Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




Broken human relationships create pain for each one of us. The pain is increasingly severe according to the closeness of the former bond of companionship and love and loyalty. That is why divorce hurts so deeply. Where you should find love and intimacy, you now find turmoil and separation. But broken relationships affect us in other contexts as well. Think of losing a friend or being estranged from former contexts of Christian fellowship or feeling ostracized at work or rejected by your schoolmates … Broken human relationships always cause pain and create awkward situations.

The Apostle Paul inserts himself into the middle of a broken relationship between Philemon and his slave Onesimus. You remember the context from last week. . . Now Paul is making an impassioned plea for reconciliation. He wants Philemon to set aside his natural feelings for vengeance (He had been wronged . . . probably robbed . . . and publicly embarrassed ) and receive Onesimus back as much more than a slave – but as a beloved brother in the body of Christ. The aged, imprisoned Apostle has already been successful behind the scenes in persuading Onesimus to return. Think of the internal struggle that Onesimus must have faced. His life had turned around as he met Paul and as Paul introduced him to the Savior. But instead of being able to forget all about the mistakes of his past, he is now being urged to make things right in his relationship with Philemon. What a risk to make himself vulnerable and go back to submit to the disposition of a former master whom he obviously had not respected enough to stay with. But the gospel had so transformed the life of Onesimus that he was willing to trust the Lord to do the right thing and leave the results in His providential hands. But what would be the reaction of Philemon?

The power of the gospel in transforming lives means that things do not have to remain in their dysfunctional state. As new creatures who have been reconciled to God the Father in Christ we can experience reconciled human relationships as well. But it’s never easy. Reconciliation requires repentance and restitution and forgiveness. But that’s the type of behavior that should correspond with the experience of God’s grace and forgiveness in our own lives.



A. (:8) Tone of Appealing Rather than Commanding

“Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper . . . I rather appeal to you” (same verb in vs. 10)

Reconciliation is the right thing to do in this instance = “what is proper”

Hendriksen: The reference to authority is made to flash before Philemon’s mind for just a moment, only to recede entirely to the background when the spotlight is turned on the most dynamic motivating power in the entire universe, namely, love.

B. (:9a) Theme of Agape Love

“yet for love’s sake”

This is the point of emphasis in this section

C. (:9b) Testimony of Paul’s Example – Playing the Sympathy Card

1. Wisdom of Spiritual Experience

“since I am such a person as Paul, the aged,”

possibly plea for some sympathy related to his old age and all that he had experienced for Christ; not likely a reference to his authority since he was appealing rather than commanding

MacArthur: More than a reference to his chronological age (which at the time of this letter was about 60), this description includes the toll that all the years of persecution, illnesses, imprisonments, difficult journeys, and constant concern for the churches had taken on Paul making him feel and appear even older than he actually was. . .

Acts 28 says he was a prisoner in a rented house, he has people coming and going, he’s chained probably to a Roman soldier. And he’s saying, “Philemon, can you dare refuse a request from poor old me?”

2. Sacrifice of Committed Service

“and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus”

  • How could you refuse the appeal of such a spiritual giant as the Apostle Paul?

  • How can we act in a way that would contradict the agape love that has been demonstrated to us?

  • How much is agape love a priority in how you relate to others?


You used to look at this person a certain way. Now you need to change your thinking completely. When you see this person you don’t want all of the memories of how they have wronged you to keep flooding back and clouding your ability to relate to them.

3 Dramatic Changes need to be recognized in the life of Onesimus:

Paul has already recognized these changes; now Philemon needs to view Onesimus in this new light as well

A. (:10a) Change in Favored Status – Now a Protégé of the Beloved Apostle

“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus,”

B. (:10b) Change in Family Identity – Now a Child of God

“whom I have begotten in my imprisonment,”

C. (:11) Change in Functional Value – Now Useful

“who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.”

MacArthur: This is the same Gr. root word from which “Onesimus” comes. Paul was making a play on words that basically said, “Useful formerly was useless, but now is useful” – Paul’s point is that Onesimus had been radically transformed by God’s grace.

Name Philemon means affectionate or one who is kind

Look at how Christ was able to look at Simon Peter and see his potential for ministry

What is more important to you? Hanging on to your old prejudices in terms of how you view the potential of this person or giving the other person the benefit of the doubt regarding his repentance and commitment to following Christ?


A. (:12-13a) Valuable to Paul for Gospel Ministry

“I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me,”

Lenski: the nobler viscera (heart, liver, lungs), the seat of the feelings

B. (:13b) Valuable to Philemon for as an Extension of His Gospel Ministry

“so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel;”

Onesimus could now serve as an extension of the ministry of Philemon

C. (:14) Voluntary Requirement of this Gospel Ministry Partnership = Your Goodness

“but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. “

Reconciliation is ultimately about furthering our partnership in the gospel so that the cause of Jesus Christ would be advanced; it is not ultimately about me enjoying more comfortable relationships.

What type of priority do you put on partnership in gospel ministry? What is best for the testimony of Jesus Christ?


Focus on the Eternal over the Temporal

“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever,”

Just like the incident with Joseph and his brothers where they were out to harm him, but God orchestrated the events for the good of His people (Gen. 50:20)

Hendriksen: Paul wants Philemon to see and consider God’s glorious, overruling providence.


Focus on the Spiritual Fellowship over the Household Hierarchy

“no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Hendriksen: both in the affairs of this world and in the affairs of the higher life

Constable: In Onesimus, Philemon would receive one with whom he could share the fellowship of Christ and one who would render him more conscientious service than he could expect from a non-Christian.


Story of the Prodigal Son

1 John 4:7-11 “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”