousness. Philemon was Paul's son in the
Faith, yet he entreated him as a Brother. Onesimus was a Poor
Slave, yet Paul besought for him as if seeking some great thing
for himself. Christians should do what may give joy to the
hearts of one another. From the world they expect trouble; they
should find comfort and joy in one another. When any of our
mercies are taken away, our trust and Hope must be in God. We
must diligently use the means, and if No other should be at
Hand, abound in Prayer. Yet, though Prayer prevails, it does not
merit the things obtained. And if Christians do not meet On
Earth, still the Grace of the Lord Jesus will be with their
spirits, and they will soon meet before the Throne to join for
ever in admiring the riches of redeeming Love. The Example of
Onesimus may encourage the vilest sinners to return to God, but
it is shamefully prevented, if any are made bold thereby to
persist in evil Courses. Are not many taken away in their sins,
while others become more hardened? Resist not present
convictions, lest they return No more.

23-25 Never have believers found more enjoyment of God, than
when suffering together for him. Grace is the best wish for
ourselves and others; with this the Apostle begins and ends. All
Grace is from Christ; he purchased, and he bestows it. What need
we more to make us happy, than to have the Grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ with our Spirit? Let us do that now, which we
should do at the last breath. Then men are ready to renounce the
world, and to prefer the least portion of Grace and Faith before
a kingdom.

Philemon is a book of the New Testament, the eighteenth in order, and the thirteenth of the letters attributed to the Apostle Paul. It's one of the shortest letters in the New Testament, at just twenty-five verses - a single chapter.

At its most basic level, Philemon is concerned with the discipline of a runaway slave - not the sort of thing you'd expect to occupy pride of place in the Christian Bible. However, as with all books of the Bible, progressive study uncovers further connections and meanings for the diligent student.

Philemon should be considered alongside Acts for historical context, and the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians, which were written by Paul at the same time as the letter to Philemon (who was indeed a prominent member of the Colossian church).

Note: I've italicised the word 'Philemon' when referring to the letter, to distinguish from instances in which I'm referring to the man.


Philemon is a letter from Paul and Timothy to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the Colossian church (Colosse was a city in the south-west of Asia Minor, present-day Turkey); however, the bulk of the letter is addressed directly from Paul to Philemon. Philemon's name means "friendly", and Paul addressed Philemon as a dear and beloved friend. This letter was delivered to the Colossians by Tychicus and Onesimus.

Philemon was written during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, about A.D. 60, when he had been a Christian for nearly 30 years. Additionally, Paul wrote Ephesians at this time, and with Timothy, he also wrote Colossians. At other times, the pair co-wrote 2 Corinthians and Philippians, and with Silas, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians. Soon after Paul wrote Philemon, he was released from his house arrest.


Verses 1-2, from Paul and Timothy to the Colossian church: Greetings.
Verse 3, from Paul and Timothy to the Colossian church: Blessing.
Verses 4-7, from Paul to Philemon: Christian union.
Verses 8-9, from Paul to Philemon: Christian duty.
Verses 10-14, from Paul to Philemon: Free will.
Verses 15-16, from Paul to Philemon: Salvation.
Verses 17-21, from Paul to Philemon: Christian influence.
Verse 22, from Paul to the Colossian church: Administrivia.
Verses 23-24, from Paul to the Colossian church: Greetings.
Verse 25, from Paul and Timothy to the Colossian church: Blessing.


A Christian, Philemon was a wealthy Greek landowner, in whose house the Colossian church met. Apphia and Archippus were probably Philemon's wife and son, respectively.

Onesimus had been one of Philemon's slaves who had stolen from him, and then run away, eventually to Rome. In Rome, he met Paul, who was subsequently instrumental in Onesimus' belief in Christ.

Paul believed that Onesimus should honour his legal commitment to Philemon by returning to his service. Since the law stated that a master had the right to execute a captured runaway slave, however, Paul decided to intercede on Onesimus' behalf.

Onesimus' name means "useful" and "profitable", and Paul played on these words to illustrate how Onesimus was now useful not just to Philemon, but also to Paul, and that Onesimus' sins had thus been turned to good by God. Paul asked Philemon to respect this turn of events when deciding how to deal with his returned slave.

Paul inferred that each individual Christian is free to act as he sees fit, according to a standard of morals that is known to all. Furthermore, he inferred that these acts of free will should not be overruled by other Christians, but that each Christian should conscientiously endeavour to do the right thing according to his or her own understanding.

Perhaps with Onesimus' case in mind, Paul wrote to the Colossians at this time that "In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us."

In his letter to Philemon, Paul referred to the union that Christians have in Christ, a common spirit that binds them together, deepens their understanding of their Christianity and allows them to positively affect each other's lives.

Paul also wrote to the Colossians about the practical matters concerning masters and slaves: "You slaves must obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Obey them willingly because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites who can get away with evil. You slave owners must be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master - in heaven." Paul wrote similar advice in his letter to the Ephesians.


At the close of the letter, Paul also passes on greetings to the Colossian church from Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke.

Epaphras, who was with Paul in prison, had been the founder of the Colossian church; it was his report to Paul about the Colossians' struggles that precipitated Paul's letter to the Colossians. (Paul evidently never visited Colosse.)

Mark, Barnabas' cousin, had accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first stage of their first missionary journey, but had deserted them before they got very far. When setting out on their second journey, Barnabas again wanted Mark to accompany them, but Paul would not allow it, and Barnabas therefore departed from Paul and took Mark with him on his own missionary journey. (At that time, Paul was joined for the first time by Silas.) By the time of Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, however, Mark was back in Paul's service, and he made himself available as his faithful assistant throughout the rest of Paul's life. Mark was also a sometime assistant of Peter, who eventually inspired him to write the Gospel of Mark.

Aristarchus was a Thessalonian who joined Paul sometime before or during Paul's third missionary journey. He was present on the occasion of the infamous craftsmen's riot in Ephesus, and continued to travel with Paul throughout Macedonia and Greece, back to Asia Minor, then to Jerusalem and finally to Rome, where he was voluntarily imprisoned with Paul.

Demas was an assistant of Paul who later deserted both Paul and Christianity.

Luke, a doctor, was a longtime travelling companion of Paul whose presence is felt at various stages throughout the Acts of the Apostles, which he authored (he was also the author of the Gospel of Luke).

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