Vol.XV No.XII Pg.4
February 1979

Letter To Phllemon

Robert F. Turner

In the Colossian letter (4:7-8), Paul names Tychicus as his messenger and says he is sending with him (v.9) "Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you." The letter is written from prison (4:3, 18), where Aristarchus was "fellow-prisoner" (v. 10). Epaphras ("one of you") was also with Paul when the Colossian letter was written (v.12) and had evidently been sent from Colosse with messages, and to assist Paul (1:7-8).

These things tie the Colossian and Philemon letters closely together for both come with salutations from Paul and Timothy, from prison. In Philemon, Onesimus is a run-away slave who had been converted by Paul while in prison, and was now being sent back to his master. Greetings are sent from the same men. Cf. Col. 4: with v. 23-f. noting that Epaphras is here called "fellow-prisoner," and Justus is not included. Although such personal ties are not found in the Ephesian letter, it too was sent via Tychicus (6:21), from prison (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and we have good reason to believe these three letters (four, with that to Laodicea — ??) were all in Tychicus' bag as he and Onesimus traveled together.

Read Eph. 6:5-f. and Co1. 3:22-f. as you picture the run-away slave going back to his master, and what?? Evidently he had subscribed to such principles, but what about Philemon?? The slave must face his reason for running away, and its consequence. We may speculate that the above passages were written with Onesimus in mind — not for his sake alone (these exhortations are not in Philemon) but for Master-slave relations of all times.

What follows is NOT a translation; it is not the Bible text but the non-critical meaning I get from reading the text — offered to introduce the comments on the following page. Maybe it will assist you in understanding Paul's letter to Philemon.


Paul, a prisoner for Christ's sake; to Philemon, "dearly beloved and fellow laborer," and to intimate members of the church in your house. I keep hearing of your love and faith toward the Lord and all saints; and I thank God, and pray that the sharing of your faith may cause others to know our blessings in Christ. I rejoice because you have refreshed the hearts o other saints.

Now, I do not order you (as an Apostle might), but as an aged prisoner of the Lord, I beseech you on behalf of (another saint) your slave, Onesimus, whom I have brought to the Lord. He who was once unprofitable (belying his name, which means "profitable") has been profitable to me, and can be to you. In sending him to you I give up my heart (I love him as a son). I longed to keep him with me, for he could have served me in your stead in the bonds of the gospel. But I would not do this without your consent, for goodness should not be taken from you, but freely given by you.

Perhaps this was why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever; not now as a slave but more than that: a beloved brother to you even as he is to me. ("In the flesh Philemon had the brother for a slave; in the Lord he had (continued next page)