Daily Devotional

May 8, 2019

Daybreak: Philemon 1:1-25

“If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” (Philemon 1:17-18)

In 1956, five missionaries were killed when they made contact with a tribe living along the Curaray River in Ecuador. Their story inspired other believers toward full commitment to Christ. Now, more than fifty years after their deaths, the follow-up story is an inspiration in forgiveness. Both the sister and the wife of one of the missionaries chose to continue the efforts to reach that tribe, and eventually they accepted the good news of Jesus Christ. Children and grandchildren of the murdered missionaries have ministered there and worshiped with believers from the tribe. Some years after the killing, one of the converted killers even baptized the son and daughter of one of the martyred men.

While most of us will not face a challenge to forgive like these missionary families did, all of us encounter situations where forgiveness is needed. Offenses may range from minor irritations in marriage to infidelity, or from hasty words spoken by parents to years of child abuse. They may occur on the playground, in the classroom, on the job, or in the church. Whether it is a misunderstanding or true mistreatment, everyone faces circumstances which demand forgiveness. And each new situation requires a new decision to do so.

In our focus verse, Paul the Apostle was entreating Philemon to forgive Onesimus. A former slave of Philemon, Onesimus had run away and perhaps even stolen some items from his master when he left. Later, Onesimus came into contact with Paul, probably in Rome where Paul was a prisoner at the time. After God convicted Onesimus and he was saved, Paul sent him back to Philemon with a letter containing this plea. When Philemon received the letter, he faced the choice of whether or not to forgive. 

We, too, face choices about forgiving those who have wronged us. At times that may not be easy. Perhaps the hurt is so deep that forgiveness seems an impossibility, and earnest prayer is necessary to obtain or retain a godly attitude. Yet forgiving is worth any price, because it makes us eligible to receive God’s forgiveness, and it releases us from the bitterness that Satan would bind around our hearts.

When faced with a decision of forgiveness, let us choose to seek God for a forgiving heart!

Background

In this short personal letter, Paul the Apostle sent greetings to Philemon, told of his prayers for him, made a plea for the forgiveness of Onesimus, and asked him to treat Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

The first three verses contain Paul’s greeting. Philemon was a resident of Colosse, and the believers there met in his home. He was wealthy enough to have at least one slave, Onesimus. Paul’s salutation extended to Apphia, who may have been Philemon’s wife, and Archippus, possibly Philemon’s son or a responsible member of the Colossian church. 

Verses 4-7 give Paul’s prayer for Philemon. He thanked God for Philemon’s love and faith, and for his faithfulness as a follower of Jesus, which was reflected in his actions toward other Christians. Their hearts (bowels) were refreshed by Philemon.

In verse 8, Paul moved on to the point of his letter. As an older man and also a prisoner, Paul did not demand forgiveness of Philemon, but rather pled for it. Onesimus had been Philemon’s slave and had escaped, perhaps stealing some of Philemon’s possessions when he left (verse 18). Yet, he had come under Paul’s preaching and had been saved, and Paul loved him as a son. 

Onesimus means “profitable” or “useful.” Although he had not been useful previously, salvation had caused Onesimus to become useful and valuable to Paul. He would have liked to keep Onesimus with him to minister to him, as Philemon would have done had he been there. However, according to Roman law, Onesimus belonged to Philemon. Therefore, Paul would not keep him without Philemon’s permission. Paul sent Onesimus back, but he entreated Philemon to receive him, forgive him, and treat him as a brother in Christ. While not addressing slavery directly, Paul was showing the godly attitude believers should have toward one another. 

Paul offered to personally pay Philemon for anything Onesimus had stolen or damaged, but then gently indicated to Philemon that what he owed Paul, as his spiritual father, far exceeded Onesimus’ debt. This was a picture of how Christ by His Blood paid sin’s penalty for those who repent, and they are eternally indebted to Him. 

Paul expected Philemon to do all that he requested, and perhaps more. He expressed his confidence in Philemon and his prayers. Paul closed with greetings from his fellow laborers and a prayer for God’s blessing upon Philemon. 

Amplified Outline

(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I.   Introduction (1:1-3)
     A.   The writers and recipients (1:1-2)
     B.   The salutation (1:3)
II.   The thanksgiving of Paul (1:4-7)
     A.   The fact of his thanksgiving (1:4)
     B.   The cause of his thanksgiving (1:5)
     C.   The petition with his thanksgiving (1:6)
     D.   The motive of his thanksgiving (1:7)
III.   The appeal of Paul (1:8-21)
     A.   The source for his appeal (1:8-9)
     B.   The object of his appeal (1:10-11)
     C.   The reason for his appeal (1:12-14)
     D.   The necessity of his appeal (1:15-16)
     E.   The basis for his appeal (1:17-21)
          1.   Paul’s identification with Onesimus (1:17)
          2.   Paul’s willingness to pay Onesimus’ debt (1:18)
          3.   Philemon’s indebtedness to Paul (1:19)
          4.   Paul’s refreshment in Philemon (1:20)
          5.   Paul’s confidence in Philemon (1:21)
IV.   Conclusion (1:22-25)
     A.   Personal plans (1:22)
     B.   Personal greetings (1:23-24)
     C.   Benediction (1:25)

A Closer Look

  1. Why was Philemon a friend of Paul?
     
  2. While Onesimus was running away from Philemon, he encountered Paul. What does this show?
     
  3. How might our willingness to forgive affect others around us?

Conclusion

The letter of Paul to Philemon gives a true-life example of the need for forgiveness. How will we react if we face an opportunity to forgive today?

Reference Materials