Online Bible Commentary
Confident of Your Obedience
Philemon 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. 22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (NIV)
Paul completes his short letter to Philemon with this passage. Onesimus, a runaway slave of Philemon’s came to Paul during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. Philemon hosts a house church in Colossae. After helping Paul for a period of time, Onesimus is now being sent back to Philemon by Paul. Onesimus is a changed man, having been led to Christ by Paul during his visit. Because of that Paul is sending this letter of recommendation back with him, asking Philemon to no longer think of Onesimus as a slave, but rather as a brother in Christ.
Tychicus is being sent with Onesimus and is also carrying the letter to the Colossians, as well as the letter to Philemon (Col. 4:7-9). Interestingly enough, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians he writes that masters should treat their slaves well because they also have a master in heaven (Col. 4:1). Tychicus was a well-trusted companion of Paul. He was from Ephesus and was Paul’s personal representative to the churches in Ephesus (Eph. 6:21-22) and Colossae.
Paul pleads with Philemon that “if you consider me as a partner, welcome him (Onesimus) as you would welcome me” (v.17). The word translated “partner” is the Greek word “koinonos” which comes from the Greek word “koinonia” which means “fellowship”. The term was used by the New Testament Church to mean Christian fellowship. Paul is pleading with Philemon on behalf of Onesimus as a “partner in Christ”, a request that would be hard to decline.
Paul also offers to make amends on behalf of Onesimus. He offers to pay for any “wrong” or debt incurred by Onesimus (v. 18). Just because someone becomes a Christian and has their sins forgiven does not forgive them of their debts to others. Just as Jesus paid our sin debt on the cross, Paul is offering to pay the debt of Onesimus. The nature of the debt or “wrong” is not disclosed, but it is thought that Onesimus may have stolen money or something of value when he ran away. Paul, in his own handwriting, offers to “pay it back” (v. 19a). Paul normally dictates his letters, but will occasionally write a sentence or section in order to emphasize his sincerity.
After offering to pay Onesimus’ debt, Paul reminds Philemon that he may owe him a favor anyway. Being a minister and presently being in prison, Paul likely had little in cash reserves. Perhaps with this in mind, Paul reminds Philemon that “you owe me your very self” (v. 19b), a reference to the fact that Paul led Philemon to Christ. He then asks for “benefit from you in the Lord”, which would “refresh” his “heart in Christ” (v. 20). Paul is “confident” in Philemon’s “obedience” to Scripture and knows that he will do “even more” than Paul asks (v. 21).
Paul begins his closing remarks to this letter with verse 22. He asks Philemon to “prepare a guest room” for him in anticipation of visiting Colossae. Paul likely wanted to check in with the congregation, but also may have wanted to follow up on the status of Onesimus. He asks for prayers to pave the way for his visit. Paul likely does not know when, or if, he will be released from prison.
He then sends greetings from all those who are helping him in Rome. Paul mentions Epaphras first (v. 23), perhaps because he was most known to Philemon. Epaphras founded the churches in Colossae (Colossians 1:7, 8), Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:12, 13), which are all located close together in Asia Minor, now southwest Turkey. Paul describes Epaphras as a “fellow prisoner”, meaning he is imprisoned with Paul.
Greetings are also sent on behalf of “Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers” (v. 24). Aristarchus was from Thessalonica and he accompanied Paul on several journeys, including to Rome. He was described as a “fellow prisoner” (Col. 4:10). Demas later deserted Paul because “he loved this world” (2 Ti. 4:10). The letter closes with Paul’s characteristic benediction. He blesses Philemon with the grace, the unmerited favor, of Christ (v. 25).
What strikes me the most about this passage is all the help that Paul had at this time in his ministry. Paul appealed to Philemon for help in settling Onesimus’ debt so that Paul would not need to pull from his meager savings. There is every reason to believe that Philemon did just that. Paul had “fellow prisoners” who were willing to give up their freedom, and perhaps their lives, to help the ministry, and Paul personally. He had “fellow workers” who gave of themselves and their treasure to minister to his personal and ministry needs. The churches, those to whom he ministered, helped him financially. Every ministry, including this one, is dependent upon help from those to whom it ministers. This ministry needs financial help, more now than ever before. And so I close with Scripture from this passage. “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.”