Paul had laid it all out: he loved Onesimus as a spiritual son, and had wanted to keep him where Paul was, in prison, so Onesimus could continue to be of such good service to the apostle. But, Paul would not do that without Philemon’s consent. In fact, it was right for Paul to return Onesimus to Philemon, for there was a breach between them that must be repaired. They were brothers in blood, and in the Lord, and as one Body of Christ, they were to be reconciled.
Would Philemon reinstate Onesimus? Would he receive him back into his household?
Paul was not asking Philemon to absorb the cost of Onesimus’ wrongdoing. Paul himself would do that, so there would be no hint of Paul telling Philemon he owed the apostle this. No, what Paul was hoping for was a genuine heart and spirit reconciliation.
Confident in This
In confirmation of what I just wrote, brother, I hope to enjoy [benefit/support/profit] of you in [the] Lord—refresh my inward affection and tender mercy in Christ.
Having been persuaded of your attentive compliance, I wrote to you, also perceiving that you will do above what I am speaking of,
and at the same time, also prepare lodging for me, for I am hoping and expecting that through your prayers I will be delivered to you.Philemon 1:20-22 (my translation)
When I read verse 20, it brought to mind Paul’s epistle to the believers in Philippi—a letter he had written around the same time.
Being confident-of this very thing: that the One having begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ—just as it is right for me to think this about you all because of my having you in my heart, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the good-news, you all being my co-partners of grace.Philippians 1:6-7 (DLNT)
Because Paul knew Philemon, knew his spirit and his heart, and knew how the Lord was working in and through this faithful brother and elder, Paul knew Philemon would do what was right and good in God’s eyes.
Fruit of Good Faith
In fact, Paul continued, I wrote to you, also perceiving that you will do above what I am speaking of. Tradition holds Philemon not only reinstated Onesimus, he sent him back to Paul with both blessing and provision. It is said Onesimus was eventually recognized as an elder, prayed over by the apostles, and ultimately became an overseer after Timothy, in Ephesus. Many Christian denominations in the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant streams of faith regard Onesimus as a saint.
In his letter to the assemblies in Ephesus, Ignatius wrote,
I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of
—inexpressible love, and
—your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop.
. . . And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth.The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, chapter 1, chapter 6
Prepare a Place
Paul was also sensing the Lord might release him from prison, so the apostle requested Philemon prepare lodging for him. I imagine Paul was eager to get Onesimus’ debt paid, and all matters set to rights, so the assembly that met in Philemon’s house, Philemon and his household, and Onesimus could enjoy the oneness of fellowship God had given them by the Holy Spirit.
This theme was close to Paul’s heart. He had written an impassioned few paragraphs on it in the accompanying letter to the assemblies in Ephesus. Once it was read to those in Colossae, it would be carefully copied, then sent along to Ephesus with Tychicus, leaving Onesimus behind.
Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, exhort you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humblemindedness and gentleness, with patience bearing-with one another in love, being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—
1.There is one body and
2. one Spirit, just as you also were called in
3. one hope of your calling;
4. one Lord,
5. one faith,
6. one baptism;
7. one God and Father of all, the One over all and through all and in all;
and to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.Paul on unity in Christ, Ephesians 4:1-7 (DLNT)
Warm Embrace of Greeting From Epaphras
Enfolding you in warm greetings: Epaphras, co-captive with me in Christ Jesus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, companions in labor with me.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [be] with the spirit of all of you.Philemon 1:23-25
Epaphras was evidently also in chains with Paul. We learn about him from the letter Paul (and Timothy) had written for the Colossian believers,
We are giving-thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, always while praying for you, having heard-of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints
because of the hope being reserved for you in the heavens, which you previously-heard-of in the word of the truth—the good-news coming to you,
just as also in all the world it is bearing-fruit and growing,
just as it is doing also in you from which day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth,
just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-slave who is a faithful servant of Christ on your behalf, the one also having made-clear to us your love in the Spirit.
Epaphras greets you—the one from-among you,
a slave of Christ Jesus always struggling for you in his prayers in-order-that you might stand mature and having been fully-assured in all the will of God.
For I testify concerning him that he has great pain for you, and the ones in Laodicea, and the ones in Hierapolis.Paul speaking on behalf of Epaphras, Colossians 1:3-8 4:12-13
From this we learn Epaphras was also from Colossae, and when he put his faith in Christ he sensed God’s call to join Paul’s team of evangelists. It seems he became one of the teachers to Colossae, his home town, and acted as a courier between the assemblies in that city and Paul. Apparently, during one of his sojourns away—probably while on an evangelistic tour—he was arrested with Paul for disturbing the peace (one of the typical excuses drummed up by Paul’s enemies).
Remember, Laodicea was one of the three cities built near the foot of Mount Cadmus in the region of Phrygia, which is now modern-day Turkey. Since it was only eleven miles west of Colossae, there must have been quite a bit of traffic and shared culture between them.
Paul longed to see those he had never met, who had become believers in Colossae and Laodicea.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for your sake and the ones in Laodicea, and all-who have not seen my face in the flesh, in order that their hearts might be encouraged.Colossians 1:1-2 (DLNT)
Paul sent personal words of greeting to Nymphas and the church in her household, and asked that his letter also be read to the assemblies in Laodicea.
Greet the brothers in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church at her house. And when this letter is read among you, cause that it also be read in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you also read the letter from Laodicea.Colossians 4:15-16 (DNLT)
Have you noticed I am using a new translation? In studying this book and checking my own translation against other translation teams’ efforts, I came across a version of the Bible called Disciples’ Literal New Testament. I find it a better read and a more faithful guide than even the Young’s Literal Translation.
[Monk | pxfuel.com // Forest | Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]