Explanations: The return of a runaway slave

A unique address.
The epistle of Paul to Philemon is the fourth epistle of the apostle in the New Testament, that has been written to one person. The other three are the two epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus But the epistle to Philemon has a characteristic which the other three have not. In his greeting Paul did not direct himself to Philemon only, but he included the sister Apphia, the fellow soldier Archippus and the church in the house of Philemon. In that respect this epistle is unique. 

But the church to which the apostle and Timothy direct themselves in this epistle, is not mentioned as the church at Colosse, but as the church in the house of Philemon. There is no other epistle, that is also directed to a church in the house of some believer. 

A unique character.
In the epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus Paul directed himself as an apostle (and servant of God) to fellow labourers with directions and encouragements with regard to their service in the kingdom of God. 

In the epistle to Philemon he only presented himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. That he has not done in any other epistle. He did not write himself only, but involved the brother Timothy. 

The epistle does not contain directions for the service in the kingdom of God, but a request to show love and a forgiving mind to one who had wronged Philemon, Paul giving himself the pattern by declaring his willingness to take the damage to his own account and to pay for it. Thus the epistle lets us see, that our being Christians is normative for our behaviour in the relations and circumstances on earth, and is an illustration of doing ourselves what we tell someone he ought to do. 

Finally, the epistle has been written on behalf of one man, Onesimus, and has the additional character of a letter of recommendation of a believer. It therefore was of importance that not Paul only should write the epistle, but that a second, Timothy, would be with him responsible for it. We have no second epistle with that character. 

A unique subject.The subject was the return to his master of a deserted servant, who had wronged his master who was living in Colosse. 

Together with this epistle to Philemon Paul and Timothy had written another one in addition for the church in Colosse, which they had entrusted to the same persons, Tychicus and Onesimus, who consequently had to deliver two epistles. It is remarkable, that the authors in the epistle to Colosse pointed particularly to the calling and responsibility of servants with the words: "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons". (Colossians 3:22-25). 

Because they wrote so in their epistle to the Colossians Paul and Timothy could not be suspected or accused of making always a stand for servants, right or wrong, and of justifying servants whatever wrong they did. Still more so because they wrote for masters who had servants in Colossians 4:1 nothing more than: "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven". 

No respect of persons.
Paul wrote that in Colossians 3:25. Not servants only should accept it, but a believing patron or master as well. 

In a commentary on the epistle to Philemon we surely ought to keep in mind the exhortations for servants and masters in Colossians 3 and 4, because we can be sure, that the writers of that epistle have written their epistle to Philemon immediately before or after it. The matter of Onesimus has no doubt been in their mind when writing the epistle to the Colossians. 

The fact that in the epistle to the Colossians has been written extensively about the responsibility of believing servants, whereas about masters they wrote one verse only, does not mean, that servants are more inclined to do wrong or that masters have less responsibility. It is my strong impression that the matter of Onesimus has been the motive to emphasize the responsibility of servants in the Epistle to the Colossians. 

True, in the epistle to the Ephesians has been written much about servants as well and less about masters (6:5-10). But there we read: "ye masters, do the same things unto them", implying that the extensive exhortations for servants are directed to masters as well. In that epistle therefore is balance between what has been said to servants and what has been said to masters. 

The essence of what has been written for servants is, that they should do their work, fearing God, serving the Lord with it, awaiting the reward of the inheritance they would receive from the Lord. 

A very precious word has been written for servants: "Ye serve the Lord Christ" (3:24). It is precious for us as well. Not many of my readers will not have a master above them. And a Christian who is someone's employee can easily be of opinion, that he, being forced to earn his money as an employee, has neither time nor occasion to serve the Lord. Someone having his own business may have the same thoughts, for in that situation time and attention can be absorbed by the necessary work as well. And what shall we say of mothers, who have to care for the family and are working for it till late in the evening? Perhaps many of them too are convinced that they cannot serve the Lord. For all those the words in Colossians 3 are very important: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (17) and "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men"(23). 

Those words had been written for servants. If they apply for servants, much more for us, who perhaps are no servants of men. Servants had to obey there masters in all things. They will have got orders of which they the servant could not see the use, not worthy to exert oneself, a useless whim of the master. But Colossians 3 does not say only "obey in al things your masters", but adds in verse 24 "you serve the Lord Christ". 

How and when did they serve the Lord Christ? 
In their obedience to their masters, even in matters of no importance or in obviously useless orders, in obedience "in all things". 

What an encouragement for a Christian, who possibly with regret supposed that missionaries and evangelists could serve the Lord, but believers like he unfortunately not. The thought is a mistake. A believing farmer behind his plough, a driver in his lorry, an official at his desk in the town hall and all others working truthfully and conscientiously, as an employee, at home or in their own business, they serve their Lord Christ. 

We talk about servants of the Lord. Nothing wrong with it and we understand who are meant. But it does no harm to realize that the expression can get a much wider scope according to the words in Colossians 3 "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men….. ye serve the Lord Christ". 

That is one side. 
The other side is, that in all things we do, we have a Lord whom we serve in it. That means, that we ought to do his will and are indebted to be obedient to Him who sees us always, even when nobody is seeing or supervising us. 

The wrong we could do as an employee, would not only make us guilty towards our employer but in the first place towards our great Master, Christ. He will not say that an employee is allowed to do some wrong because he is in the inferior position of an employee. With Him there is no respect of persons. 

'Give unto your servants that which is just and equal' is the word for masters. A servant is due to work for his master. But a master was due to give what was just. Many masters probably gave what was necessary to keep their servants healthy and no more. It was in their own interest, because a slave cost money. But the apostle told them to give which was just and equal.

Just? Did a slave have rights? Hardly so. But by God they had and not believing slaves only. The expression 'just and equal' makes clear, that people generally knew very well what was just and equal. The apostle did not need to detail it further. 

He added that masters (believing masters) for their part also had a Master in heaven. They ought to be aware of the care and goodness of that heavenly Master. He is Lord over us and has a right to give us his commands. 

That is one side. We know the other side, that He has been among his own as one that served (Luke 22:27). He is still serving his own. And his being a serving Master is the model for anyone being a master of others upon earth. 

Does that mean 'away with respect and obedience, never accept any one above you'? Surely not. We know very well how the Lord judges such an attitude towards Him and what He in due course will say to a wicked servant. That however does not run counter to his goodness and his justice. 

But let us not complete what Paul did not complete. He put the Lord before our eyes as a Master and if we seek to follow Him, we certainly chose the way He wants us to go. 

This may suffice as a background for the subject in the epistle to Philemon. In that epistle the subject is a slave and his master. They could both read the epistle to the Colossians and then both would know exactly what was their due one to another. 

In that epistle to the Colossians however the slave Onesimus is presented in one and the same breath as a faithful and beloved brother with Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord, and no doubt he has been received by the church in Colosse as such. That must have been sufficient indication for Philemon to know how to receive his servant Onesimus and what ought to be his answer to the epistle of Paul to him. 

'What is just and equal' the apostle has written to the Colossians in 4:1. 
But in 1 Corinthians 12;31 he had written 'I show unto you a more excellent way'. So there is a way more excellent than the one characterized by 'just and equal'. That way we find in the epistle to Philemon. 

In Colossians 3:25 Paul had written: 'He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong that he hath done'. 
In Philemon verse 18 however he wrote: 'If he has wronged thee or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account…. I will repay'. But with this remark we run ahead of our commentary on the epistle. 

Someone has written about this epistle: 'The writer made undone with his epistle what he did: sending back a servant to his master'. 

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

1) In this epistle Paul called himself a prisoner. What we find elsewhere, servant of God, an apostle or a called apostle, we do not find here. A 'prisoner' only. In that way he took a humble position and presented himself as one who had no right to command, but as one who could hope only for some goodness or compassion. A prisoner had no rights and was left to the mercies of the one that kept him as a prisoner. In stead of commanding a prisoner could beg only. The apostle had full right to order believers, as he wrote in verse 8. But presenting himself as a prisoner, he approached Philemon and the other believers in a different character from that of an apostle. He so avoided to give Philemon the impression, that he acted in an authoritarian manner by which Philemon could be provoked (irritated). 

Sometimes it happens that in a local church something has to be set right or someone has to be corrected. A Christian with some authority who is generally appreciated and respected may in such a case approach his brother as a man with authority, qualified to give directions. In this epistle Paul pointed to the authority he had as an apostle, but did not present himself as an apostle in the opening words of the epistle, but called himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ only. 

It is well if we follow the apostle in this. He himself was a follower of our Lord Jesus, who told his disciples to do as He had done, remembering that a servant is not greater than his lord, but did so after He had washed their feet himself. 

Someone said that he name of the apostle was Saul (Hebrew) the name of the tall king of Israel. Afterwards he was called Paul which means the small one. Let us try to be great in being small or nothing. 

Paul presented himself as a special prisoner. He was a prisoner of the Roman government, but called himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ. 
It surely means that he was a prisoner for Jesus sake. But there is more in it. It means that behind the Romans who kept him in a prison according to their will, he saw his Master, who wanted him to go that way. So he could say "thy will be done". 
We understand why the Lord wanted him to be in that prison. 
The Lord intended to give us several epistles of Paul. He would not have written them, if he had not been a prisoner. Whether Paul ever understood that, we do not know. 

I addition, it was the way to give the apostle most precious and lovely experiences of the help and presence of the Lord, like Daniel and his friends. 

We can praise the Lord for his wisdom. But it is not because we understand the ways of the Lord with us, that we say "thy will be done", but because we trust and love Him, even if we do not understand. Unless we would not be sure of his love for us. But that is impossible. We know indeed that nothing, nor many questions we might have, shall separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35).Thus seen the expression "prisoner of Jesus Christ" in this epistle means "Prisoner according to the will of Jesus Christ". How then could the apostle be rebellious? Let us think about that secret of his peace during his imprisonment and partake of it. 

In the epistle something was asked from Philemon. 
Was it too much? Could it not be complied with? 
From Paul something was asked as well: Te be in prison, to see the hand of the Lord in it and to say "yes Lord". So the way the apostle addressed Philemon contained a lesson, a meek one. 

Paul wrote the epistle together with Timothy. Who has written literally does not matter of course. But Paul and Timothy together applied to the addressees and therefore nobody could say, that Paul wrote on the ground of prejudice or in his own interest. It is a wise lesson for us. 

Moreover the epistle contained a recommending testimony concerning a certain believer and a testimony is valid only when two agree in that testimony. Because Timothy was responsible with the apostle for this epistle, the testimony in it must be recognised as reliable. 

2) The epistle is first of all directed to Philemon, but then to Appia, Archippus and the church in the house of Philemon as well. 

Philemon lived in Colosse. So he would not only read the epistle that was addressed to him, but also the epistle that had been sent to the believers in Colosse. He therefore would read what the apostle had written about servants and masters as well. In that way Philemon could not get a feeling, that Paul had an eye only for the duties of a Christian master, but for those of a Christian servant as well. Owing to the combination of the two epistles there is in this respect the necessary balance. 
Philemon is called "the dearly beloved". That is about the meaning of his name too, rendered sometimes with "The kissing one". 

A welcome visitor in that time was received with a kiss. In the epistle Philemon is applied to, to receive his run away servant with a kiss, that is as a brother 
But then Philemon is called a fellowlabourer of Paul and Timothy as well. In what respect and in what measure he worked the work of the Lord as Paul and Timothy did, is not known, except that he showed love to all saints and refreshed the bowels of the saints (verses 5 and 7). It is possible that he also ministered the word of God to them but that we do not know. 

How that may be, both writers put him, by calling him their fellowlabourer on their own footing and consequently approached him as an equal. In doing so, thy acted as they had written in Philippians 2:4: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others". 

It is to be regretted that not seldom there is jealousy among them that do the work of the Lord. And James warned us, that "confusion and every evil work" will be the result (James 3:16). 

Jealousy is a big evil. In Proverbs 27:4 we read: "who is able to stand before envy?" It made the chief priests and the Jewish council to deliver the innocent Lord Jesus. Our inclination to envy has for the grater part as background our seeking our own glory, a bad thing we ought to judge in the light of God. 

Then the epistle has been directed to the sister Apphia. Though not sure it seems to be probable that she has been the housewife of Philemon. 

The third one to whom the epistle has been directed was Archippus. His name means "equerry". Was he a son of Philemon, another relative or an appreciated member of the household only? It is not known. We know however that he had a ministry in the Lord (Colossians 4:17). He probably therefore is called a fellowsoldier. At any rate we may suppose that he was more involved in the question whether Onesimus could be received as a brother, because he is mentioned with his name. 

Finally the epistle is directed to the church in the house of Philemon. 

The address in the Epistle tot the Colossians is: "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are in Colosse". Are they the same Christians that belonged to the church in the house of Philemon? 

A second question in this respect is, whether the church in the house of Nymphas (Colossians 4:15) has been in Colosse or in Laodicea: "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church which is in his house. If Nymphas lived in Colosse, there have been two places in Colosse where Christians gathered, with Nymphas and with Philemon. 

Have the believers that are mentioned in Colossians 1:2 been believers of both assemblies? It might be. It is sure that they belonged to the church in Colosse. Some think there has been a second gathering in Colosse. I cannot deny nor confirm it. For a commentary on the epistle it seems unimportant. 

There are several in our days, who would be happy to see arise "house churches" to the left and to the right. They are convinced, that Scripture points to such churches as what the Lord meant. 

Now there is nothing against a church in someone's house, but
they obviously forget, that Paul separated the disciples in Ephesus and disputed daily in the school of one Tyrannus. People refer to Acts 2:46, where is written, that the Christians continued daily 'with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart'. It only means, that the breaking of the bread is no public meeting, but typically a meeting of believers as such, not with the aim to reach others, but to be with the Lord and to worship. Where could those early Christians have done that elsewhere if not in the house of a brother or sister?. For preaching the gospel however they went out and continued in the temple, where many could hear them. 

(Whether it is desirable to build a great hall for an assembly, or whether it is wiser to gather with restricted numbers, is worth while to be considered, but is no subject for this article.) 

The fact, that Philemon could receive the church in his house makes it obvious, that Philemon lived in a spacious house. He probably was a man of means, of which the fact that he had servants witnesses as well. 

Because the epistle relates to a Christian coming back to Philemon, the church in his house would be involved. What Paul and Timothy had to write about that believer affected therefore no less the church and that is why the epistle is addressed to that church as well. 

3) The greeting of the writers is not different from that in the epistle to the Colossians and some other epistles and needs no special remarks. 

Acknowledgement of the good things with Philemon (4-7).
4 'I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, 
5 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus and toward al saints; 
6 that the communication of thy faith become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in us towards Christ Jesus. 
7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother'. 

1) Though Paul involved Timothy in writing this epistle, he nevertheless wrote 'I thank' and not 'we thank'. And his first remark has been, that he was grateful about all he had heard of Philemon and that he expressed his thankfulness in his prayers to God. 

Happily the apostle had heard good things. It means that hose who had spoken about Philemon, had been able to tell good things. It often is different. We sometimes resemble a daily. The newspapermen seem to prey on anything that is regrettable, scandalous, dishonest or shocking. Much is happening in this world and many things are embarrassing. But there are better things: a young lady, spending some days of every week in driving an old lady with a wheelchair through a park, a child accepting being hurt by protecting someone suffering from Down's Syndrome against teasing boys, a director of an house of the aged working till 22.30, knowing that many guests are yearning for some attention. 

Those things however do not seem to be interesting. Murder, robbery and destruction obviously are of more importance to write or speak about. It sometimes seems to be the same among Christians. Things negative and the disagreeable sides and shortcomings of people seem to be more interesting and worth while to speak about than their positive sides and good works. 

It should not be so. Love rejoices not in iniquity did Paul write in 1 Corinthians 13:6, even not if it seems to be interesting to dwell on the shortcoming of a Christian. Let us humble ourselves about it and try to see the good in a believer and mention that with gladness. 

2) In his prayers the apostle remembered Philemon also and of course the church in his house. He had not met the believers in Colossus, which is evident from Col. 2:1 'I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh that their hearts might be comforted'. 

So Philemon probably had not seen the apostle though it is possible that he had seen and heard him in the years in which Paul had worked in Ephesus. How that may be, we know that Paul prayed for the believers and the churches, which I fear cannot be said of us all. He knew what would happen: 'For I know this that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them'. (Acts 20:29-30). 

As to the churches in Asia the result of that development did show itself when Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy: 'This thou knowest that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes' (2 Tim. 1:15). It is still stronger in the epistles in the Revelation, which all of them have been written to churches in Asia. Of the church in Laodicea, mentioned in Colossians 2:1 and 4:16, the Lord said in Revelation 3:16 'So then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth'. Because the apostle knew these things would come he had reason to call his prayer a great conflict. 

3) However praying for Philemon and his company he could give thanks as well. He had heard of the love and faith that Philemon had towards the Lord and all saints. Love and faith are not tangible. We cannot see both of them. But we can see the manifestations and proofs of love and faith in tangible and visible things, such as care for poor brethren and the willingness to receive the church, though it asks much trouble and prepara-tion. 

If Paul had heard about the faith and love of Philemon, it must have been visible in the practical life of Philemon and be experienced by his fellow believers. Practical Christianity witnesses of living faith and true love. That does not only impress Christians, but them that are in the world as well. 

It is good and necessary that we spread the word of God and preach it. But now and again we forget that words and works should go together. With our Lord there was perfect balance and full harmony between both. With us often the works fall behind, and sometimes contradict our good words and make them powerless. We should realise some more, that God 'created us in Christ Jesus unto good works which God haith before ordained that we should walk in them' (Ephesians 2:10). It is neither correct nor necessary to banish the notion of 'good works' out of our minds as a reaction upon Romanism. Good works are not wrong, on the contrary, they belong to the new life and we can show our faith by our works as James argued. 

4) The apostle wrote about love toward 'all saints'. Those saints certainly had not been saints before their conversion. In 1 Corinthians 6:10 and 11 Paul wrote: 'Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of our God'. 

The saints Philemon knew and showed his love will not have been better than those in Corinth. There will have been such, for whom Philemon would have been ashamed before. But they had been washed and sanctified and Philemon loved them as brethren in the Lord. 

Is it possible that here have been exceptions, brethren he loved not? 

No, he knew no exceptions. He did show his love to all of them. Beautiful is that. And the apostle sent him a man, the one who handed him the epistle, whom he could henceforth show his love as well, because he was a saint, washed and sanctified by the blood of Christ. 'All saints' knows no exceptions! 

5) Paul prayed that the communication (or participation) of the faith of Philemon would become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing being in him and in Timothy towards Christ Jesus. 

From the beginning of the church, the day of Pentecost, it had been a remarkable feature of the believers, their fellowship. In acts 2:42 we read that those who had received the word of Peter and had been baptised, 'continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers'. That meanwhile was several years back. But by Philemon practised that fellowship likewise. And Paul prayed that it might become effectual, together with the acknowledging of all the good things which were in Paul and Timothy towards the Lord. 

Those additions may seem to be remarkable. What were they good for? I have the impression that the apostle wrote that way because he was going to ask something from Philemon in his epistle, that possibly would call for some resistance. 

Philemon had been wronged and a request to receive him who had done it with friendly open arms was something more than a request to forgive him. When reading the epistle Philemon could get a feeling that Paul was a busybody, someone who knows well what other people have to do, or someone who explained mistakes away. 

That would no doubt be contrary to everything Philemon knew of Paul. It may be that he never had seen Paul indeed, but he had surely heard of him, and even the believers in Colosse had heard the gospel through Paul, for 'all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks' owing to the fact that the apostle preached daily in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:10). 

Therefore Philemon had no need to ask what Paul meant with the words 'every good thing in us towards Christ Jesus'. We may perhaps say that the apostle by writing thus remembered Philemon of who Paul was, for Philemon also, and of what importance he and Timothy were for the work of the Lord, in order to prevent that Philemon resentfully would throw the epistle away. 

Writing about his own importance or merits was no pleasure for the apostle, on the contrary. In 2 Corinthians 11:17 he wrote about it: 'That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly in this confidence of boasting'. And in 12:11 he wrote: 'I am become a fool in glorying, ye have compelled me'. 

Some Jewish teachers were doing a damaging work, attacking the gospel Paul preached according to the commission God had given to him. Those preachers tried to get their teaching accepted by discrediting Paul and his work. Therefore Paul felt more or less necessitated to defend himself, not for his own sake or honour, but for the truth he preached. The same thing happened in Asia, for Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:3 'As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus..... that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine'....particularly them, that 'desired to be teachers of the law' (verse 7). 

The work of those wrong teachers produced wrong fruit, for in 2 Timothy 1:15 the apostle had to write, 'that all they which were in Asia had turned away from him'. The dangerous result was, that they also turned more or less away from the sound teaching of the apostle. That will have been the background of the decline in the churches in Asia, what is confirmed in the epistles in the Revelation. The cause of 'leaving the first love' as has been written to Ephesus (Rev. 2:4) may have been the teachings of those teachers of the law. The result of teaching the law is lovelessness which we learn from two passages in the epistle to the Galatians, to whom he had written 'Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?'.... The passages are: 'But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another' (5:15) en 'Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another' (5:26). 

Though in the days in which this epistle has been written things had not yet developed as far as when Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy, it is possible that meanwhile in Colosse some influence could be felt of those Jewish teachers. That would be an explanation for writing the second half of verse 6. 

6) The foregoing in which he brought to remembrance his dedication to the Lord and his work, Paul left alone hastily to go on with quite another subject. He assured Philemon, that they rejoiced in the good in Philemon. In Philippians 2:4 Paul wrote: 'Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others'. Paul and Timothy put it into practice. They looked for the good for the believers according to the words in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8: 'But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her (own) children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us'. 

Where such an unselfish love is in operation, there will also be gratefulness and joy in the behaviour of others furthering the well being of the subjects of that love. 

Jealousy of blessed work or influence of others will betray that the own ministry is not unselfish and the sole aim is not the good of others, but that partly at least own interest is playing a role. It happens more often than is visible, for clearly one tries to hide it. 

The Lord said to the Jews: 'How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?' (John 5:44). In John 12:42-43 we read: 'Never-theless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should not be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God'. 

Let us not suppose that in us better inclinations are working. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, 'lest he should be exalted above measure' (2 Corinthians 12:7). Perhaps the Lord has to give us more than one thorn, for the flesh is working in this respect sooner than we suppose. 

  Houdt ons maar klein. 
Wij zijn geneigd eenzijdig slechts te noemen, 
wat naar wij menen grond is om te roemen. 
Houdt ons dus klein

Lord, keep us down. 
We are inclined to mention most
What we think is a ground to boast
So keep us down. 

  Houdt ons maar klein, 
en wil ons hart met uwe liefde vullen, 
dat wij het heil van and'ren zoeken zullen. 
Houdt ons dus klein. 

Lord, keep us down. 
Fill us with love, with love for others
to seek the good and welfare of brothers
So keep us down. 

  Houdt ons maar klein. 
Want U hebt een gedaante aangenomen, 
waarin U als een knecht op aard kon komen. 
Houdt ons dus klein. 

Lord, keep us down. 
Thou hast made thyself of no reputation, 
Been obedient to death for our salvation, 
So, keep us down.

The 'bowels of the saints had been refreshed by Philemon' an expression more than once used in Scripture for the inward feelings. How and in what respect? We do not know, except his hospitality for the church. The apostle mentioned it and acknowledged it with joy. 

Was Paul flattering Philemon? That no doubt was not in his thoughts. With his way of approaching Philemon he acted in the same way as the Lord in the epistles in the Revelation. In every one of them He first mentioned what He could appreciate and what was good in a church, as far as there was something good. After that He gave his admonitions. 

We will do well to act in the same way and to make it a use. In thinking and speaking about believers and churches we could start with seeking after something good. We possibly will then have no time to mention what is wrong, for Scripture sais: 'speak not evil one of another' (James 4:11).

An entreaty of an old man, a prisoner of Jesus Christ. (Verses 8 and 9).

Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee which is convenient, 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. 
In 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul could write: 'I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands'.... and in verse 12: 'But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence'. In that way none of us could be speaking but an apostle. 

1) In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul could write: 'When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God'. He therefore could write in the same epistle: 'This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive....' (4:15). Because he had a commision of the Lord and spoke the word of God, he had much boldness to enjoin believers. 

As said before, Paul had to defend himself with the Corinthians in a way that went against the grain with him, but they compelled him. He therefore wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:8: 'For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord has given us for edification'.... In 13:10 also: 'Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power the Lord has given me to edification, and not to destruction'. 

In 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 2 he wrote: 'Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?'. And in 2 Corinthians 13:3-5 he wrote: 'Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward...... 

examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves'. It is the same thought as in 1 Cor. 9:2. In both passages the apostle argued that the fact, that the readers had believed, proved that God spoke through him. 

The same was true for all christians in Asia, those in Colosse included. Would the apostle, through whom they had been brought to Christ, not be ebtitled to command them? He surely was entitled and therefore had the boldness as well. 

2) The apostle however had not presented himself as 'Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ', but as 'Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ'. In this case he did not want to speak or command as an apostle, on the contrary. He called himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus again, but also 'Paul the aged'. 

Not very impressive: 'an old man, a prisoner'. Would Philemon feel obliged to take the words of an old man in prison to heart? 
Could he speak with authority? We spare old people, considering their age, and a prisoner has our sympathy, but they live beside the broad stream of life, hardly counting any longer, of no importance. Such people we soon forget. When someone brings them to remembrance, we say, 'O, yes, you are right; he is quite old, isn`t he? Being of his age, one must be very restricted in possibilities. I am very sorry for him'. But then our own things need attention, and moreover, we cannot change their situation. 

But Philemon could not think of Paul in that way. He knew very well how much he was indebted to that great preacher and esteemed him highly, whatever some might think or say of him. 

And that the great apostle, having to ask something, presented himself as an old man and a prisoner of Christ Jesus really was too modest. Yes, but in Ephesians 5:20 Paul had written: 'submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God'. And Paul knew to put into practice himself what he had written. Then he had also written in 1 Corithians 11:1: 'Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ'. 

Properly speaking those words belong to the preceding subject: 'even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved'. It was what the Lord has done and Paul was his follower. Now for that purpose the Lord Jesus humbled himself to the utmost. And however they challenged Him as King of Israel or as Son of God, He did not come down from the cross and accepted to be numbered with the transgressors. He has done it, He has suffered it in order to say with regard to you and to me: 'What he oweth you, put that on mine account'. And it has been put to his account and He has paid with his life, with his blood. The Lord Jesus therefore was willing to become a man of no esteem. 
Paul wanted to follow Him in it and be 'an old man, prisoner of Christ Jesus' and nothing more'. 

How do we present ourselves? What do we tell of our position and our work? Or do we hint at our achievements? 
The Saviour said: 'Iearn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart'. Did we learn it? 

3) The apostle so called himself a prisoner of Christ for the second time. A position not to be envied that. As said, at first several will emphasize, but in the end the prisoner will hardly be remembered any more. Who would be willing to do his best for him, in that time, Rome having unrestricted power? Would not it be dangerous to betray oneself being a christian by endeavours to help the apostle? 

Some say we have to stand up for ourselves because nobody else will do. That surely was true for cristians in prison in that time. One ought not to bother him with problems of other people, his inprisonment being his heavy burden. 

How much worse was the fate of one crucified. He had to endure unbearable and prolonged cruel torture. Nobody would expect such a one to think not of himself but of others. 

The Lord however suffering that torture prayed for his ennemies, for them who had wrongly judged Him guilty and for them who had crucified Him: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'. And seeing his mother, He understood what she suffered and said: 'Woman, behold thy son'. He thought of us being lost and guilty. Paul was his follower. We could say, that his own suffering in prison was enough for an old man, but he did not think of himself, but of another. 
Are we followers of the Lord Jesus like Paul has been? 

4) In stead of enjoining Philemon Paul rather beseeched for love' s sake. 
If someone wants another to do something and has the right and the power to command, he will achieve that the other one does, what he wanted him to do, possibly reluctantly and not with all his heart, by commanding him. Such a result the apostle did not seek. It was his aim that not obedience but love would work and that the fruit of it would be felt in mutual love and gratefulness, to the honour of God. 

His beseeching had as background the love of Christ, who accepts sinners, connecting them with himself, so that can be said: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?' The idea of commanding is not suiting to it; love only could do the work if the result was expected to exist and be felt in love. 

Paul did beseech Philemon in stead of ordering him that which was convenient. Beseeching Philemon was not unreasonable but was according to the position of Philemon as a believer, a pardoned sinner, become a child of God when he had turned to the Lord as one lost and far away from God. Therefore Paul wanted to beseech Philemon to do what was convenient and proper and could be expected on the part of a christian.

The unprofitable become profitable (verses 10-12).

'I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds; which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me'.
1) Yes, Onesimus was the subject. His name means 'useful'. Onesimus, a servant of Philemon had not been useful for him. He had fled from his master seeking freedom and ended up in Rome. In that big town he could possibly be lost in the crowd unnoticed, for there were numerous strangers. 

We may assume that Onesimus had not worked hard or very well for Philemon. Though his name was 'useful' Philemon will not have been happy with him. He probably will have been unwilling and sluggish, not inclined to exert himself for Philemon. Maybe he also had got annoyed with the pious talk of Philemon, thinking: fine words, but he nevertheless profits by the power of his servants. Let himself do some more of the work and listen some less to pious sermons. And what stories did he tell? About someone called Jesus, who had been crucified. But the Romans had crucified many people. Why speak so much about one crucified? And did Philemon think really that the man was God. Onesimus knew other gods, each one of them preferable above the one Philemon spoke about. 

He finally had decided to go. He would do everything to come away from Philemon. And he had succeeded and found a way. Of course he had needed money, but that he had considered as no problem. Philemon possessed enough and Onesimus would find an opportunity to get hold of part of it. And so he had arrived in Rome. 

And next? 
What could he do? Properly speaking he had not fled in order to work in Rome. He had worked enough for Philemon. But whoever does not work will soon get rid of his money. That will probably have been the case with Onesimus. How and by what cause he ever met the apostle we do not know. Had he become a desperate beggar, who had been taken care off by christians? Had he been caught for some offence and met Paul as a prisoner? Had he not stolen from Philemon as well? But we do not know. 

Paul was a prisoner in his self-hired house, but he could receive visitors, as is clear from Acts 28:23. In one way or another Onesimus had come into contact with him. Very remarkable that he, who had run away from his christian master in Colosse ended up with a christian prisoner in Rome. And Paul soon discovered that this Onesimus had not only run away from his master, but was also running away from God. And like he did not find happiness in Rome after being run away from Philemon, he neither would find happiness in the world running away from the Lord. 

Possibly one of my readers is running away from God as well. Believe me, this world will not give you real happiness. Onesimus soon got rid of the money in his pocket. Likewise you can rapidly barter away your health, peace, hope, expectations and good conscience in the world, till you will be quite alone with empty hands and an empty heart without hope. Let the history of Onesimus speak to you then, speak of hope, for there is hope. 

2) 'I beseech thee for my son', wrote Paul. He could have written 'for a child', but then it would have sounded less personal and Onesimus would have been presented as one of many. Being called 'my son' Onesimus seemed to be the only one and a very precious one like a child for his father. 

That was the truth indeed though Onesimus was not the only one, and Paul wanted Philemon to understand that Onesimus was precious to him as an own child. So the apostle could speak only if he truly loved Onesimus. 

That is right, he loved him, unselfishly, for he could not have any expectation of earthly advantage fron the man. And the only use of Onesimus for him he nullified by sending him back. Why did he love that man? He will not have been a very lovely one. 

A personal question: Are you sure you are a lovely person? If you ought to admit that you have not always been lovely, know then that God nevertheless loves you. 
But why did Paul love Onesimus as his son? Because he had begotten him in bonds and owing to the love of Christ. 

3) Onesimus had been begotten by Paul in bonds, that is in imprisonment. In Rome he led him to the Lord and by believing in Jesus Christ Onesimus had received everlasting life. Everything had changed for Onesimus. He had been a fugitive, a fearful one, without hope, spiritually dead and knowing dead gods only. But after having received the Lord Jesus the word became true for him: "He that hath the Son, hath life" (1 John 5:12). Old things had passed away with him and all things had become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul had observed that result of his preaching and therefore could say "whom I have begotten in my bonds". 

What a great thing, to lead one to the Lord though being in bonds. What a fruit in a difficult path! 

What can be the use of this imprisonment? All my work as an evangelist cut off. I hardly can reach anyone with my word. These years will be fruitless years! 

Perhaps there has been a moment that the apostle thought that way. We do not know that and I do not suppose it. At any rate he had no need to think in that way after his talks with Onesimus, for he saw one whom he probably never would have been able to tell about Jesus if he had not been a prisoner in Rome. What an encouragement for the apostle and what a consolation. Sure, Paul loved Onesimus as his son. 

In all ages it has often been difficult for believers to go on peacefully and trusting the Lord, not being able to see of what use their sorrows, sadness and disappointments could be. Abraham did not understand why he had to sen Ismael away. Asaf, the poet of psalm 73, did not understand the ways of the Lord. Hiskia could not see a single good side hearing that his illness would end in death. Martha and Maria were of opinion that the Lord should have come earlier. For then their brother would not have died. And we in many situations do not understand the Lord either and can be so unwise to approve with the way of the Lord only iff we understand the use and the aim of it. 

We do not know whether Paul did ever wonder for what purpose his captivity could be useful. He has seen that Onesimus received the Lord. Whether he realized, that the Lord used his imprisonment to give us his various epistles, we do not know. We do know that the Lord completed (fulfilled) his word by it (Colossians 1:25-27) and handed a great treasure to his church. 
I hope these considerations will be a consolation for a believing reader in difficulties and sadness, and be an incentive to say 'amen' indeed in a path he does not understand. 

3) We have seen that Onesimus means 'useful'. The apostle wrote, that in time past he had been unprofitable to his master, but had become profitable to Philemon and Paul after his conversion. Is is worthwhile to realize that Onesimus had not honoured his name as long as he had had an earhtly master only and not been useful, but had become useful for his former master and the apostle after having found a heavenly Master. He had run away from the one and been found by the Other. Then he no longer was unwilling or rebellious. Had he to serve Paul, was it the will of his Lord in heaven, the will of the Lord be done. Had he to go back to Philemon and be his servant as before, his will be done. 

He would not deny that he was the property of his heavely Master, for He had bought him with his blood. It was his joy to serve and obey him. If He sent him to Philemon, he would serve him with whole his heart, knowing that of the Lord he would receive the reward of the inheritance. He would be glad to serve the Lord Christ in that way (Colossians 3:23 and 24) and be a useful servant. 

4) The apostle sent back Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, with Tychicus, a beloved brother and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord, as we read in Colossians 4:7-9. 
In that epistle Onesimus is called 'one of them'. Moreover it was entrusted to him and to Tychicus to make the believers in Colosse know the situation and circumstances of the apostle in Rome

Onesimus had travelled from Colosse to Rome with feelings of revenge towards Philemon, hoping never to meet him again. Now he returned with love for his master and anxious to see him. Onesimus had been converted. He had believed the gospel, and when Paul told him to go back to Philemon, he did not say 'That is out of the qeustion. You yourself think it is better for a slave to be free. I am free now and I want to remain a free man.' No, Paul had not called him 'a faithful brother' without reason. Onesimus was one. He went back, for he had been converted indeed. 

5) The apostle called Onesimus 'my bowels'. That expression speaks of feelings of care and love, of being moved and of emotions. Well, Onesimus has been loved by the apostle, someone whose wellbeing was important for him, about whom he could be moved indeed as a father about his child. 

What then will be the feelings of the Lord with regard to a saved sinner? Paul had preached Christ to Onesimus, but had not paid for him with his life. Moreover Onesimus had not been his personal enemy. 

With us in relation to Jesus Christ things are quite different. We were his enemies and even wished Him dead. And He laid down his life in order to save us. That high price, even all He gave to buy us. Would not we be very precious to Him, though we cannot understand it seeing upon ourselves? The parable of the precious pearl that could only be bought if he sold all he had, is a magnificent illustration of what the love of the Lord was prepared to do in order to have us as his redeemed possession. But even that parable is hopelessly deficient with regard to the reality. 

  O liefde, die mij heeft gezocht
en alles voor mij heeft gegeven
in 't oordeel Gods, tot zelfs het leven, 
en voor die prijs mij heeft gekocht, 
ik kan, Heer Jezus, niet verstaan 
dat U dat voor mij hebt gedaan. 

O love that searched for me
and gave all for me
in the judgment of God, even his life, 
and bought me for that price, 
Lord Jesus, I cannot understand
that you have done that for me.

Goodness without compulsion of greater value than advantage by compulsion. (Verses 13 and 14).

'whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel; but without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.'
1) Onesimus had been of use for the apostle indeed. Paul was a prisoner, but Onesimus could go where he wanted to go. That has probably been very useful for Paul. In what ways more Onesimus had been useful for him, we do not know, but Paul would have preferred to retain him with him. That however was not possible. There was one who had to say about Onesimus, Philemon, his master, from whom he had run away. And in 2 Corinthians 8:21 the apostle had written: 'Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men'. In the case of Onesimus he wanted to act accordingly. 

Of course he could have written to Philemon, that Onesimus was with him and that he would be happy if Philemon allowed him to keep the man with him as a servant. But Paul did not think of himself in the first place. He thought of the spiritual wellbeing both of Onesimus and Philemon. For Onesimus it would be best to go back to the man he ought to serve, for as a christian he should not go on in a way of disobedience. And Philemon needed to receive him who had run away, a useless servant, as a beloved brother. 

But that was not necessary for Onesimus and for Philemon only. It is necessary for us to note these things, in order to understand that as christians we often have to look to things in a different way than usual in the world and that we have to put aside wrath and dislike if the Lord received in grace. We ought to be followers of the Lord and have not done our job with saying 'all right then if you want it so'. The Lord did not forgive and receive us in that way! 

2) In the case of Onesimus Paul did not want to use his authority as an apostle, nor underline it. It was sooner a matter of the rights of Philemon and it should be absolutely clear that he acknowledged those rights and Onesimus as well. 

What rights are we speaking of? 
The right and authority of a master over his servant according to the rules prevailing in those days. 

It did not mean that the apostle applauded slavery. In 1 Corinthians 7:21-23 he wrote: 'Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise also he that is called being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye servants of men'. But in spite of the preference of the apostle for freedom, he recognized the rights of a master if a servant had been bought for a price. For also Christ has bought us for a price and He has a right upon us. 

If Onesimus continued to serve the apostle in Rome, Paul had not only to be grateful to Onesimus but to Philemon as well, because he had a right to the services of Onesimus, being his rightful master. With a view to those rights Paul sent Onesimus back. 

3) In this fourteenth verse Paul called his bonds bonds of the gospel. It makes us think that Paul did not think of the usefulness of Onesimus for him to bring him warm water or to care for his clothing, but rather of the usefulness of Onesimus in enabling him to preach the gospel in spite of his bonds. 

Perhaps Onesimus invited people to come and listen to Paul, perhaps he could deliver written messages, perhaps he could look for them that were helpless and in need as run away servants like himself and point them to the gospel of Paul. We know at least that Paul always was intent on preaching his gospel whatever the circumstances. He for instance wrote in 2 Timothy that 'at my first answer..... the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known and that all the Gentiles might hear' (2 Timothy 4:16-17). 

We probaly would have thought about other things. But Paul intended to reach all present with the message of Jesus Christ even at that moment. His feet were really shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) and fulfilled his own words: 'Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season' (2 Timothy 4:2) 

4) Goodness after compulsion, is it still goodness? 
Scripture says: 'God loveth a cheerful giver' (2 Corinthians 9:7). The priciple is not new for us. In certain matters it is not only the gift or the actual help that counts, but especially the warmth, the love, the dedication that becomes obvious. If it is clear that a goft is not given whole heartedly, we sometimes are inclined as well to say: no thank you. 

Paul however did not try to get permission for keeping Onesimus with him. He searched something of greater value: the mind of Christ in Philemon.

What is more: commanding a servant or loving a brother? (Verses 15 and 16)

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever; 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) 'departed for a season' wrote Paul. With similar words we write in relation to famliy or friends. But Onesimua was a slave, run away from his master, quite another thing. 

True, another thing, but meanwhile something had happened. The fugitive slave, who moreover had stolen from his master, met the great fisher of men, Paul, and had been captured for Christ. He had run away from a master on earth who probably had bought him for some mony, but had meanwhile been bought by the Master in heaven, who had paid an immensely high price for him. He now was his property. But in that way Onesimus had become a co- servant of his former master, who was a slave of Christ as well. 

Formerly Philemon had discovered that he had lost a slave. Now that slave came back, but Philemon should realize, that with him he also got back a brother. A better servant than one who was a brother in Christ he could never wish, one who voluntarily returned to the position with Philemon he had hated so much. 

How would Philemon have received his slave, if he had been found and brought back? Philemon had become a christian and could not act as he would have done before. But probably he would have made him feel that he had been wrong and that he, his master, would keep that in mind. And the theft had to be made good. A certain punishment belonged to it of course. 

And if Onesimus had not been arrested, but had returned of his own will? Then matters would of course have been slightly different. Philemon would have treated him less severe in that case. But he would perhaps have had some doubts whether Onesimus really was prepared to do his work, or had returned only because he could nowhere find a safe place and sufficient care. After all it is better to be a slave with food and a home than to be a neglected and hungry tramp. That he had stolen from his master would not have been settled with his return and Philemon would surely speak some savoury words with him about it. 

But things were very different. 
Onesdimus returned as a penitent christian, a brother in the Lord, a beloved child of Paul in the faith. 

2) Onesimus however was not loved by the apostle only, in future he was a beloved brother for Philemon as well. 
Perhaps Philemon could not repeat that easily. It might be that Philemon considered him first of all as a thieve, then as a run away slave and at last as a brother. But Paul had another sequence. He presented Onesimus as a beloved brother, a brother who had run away from his master, who had stolen from his former master, but had been converted. 

We know rather well to adapt in speaking and thinking. If it concerns ourselves, we do not start with what we have been. We then sooner dwell on what the Lord has made of us. The other things we have not forgotten, but the Lord has forgiven it all. And we are quite right. 

But is it concerns other people, we often start with the other end and know reasonably well to tell how he has been and what he has done. If he is a christian, then of course the Lord has forgiven all those things, but nevertheless he is the man, who in time past...... 

We better do what Paul did. He called Onesimus a beloved brother, though he knew very well, what had been in his life. Let us do as the apostle and call the other one a beloved brother. 
Why beloved? 
Because the Lord loves him. And are we mo