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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: June 26, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome back to HBS everyone. Grace and Peace to y’all.
I pray y’all are well and growing in knowledge of God and knowledge of His will. “Wisdom” is the use of knowledge to reach the desired goal, so having knowledge and using knowledge are two different things. It’s possible to know many things and yet be unwise. Take earthly wisdom for example it appeals to the emotions and the five senses. In contrast, the wisdom that is from God reflects Him, so, according to our apostle Paul the goal of wisdom is to lead people to Christ Jesus:
“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:5-6).
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;” (Colossians 1:9-10).
Verse 1:10 expresses the reason why Paul prayed the Colossians are to obtain knowledge of God’s will. It is so that they may “walk” (live) worthy so as to please God. Verses1:10b thru 1:12 precisely define what a “worthy walk” looks like. The Believer is: 1) “fruitful in every good work;” 2) “increasing in the knowledge of God;” 3) “strengthened with all might;” and 4) “giving thanks unto the Father.”
Last week we briefly set aside our study of Colossians 4 for a verse-by-verse study of Paul’s letter to a Colossian saint named Philemon based on its applicability to Colossians 4:8-9:
“…(Tychius) Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; With Onesimus (O-neh--sih-muhs), a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.”
Philemon was a man of wealth and he owned slaves. One of these slaves was Onesimus. For some unknown reason he ran away from his master. He added insult to injury by stealing something from him before he left. Thus, this letter concerns three people: Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul, and their interactions with one another. But it is also addressed to the members of the house church in Colosse (v.2). You see, in Paul’s day Believers often depended on wealthy members to provide a place for them to meet. Last week I offered Priscilla and Aquilla as one example of this truth (see Romans 16:5; and 1 Corinthians 16:19). The business-woman “Lydia” in Acts 16 is another. After “the Lord opened her heart” to receive Paul’s gospel, she hosted the first house church on Greek soil.
Please open your Bible at Philemon 10-13.
In these verses Paul put Philemon's spiritual maturity to the test. Would he allow the natural influences of the “old man,” to rule his heart and mind or would his “love” prove strong enough to overcome the earthly desire to punish Onesimus for his wrongdoing. The phrase “What would Jesus Do” comes to mind here because having “the mind of Christ” is directly related to one’s spiritual maturity.
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies (and there is), Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let
nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:1-5).
Let’s start with Philemon 10-11:
“I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten (led to Christ) in my bonds (as a prisoner of Christ): which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:”
In verse 10 we learn Onesimus is not the man he used to be. When he met Paul he was a rebellious sinner; a slave on the run and a thief. But now he’s so much more than that. You see, God’s grace changes hearts and minds (lives). It’s not out of the ordinary for the new Believer to examine their past life and experience regret and/or shame. I imagine the same was true for Onesimus. He might have told Paul about his sinful past which no doubt included the “wrongs” he committed against Philemon. I base this on my knowledge of verses 11 and 18.
Paul makes a compelling argument to Philemon in verse 10 in saying, “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten (led to Christ) in my bonds:” The Law commanded, “This do and thou shalt live” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33); but God’s grace “beseeches,” that is, it requests and that’s the attitude Paul expresses here in saying, “I implore you to forgive “my son” Onesimus for the wrong he has done, “Even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
What’s in a Name?
“which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:”
In Paul’s day names had a great significance attached to them. Onesimus’ name meant “profitable or helpful.” But he was anything but helpful. He was a rebellious sinner who had hardened his heart against God, betrayed his master’s trust, and he’s now a thief having fled with something that belonged to Philemon. Paul used a bit of word-play in saying, (Onesimus was) “unprofitable” (unhelpful) to you in the past, but in the future he will prove to be profitable (helpful) or live up to his name.” The implication is as Onesimus had proved “profitable” to Paul and to the ministry, upon his return he would prove himself to be “helpful” to Philemon.
“…whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:”
Onesimus had endeared himself to Paul to such an extent that his departure would cause him emotional discomfort. But Paul isn’t sending him back to Philemon alone and empty handed. He sent along with him Tychicus and this letter which was meant “to smooth the way,” so to speak, for his return.
“…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.”
Paul might have reasoned Onesimus’ slate had been wiped clean (he had been forgiven), which is why he said, “whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:” or “he would prove helpful to me here in Rome in ministering to me and the furtherance of the gospel.” Evidently, Paul thought Philemon would understand where he’s coming from with this, but we note he didn’t pull the “I’m an apostle of the Lord card,” i.e., exert his apostolic authority, which he certainly could have done. But here’s the thing, he valued Philemon’s friendship far too much to take advantage of him. As it stands, Paul is keenly aware Onesimus is the property of his friend, thus, the decision was Philemon’s to make.
Here we learn grace always does what is right (Colossians 3:17, 23). It literally takes years and years to earn the respect of others, but it can be lost in a moment of time. This is why it is so essential to maintain a consistent godly testimony, or as I like to put it, “Follow Paul who followed Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
“For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 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? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 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.”
“For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;” (v. 15).
Verse 15 continues Paul’s plea to Philemon to forgive Onesimus. It also adds a possible explanation behind his departure. Paul said, “perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;” This statement was probably meant to soften the fact that he was a disobedient, runaway slave. These words reflect Paul’s teaching that God has a positive purpose for everything that happens in the life of the Believer (Romans 8:28). Paul’s saying the negative event of Onesimus departure has led to a positive event for now he is a Believer in Christ Jesus. In essence Paul’s saying, “Onesimus may have departed from you wearing the garments of a runaway slave, but I am sending him back to you clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” Therefore, “receive him as myself:” (v. 17b).
“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?”
Here we learn Paul’s gospel transforms people’s lives . Onesimus would return to Philemon as a trusted “servant” of the Lord. So, it could be said Philemon now has a brother for a slave; but it’s also true “in the Lord,” he has a slave for a brother.
Please note what’s missing here. Paul does not reveal the sordid details of Onesimus’ sinful past. It serves no good purpose in bringing his wrongdoing into the spotlight again and again. The past is best forgotten; this a good life-lesson for us all to remember and practice (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
“If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.”
Here Paul amplifies his request for Onesimus to be set free by appealing to his own friendship with Philemon, referring to him as “a partner.” The word “If” introduces a conditional statement (If then you regard me…” Paul assumed Philemon would accept this condition as true. Pau’s request is that Philemon would receive Onesimus as though it were Paul himself. Once again, this phrase supports the view that Paul is asking for Onesimus’ freedom, not just his forgiveness (v. 16). Think this through. How else could Philemon accept Onesimus as he would our apostle Paul?
“If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;”
This is a continuation of Paul’s request of Philemon to treat Onesimus as he would himself.
“If he hath wronged thee - Onesimus didn’t just run away from his master he was also a thief. From what I understand a slave running away and taking with them things that belonged to their master was not an uncommon event in Paul’s day. In other words it wasn’t exactly front-page news. A slave on the run would need money for obvious reasons and their masters were usually quite wealthy. It’s possible Onesimus stole from Philemon because he “felt” he owed him. But it’s also possible he stole because he needed to finance his escape.
The word “If,” implies Onesimus had committed a wrong by fleeing from his master, or by failing to perform a task that had been assigned to him, or by stealing his personal property as he fled, any and all of these concerns would meet all that is said here. But here’s the thing it’s impossible to determine from the text which of these wrongs Onesimus had committed. We also note Paul does not say he had “wronged” him; he merely implied he might have. Of course there are at least two sides to every story, so from Philemon’s perspective there may be no doubt at all that a wrong had been committed. So whatever Paul’s views might have been, in layman’s terms, he was saying, “even if that is so, he would prefer that Philemon put the loss to his account.” In addition to that, Paul would like Philemon to forgive Onesimus’ transgressions and not hold them against him. Simply said forgiving others who have “wronged” us is a sign of spiritual maturity (Colossians 3:12-13).
“or oweth thee ought” – here Paul might be implying Onesimus, whatever his former state, was capable of holding property and contracting debts. He might have borrowed money from Philemon, he might have been a tenant of his and failed to pay him money owed, such as, rent on farmland, or perhaps he owed Philemon money for services which he had not performed, i.e., work left undone. Whatever the case might be, the bottom line is we do not know, so, conjecture only serves as an exercise for one’s mind. We are not told how the debt came about or what it is, so I prefer to move on. If you’re that interested in knowing the truth, you can ask him when you meet him in glory.
“put that on mine account” – once again, Onesimus’s misbehavior is not mentioned. People assume Paul’s referring to his thievery, but I prefer not to read between the lines, i.e., assume that’s what he meant. Whatever the loss might be Paul clearly said, credit (impute) it “to mine account.” The term impute means “to credit or ascribe (something) to a person or a cause. In scripture, the righteousness of Christ Jesus is credited (imputed) to the saved individual’s account: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:” (Romans 4:22, 5:17, 19, Galatians 3:6). To be clear, Paul just said he would pick up “the tab” for Philemon’s wrongdoing.
“I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it:”
“I Paul have written it with mine own hand” – from this verse we learn Paul wrote this entire epistle with his own hand which made this communication very personal. Normally Paul dictated his thoughts to a scribe, such as, Tertius (Tur-shi-us) in his letter to church at Rome (Romans 16:22; see also 1 Corinthians 16:21). Paul’s imprisonment might have led him to pen this letter in his own hand simply because there was no one else. That’s my opinion, so don’t count it as factual.
“I will repay it” – that is, I will be security for it. It could be said this letter and pledge of the apostle Paul to Philemon stands as his “promissory note” (a signed document containing a written promise to pay a stated sum to a specified person or the bearer at a specified date or on demand). Therefore this letter could serve as a legal document, evidence in a civil suit, in which Philemon could lawfully sue Paul or his estate for damages. This couldn’t be done legally without Paul’s permission and he has clearly given it.
“albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.”
Here Paul implies Philemon’s conversion could be traced to Paul’s labor in the ministry:
“ and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of GodFor whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? ” (Romans 10:13-17).
Paul’s saying Philemon is indebted to him, therefore the kindness asked of him now pales in comparison with Paul’s labor of love.
“Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.”
“Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: - in other words, “show me this favor in receiving my brother beloved, as I request, and refresh my heart.” The phrase, “in the Lord” appears to mean, if this request is met favorably, Philemon would recognize the hand of the Lord in it, and should therefore receive it as though the Lord Himself asked this favor of him.
“refresh my bowels in the Lord.” – when most people read a phrase such as this it throws them off-kilter. But there’s no reason for that. If I can find the definitions for biblical terms such as this, so can you. When Paul writes about “my bowels,” he’s not referring to his GI tract. It’s a term that refers to “the seat of affection;” most commonly, the human heart. The reasoning behind this is any deeply felt emotion impacts this vital organ. Who among us has not experienced a broken heart, for example? This is the idea Paul means to convey to Philemon. Paul previously referred to Onesimus as “my son,” and a “brother beloved;” both of these statements come from Paul’s heart. So it’s not a stretch to say he has a tender affection for Onesimus, and the thought of any harm coming to him by way of Philemon caused him great concern.
The term “refresh” is a military term meaning, “to give rest to, to give repose” before engaging in the next battle. It also means “free from sorrow or care.” This is how Paul used it here. He’s saying, “Should you receive Onesimus back as a “brother beloved,” my great concern would become “joy” (v. 7).
“Having (what) confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more that I say.”
Said differently, Paul was certain Philemon would go that extra mile or he would “do more” than Paul asked of him. Paul expressed “confidence” in the fact that Philemon would obediently take this letter to heart and receive Onesimus not as a disobedient slave but as his fellow brother in the Lord.
“But without (whatever you decide) prepare me also a lodging; for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.”
“But without” – whichever way you choose to go, “prepare me also a lodging (in your home). In Paul’s day there were no Holiday Inn Express hotels; he relied on the hospitality of others (Romans 12:13; Ephesians 6:7; Colossians 3:23-24).
“for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you” - Paul’s believed God would respond to the prayers of the Colossian saints favorably and they would help him gain his freedom. We know Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome and supposedly made a missionary trip to Spain. But there’s no record of this undertaking in the N.T. There’s also no record of Paul ever visiting Colosse. However, the prospect of Paul visiting Philemon’s home surely motivated him to put his house in order and respond to Paul’s requests in this letter graciously. Paul included many prayers for the saints in his writings. Only a few times do we find him asking the saints to pray for him. But in those prayers we come to realize he stands as the Believers’ example of a consistent prayer life. We also come to know the heart of the man (Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22.)
“There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
“There salute thee Epaphras my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus” or in “the cause of Christ” - verse 23 begins the conclusion of Philemon, running through verse 25. Here Paul includes a greeting from Epaphras, described as Paul’s “fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus.” This tells us, like Paul, he was jailed for “walking worthy.” Paul also mentioned him twice in Colossians. In verse 1:7 Paul described him as a faithful missionary who brought the gospel to Philemon and others that now make up the house church in Colosse. He also brought news of this church to Paul in Rome. Colossians 4:12 suggests not only was he a citizen of Colosse, in fact, he was a member of that house church or as Paul put it, he’s one of you: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Colossians 4:12).
“Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Lucas my fellowlabourers” – Marcus is none other than John Mark, the author of the gospel Mark, a Jewish Christian, but he was not an apostle of the Lord. He’s Barnabas’ nephew (Colossians 4:10). The Jewish Believers met in John Mark’s mother’s home in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He later joined Paul and Barnabas on the apostle’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:5), but he deserted them in Pamphylia before the work was done (Acts 15:38). Sometime later after Paul and Barnabas retuned from their first missionary journey, Paul expressed the desire to return to the churches they had planted in the cities they had previously visited to see how they were doing (Acts 15:36). Barnabas agreed, apparently upon the provision they take John Mark with them. Paul refused to have him on the trip, however, citing his previous desertion. Paul thought it best not to have a quitter with them; they needed someone more dependable. Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” about John Mark (Acts 15:39) and wound up separating from each other and going on separate journeys. Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him through Syria and Cilicia to encourage the Believers in the churches in those areas (Acts 15:36–41).
Mark is also mentioned in Colossians 4:11 and is also seen with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and again in 2 Timothy 4:11 as Paul’s helper for they had reconciled their differences.
Aristarchus had traveled with Paul in the past (Acts 19-29, 20:4) and was mentioned as a fellow prisoner with Paul in Rome (Colossians 4:10).
Demas was also mentioned alongside Luke in Colossians 4:14. Unfortunately, according to 2 Timothy 4:10, Demas abandoned Paul.
Luke is the author of Acts and the gospel of Luke but he too was not an apostle. He became a follower of Jesus after His death. He worked as a missionary with Paul, and was with him in Rome during his imprisonment. It is significant that both Mark and Luke were together during this time. Both of their gospels were likely written close to this time, as they were both in Rome.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
This closing phrase was also used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:14, Philippians 4:23, and 2 Timothy 4:22. This expression reveals Paul held these folks in high regard. But this is the only personal letter by Paul in the N.T. where this same phrase is used, which indicates a fondness for his friend Philemon.
The final phrase “be with your spirit” refers to Philemon’s spirit, not the Holy Spirit; note the small “s” in spirit, and again speaks of Paul’s love for his brother in the Lord.
To me this riveting story ended like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It leaves you hanging because no clear ending is shown. The Bible does not tell us what happened when Onesimus showed up on Philemon’s doorstep, however, we trust that “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
(To be continued)
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