Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "Later New Testament Epistles"



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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

P H I L E M 0 N

Introduction by Arthur S. Way

"One in bonds (to Christ) is here pleading for another in bonds (to a man). Written during the first imprisonment:, about AD 62 (Fall?). With the letter to the Colossian church was sent another, a private letter to a member of that church. Years before, Philemon, a gentleman of Colossae, a dear friend of Paul, had a slave, worthless as the Phrygian slaves proverbially were" though by a curious irony he bore the name Onesimus,' which means 'serviceable' or 'profitable.' He had, it would seem, robbed his master and then run away. He found his way at last to Rome, and there, under the influence of the apostle's teaching, became a Christian. Repentant and ready to make all amends in his power, he undertook to return to his old master. But his gratitude, his loving service, had made him very dear to Paul; and the apostle, remembering that his master could not be aware how changed a character returned to him and knowing that by law he could inflict on him the extremes! punishment (death by crucifixion was no unusual penalty for a heathen master to inflict for such offenses), and desiring, more­over, for one who had grown to be like a son to himself something more than bare forgiveness, gave him this letter to deliver to Philemon. (Apphia may be his wife; Archippus, his son.) The entire approach is one of substitution."



    1. Salutation 1-3
      The apostle never admits that he is a prisoner of Rome. He is at the jail but in Christ. Timothy is included in this salutation by courtesy.

    2. Thanksgiving 4-7
      Paul is not flattering Philemon to gain his hearing. We may tell the truth about a good Christian without flattery. Of course, he is preparing the way for his request. Notice that Paul says "all saints" and so he has to receive this one, too. He had probably heard considerable about Philemon from Epaphras. He was a good man but inclined to be hard on evil-doers. Paul compliments his faith, but says in so many words that he must now give it an opportunity to grow by embracing the returning repentant thief.


    1. Manner of the plea 8-9
      Paul could have asserted his apostolic authority, but no doubt Philemon would have been enraged over such a high-handed intrusion, which he would have considered a rebuke. Or Paul might have urged the fact that he was the humble instrument in Philemon's conversion. But rather he pleaded with him as a brother in Christ, as Paul the aged, a prisoner of Christ! Paul knew people and this man needed to have his heart touched before he had the matter of forgiveness laid before him.

    2. Subject of his plea 10-11
      How could any man refuse this request? Philemon would have done anything--and been proud to do it--for Paul's son, if Paul had had one. So Paul calls Onesimus his son. See how Paul pleaded with him for Onesimus, whose soul he had loved and cared for. Paul was not trying to excuse Onesimus in verse 11, but rather he was vouching for him.

    3. The desire of the plea 12-22

      1. For reception of Onesimus 12-14
        Paul wished that he might have retained Onesimus, but without the permission of Philemon he would do nothing. Paul sacrificed Onesimus' service to him so that he might show Philemon what Christ could do for a man. He is not going to force a gift of Qnesimus' service from Philemon by pulling his rank!

      2. For restoration 15-16
        "If he is dear to me, how much more dear is he, or ought he to be, to you!"

      3. The promise 17-19

      4. The confidence 20-22

  3. CONCLUSION 23-25

    1. Salutation 23-24

    2. Benediction 25


(after B. B. Sutcliffe)


    1. A slave
      A slave to the world, Eph. 2:2;
      slave to the flesh, Rom. 7:21;
      slave to the devil, I Jn. 5:19.

    2. A thief
      No hope in the law for he was a thief; he kept away from the law as far as he could, Jas, 2:10; Rom. 3:19.

    3. A fugitive
      From justice and his master. So no sinner wants to meet God because he knows he will get justice.


    1. "The instrument Paul (v. 10) was the human agent. Onesimus may have remembered Paul and Philemon'i3 conversion, or even a little about the gospel. Onesimus might have thought this was only for masters, but Paul assured him it was for all. Then he might have had this objection:

      "I can see why Philemon would talk about God; he's prosperous. But Paul is in jail. I don't know whether I want that kind of a God. "

    2. The meaning = substitution 17-18
      Verse 17 is exactly what Christ says to the Father for us. If He is received with great joy by the Father, so are we (Eph. 1:6). In verse 18 Christ says to the Father: "Reckon to him any merit I have with You. Reckon to Me' any demerit he has before You." So, when Christ hung on the cross, I hung on the cross.

    What he became:

    1. Before man - still a slave. There is no suggestion that Philemon released him. Christianity does not aim directly at the custom, but at the person. So, by transforming enough individuals it transforms customs.

    2. Before Paul - a faithful brother, Col. 4:9.

    3. Before his master - he would be "profitable" if his master were not saved; but since he was now saved, he would be both "profitable" AND a brother!

    4. Before the church - "one of them, " Col. 4:9; just as much so as Philemon was in the church.

    5. Before himself - as a good servant, he is now looking beyond Philemon to the LORD, Col. 3:24!

    6. Before the Lord - as much a saint as any, Col. 3:11.

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