Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on Philemon 1:4-21

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Prayer and Thanksgiving - Philemon 1:4-7

4-7 Prayer and Thanksgiving for Philemon. Following conventions of letter-writing and speech-making to connect with his reader, Paul begins by acknowledging how Philemon’s loving service and hospitality have refreshed him and other believers in Christ. Unconventionally, however, Paul prays for Philemon to grow in and spread his faith in Christ (vv4-7). This love, hospitality and faith will also provide the basis for Paul’s appeal to Philemon for new action (v9). Paul’s pastoral prayers of thanksgiving for the work of the gospel and the Holy Spirit in God’s people were a regular feature at the beginning of his letters (cf. Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2).

Refreshed hearts - Philemon 1:7

7 refreshed . . . hearts. In v5 Paul acknowledged Philemon’s love for all the saints. He elaborates here on how he has been refreshed personally, and sets the stage for how his heart, Onesimus, may benefit as well. Paul uses synecdoche, a figure of speech wherein a part of something represents the whole thing. Refreshed hearts refers to refreshed or encouraged people or lives.

Appeal on Behalf of Onesimus - Philemon 1:8-21

8-21 Appeal on Behalf of Onesimus. In the main body of his letter, Paul appeals to Philemon to receive Onesimus back into his household, “no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother” (v16). Paul provides at least four reasons why Philemon should grant his request, two with reference to himself and two with reference to Philemon: First, Onesimus had become useful and dear to Paul (10-12). Second, whatever debts Onesimus may have created in relation to Philemon, Paul was willing to pay himself (18-19). Third, Paul honored Philemon’s right to decide how to deal with Onesimus’ debts (8-9, 14). However, fourth, Paul asked Philemon to address Onesimus’ debts to him in the light of his own debts to Paul (17, 19-20).

Apostolic authority - Philemon 1:8

8 Though Paul had apostolic authority over Philemon, Onesimus and the church in Colossae (see note on Col. 1:1), he appealed to Philemon on a more foundational basis—God’s love in the gospel and the love it fosters between fellow believers.

Paul's long service of love - Philemon 1:9

9 an old man . . . a prisoner. Paul appeals to Philemon also on the basis of his long service of love to God’s people, even to the point of imprisonment (v1, 9).

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