Here’s your slave, now free him
Hello dear friend1 From: Paul, a prisoner for the sake of the Messiah Jesus, and from Timothy, our brother in the faith.
To: Philemon, our dear friend and colleague in ministry; 2 to Apphia, our sister in the faith; to Archippus, our fellow warrior in the faith; and to the church that meets in your house. 3 May you experience the kindness and peace that come from God our Father and from our leader, Jesus the Messiah.
Thank God for Philemon4 I remember you in my prayers, always thanking God for you. 5 I’ve heard about how much you love believers and about your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I’m praying that you’ll be able to share your faith effectively, helping others understand the wonderful benefits we have because of the Messiah. 7 Dear brother, the love you have shown to others makes me happy. You’re an encouragement, too—and not just to me, but to your fellow believers as well. You’re a refreshing soul to be around.
Send me your slave, freed8 Listen, the Messiah gave me the right to order you to do something that you really need to do. 9 Yet in a spirit of love, I’m coming to you with a request instead of an order. I, Paul, am an old man. I’m in prison because of the Messiah, Jesus.
10 I’m coming to you with a request about my child, Onesimus. I became like a father to him while I’ve been in prison. 11 He wasn’t much use to you, I know. But I can tell now that he has become useful to both of us. 12 I’m sending him back to you. And it feels like I’m tearing my heart out.
13 I wanted to keep him with me while I’m here in prison. That way he could’ve helped me tell others the Good News—as your representative. 14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your permission. I wanted you to help me not because I ordered you to do it, but because you wanted to do it. 15 You lost him for a short while. But maybe it was so you could have him back forever. 16 He’s not just a slave any longer. He’s more than a slave. He’s a dear brother in the faith, especially to me. But he’s even more to you. In the flesh, he’s your slave. In the spirit of the Lord, he’s your brother.
17 If you consider me your partner, I’m asking you to welcome him just as you would welcome me.
18 Listen, if you have suffered any damages because of him or if he owes you anything, put it on my tab. 19 I, Paul, am writing this part of the letter with my own hand: I will pay you back. But I want to remind you, too, that you owe me your spiritual life. 20 Listen, brother, I wish you would do me this favor for the sake of our leader, the Messiah. It’ll lift my spirits. 21 I’m sure you’ll do this for me. In fact, as I write this I know that you’ll do even more than I ask. 22 One more thing, fix up a guestroom for me. I’m hoping that because of your prayers, I’ll be released here and allowed to come and visit you.
Hello from the team23 Epaphras says to tell you hello. He’s another prisoner here because of Jesus the Messiah. 24 The others say hello as well: my associates Mark, Demas, and Luke. 25 May the kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
“Kindness” is often translated “grace.”
The Greek word for “Good News,” more literally “gospel,” is euangelion, from which we get words such as evangelize and evangelical.
How do you react to the fact that Paul is writing to a Christian slaveowner who is also essentially the pastor of the church that meets in his house (1:2)?
When you read Paul’s letter to the Christian slaveowner Philemon (phil-LEE-mon), what do you think best describes the tone of the letter?
- Gently bullying
Paul says something that is hard to translate in verse 16. He says that Onesimus is important to him, but is even more important to Philemon. It’s the explanation that’s difficult to figure out. “He’s a dear brother in the faith, especially to me. But he’s even more to you,” (16) literally: “both in flesh and in the Lord” (Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament). Which paraphrase makes the most sense to you?
- “In the flesh, he’s your slave. In the spirit of the Lord, he’s your brother” (Casual English Bible).
- “Both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (New Living Translation).
- “Personally and spiritually in the Lord!” (Common English Bible).
- “As a person and as a follower of the Lord” (Contemporary English Version).
LIFE APPLICATION. If you needed to persuade someone to do something you know is the right thing to do, what tips would you take from Paul’s example in this letter? And what techniques would you skip?