Online Bible Commentary
Confident of Your Obedience
Philemon 17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay--not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. 21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. 25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (NKJV)
Paul completes his short letter to Philemon with this passage. Philemon hosts a house church in Colossae.
Onesimus, a runaway slave of Philemon’s came to Paul during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. 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.
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 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).
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.
In this passage, Paul pleads with Philemon on behalf of Onesimus when he writes “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me (v.17). The word translated “partner” is the Greek word “koinonos” which comes from the Greek word “koinonia” which means “fellowship”.
The term “koinonia” was used by the New Testament Church to mean Christian fellowship. Paul is pleading with Philemon as a “partner in Christ”, a request that would be hard to decline.
Paul also offers to make amends on behalf of Onesimus. He writes “But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account” (v. 18).
Paul offers to pay for any “wrong” or debt incurred by Onesimus. 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 continues “I, Paul, am writing with my own hand” (v. 19a). Paul normally dictates his letters, but will occasionally write a sentence or section in order to emphasize his sincerity, as he does here.
Next, Paul writes “not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides” (v. 19b). 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 Paul led Philemon to Christ.
Paul writes “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord” (v. 20). He asks for benefit from Philemon, which would “refresh” his “heart”.
Paul continues “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (v. 21). Paul is confident in Philemon’s obedience to scripture and knows that he will do “even more” than Paul asks.
After making his appeal to Philemon on Onesimus’ behalf, Paul closes this letter.He writes “But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you” (v. 22). Paul 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.
Next, he sends greetings from all those who are helping him in Rome. Paul writes “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you” (v. 23).
Paul mentions Epaphras first, 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.
Paul continues with his greetings by writing “as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.” (v. 24). Mark, who wrote the Gospel that bears his name, and Luke who also wrote a Gospel and the book of Acts, are helping Paul in Rome.
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 writes “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (v. 25). He blesses Philemon with the grace, the unmerited and undeserved favor, of Christ.
Perhaps, verse 21 sums up this letter more than any other. Paul wrote “having confidence in your obedience”.
Philemon was being asked to obey God and release Onesimus from slavery, and his debts. Paul was confident of “your obedience”. May God also be confident of our obedience.