1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved and fellow laborer,2to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.4I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers,5hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,6that the fellowship of your faith may become active in the full true knowledge of every good thing in you in Christ Jesus.7For we have great joy and encouragement in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.8Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to order you to do what is fitting,9yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you; being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ;10I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my bonds,11who once was worthless to you, but now is useful to you and to me.12I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart,13whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my bonds of the gospel.14But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but willingly.15For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever,16no 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.17If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.18And if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.19I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay; not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.20Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.21Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.22But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.23Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you,24as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.25The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Matthew Henry - Concise Commentary 1
Faith in Christ, and love to him, should unite saints more closely than any outward relation can unite the people of the world. Paul in his private prayers was particular in remembering his friends. We must remember Christian friends much and often, as their cases may need, bearing them in our thoughts, and upon our hearts, before our God. Different sentiments and ways in what is not essential, must not make difference of affection, as to the truth. He inquired concerning his friends, as to the truth, growth, and fruitfulness of their graces, their faith in Christ, and love to him, and to all the saints. The good which Philemon did, was matter of joy and comfort to him and others, who therefore desired that he would continue and abound in good fruits, more and more, to God's honour. 8
It does not lower any one to condescend, and sometimes even to beseech, where, in strictness of right, we might command: the apostle argues from love, rather than authority, in behalf of one converted through his means; and this was Onesimus. In allusion to that name, which signifies profitable, the apostle allows that in time past he had been unprofitable to Philemon, but hastens to mention the change by which he had become profitable. Unholy persons are unprofitable; they answer not the great end of their being. But what happy changes conversion makes! of evil, good; of unprofitable, useful. Religious servants are treasures in a family. Such will make conscience of their time and trusts, and manage all they can for the best. No prospect of usefulness should lead any to neglect their obligations, or to fail in obedience to superiors. One great evidence of true repentance consists in returning to practise the duties which have been neglected. In his unconverted state, Onesimus had withdrawn, to his master's injury; but now he had seen his sin and repented, he was willing and desirous to return to his duty. Little do men know for what purposes the Lord leaves some to change their situations, or engage in undertakings, perhaps from evil motives. Had not the Lord overruled some of our ungodly projects, we may reflect upon cases, in which our destruction must have been sure. 15
When we speak of the nature of any sin or offence against God, the evil of it is not to be lessened; but in a penitent sinner, as God covers it, so must we. Such changed characters often become a blessing to all among whom they reside. Christianity does not do away our duties to others, but directs to the right doing of them. True penitents will be open in owning their faults, as doubtless Onesimus had been to Paul, upon his being awakened and brought to repentance; especially in cases of injury done to others. The communion of saints does not destroy distinction of property. This passage is an instance of that being imputed to one, which is contracted by another; and of one becoming answerable for another, by a voluntary engagement, that he might be freed from the punishment due to his crimes, according to the doctrine that Christ of his own will bore the punishment of our sins, that we might receive the reward of his righteousness. Philemon was Paul's son in the faith, yet he entreated him as a brother. Onesimus was a poor slave, yet Paul besought for him as if seeking some great thing for himself. Christians should do what may give joy to the hearts of one another. From the world they expect trouble; they should find comfort and joy in one another. When any of our mercies are taken away, our trust and hope must be in God. We must diligently use the means, and if no other should be at hand, abound in prayer. Yet, though prayer prevails, it does not merit the things obtained. And if Christians do not meet on earth, still the grace of the Lord Jesus will be with their spirits, and they will soon meet before the throne to join for ever in admiring the riches of redeeming love. The example of Onesimus may encourage the vilest sinners to return to God, but it is shamefully prevented, if any are made bold thereby to persist in evil courses. Are not many taken away in their sins, while others become more hardened? Resist not present convictions, lest they return no more. 23
Never have believers found more enjoyment of God, than when suffering together for him. Grace is the best wish for ourselves and others; with this the apostle begins and ends. All grace is from Christ; he purchased, and he bestows it. What need we more to make us happy, than to have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with our spirit? Let us do that now, which we should do at the last breath. Then men are ready to renounce the world, and to prefer the least portion of grace and faith before a kingdom.