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Introduction to Philemon

This is the first lesson in a series of lessons on the book of Philemon. In this lesson I’m going to talk about why. Why is Philemon in the Bible? I’m going to divide this into three parts. 

The first part is why was this letter originally written? In other words, there was a point in time in history where a man sat down and wrote this book we call Philemon. Why? What was he trying to accomplish by writing this letter? What prompted him to write this letter? 

The second part of the question is why did the Holy Spirit inspire the writing of this letter and cause it to be included in the Holy Scriptures? What does the Holy Spirit want the church to learn from this letter?

The third part of this is why is this letter important or valuable to you and me? What are you and I suppose to take from this letter as we live in the 21st century? 

Watch the video or scroll down to read a transcript.

Transcript:

Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This is the first lesson in a series of lessons on the book of Philemon. In this lesson I’m going to talk about why. Why is Philemon in the Bible? I’m going to divide this into three parts. 

The first part is why was this letter originally written? In other words, there was a point in time in history where a man sat down and wrote this book we call Philemon. Why? What was he trying to accomplish by writing this letter? What prompted him to write this letter? 

The second part of the question is why did the Holy Spirit inspire the writing of this letter and cause it to be included in the Holy Scriptures? What does the Holy Spirit want the church to learn from this letter?

The third part of this is why is this letter important or valuable to you and me? What are you and I suppose to take from this letter as we live in the 21st century? 

That’s what I’m going to talk about in this lesson. I’m going to start by reading the book of Philemon. It’s not a very long book. It’ll take a few minutes. As I read, I want you to think about these questions, particularly the question about why was this letter originally written? Why did a man sit down and write this letter that we call the Book of Philemon? 

Philemon 1:1  Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy the brother, to Philemon, the beloved and our fellow-worker, 2 and to Apphia the sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the assembly in your house. 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:4  I always give thanks to my God, making mention of you during my prayers,  5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 so that the fellowship of your faith might be effective in the knowledge of every good which is in us for Christ. 7 Indeed, I came to have much joy and encouragement from your love because the hearts of the saints were refreshed through you, brother.

Philemon 1:8  Therefore, having enough boldness in Christ to order you to do that which is proper, 9 because of love, I rather exhort, being of such a kind as Paul, now elderly, but also a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I exhort you concerning my child Onesimus, whom I begat during the imprisonment, 11 the one formerly useless to you, but now useful to you and me, 12 whom I sent to you. This is our heart, 13 whom I wish to keep to myself so that on your behalf he might minister to me during the imprisonment for the gospel. 14 However, without your consent I wanted to do nothing, so that your goodness might be due not to compulsion, but rather to willingness.

Philemon 1:15  Indeed, perhaps for this reason he was separated for a time, in order that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, rather more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 Therefore, if you regard me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to me. 19 I, Paul, write with my own hand. I will repay (so that I might not mention to you that you also owe me your own self). 20 Yes, brother, I hope to have joy from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

Philemon 1:21  Being confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do more than I say. 22 Moreover, at the same time, prepare also a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you.

Philemon 1:23  Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you. 24 Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke are my fellow-workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

That is the book of Philemon. As I said earlier, I want to talk about why. Why is Philemon in the Bible? What should you and I learn from this? 

Let’s start with why this book was originally written. There was a point in time where a man named Paul sat down and wrote this letter. Why? What prompted him to write this letter? 

There was a man named Philemon who owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus ran away to Paul. While he was with Paul, Onesimus became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him so that Onesimus could minister to Paul while Paul was in prison. However, Paul knew the right thing was to send Onesimus back to Philemon because Onesimus was a slave of Philemon. 

However, Paul didn’t want to send Onesimus back empty handed. Paul wanted to communicate to Philemon that Onesimus was now a brother in Christ. So Paul wrote this letter that he sent along with Onesimus when he sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that Onesimus could give this letter to Philemon. 

This letter was Paul’s way of communicating to Philemon. Paul informed Philemon in this letter that Onesimus was now a brother in Christ. Paul asked Philemon to extend grace and mercy to Onesimus. Also, Paul offered to pay anything that Onesimus might owe to Philemon.

That’s why this was originally written. Paul knew he had to send Onesimus back to Philemon. Paul wrote a letter that he could send with Onesimus to Philemon communicating to Philemon.  

Now let’s talk about why the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of this letter. Why did the Holy Spirit want this letter included in the Holy Scriptures? What does the Holy Spirit want Christians to learn from this? 

There are multiple verses in the Bible addressed to masters and slaves telling them how to treat each other, particularly when one or both of them is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. This story about Philemon and Onesimus that we find in the book of Philemon is a short, little story that illustrates what it looks like to live out those commands. This is a short, little story that illustrates what it should look like for masters and slaves to relate to each other, particularly when one or both of them is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit intends for us to read this letter and look at it as an example of how to live out commands found elsewhere in the Bible. 

Now let’s talk about why this book is valuable to you and me. For the most part, slavery is illegal in the 21st century. It’s natural to read Philemon and think it’s not relevant to you and me. However, we have to keep several things in mind. 

First, for the most part, throughout church history, slavery has been legal. There have been many Christians over the last 2,000 years to whom this book was very relevant and applicable because they lived in a culture where slavery was a reality. 

Furthermore, while slavery is illegal in our culture, there are scenarios where people exercise authority over other people. Government officials exercise authority over the citizens. Police officers exercise authority over the general public. In the military, there are people of higher rank exercising authority over people of lower rank. There are employers who exercise authority over employees. 

There are verses in the Bible that talk about exercising and submitting to authority. Philemon is not only an illustration of how masters and slaves are to treat each other when one or both of them is a believer, but this story also illustrates how to exercise authority and how to submit to authority in multiple contexts, particularly when one or both of them is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In summary, why was this letter originally written? Paul knew he had to send Onesimus back to Philemon and Paul wrote the letter of Philemon to send along with Onesimus so that Onesimus could take a message from Paul to Philemon when Onesimus went back to his master. The Holy Spirit inspired this letter because it’s an illustration showing us how to live out various commands we find in the Bible about how masters and slaves are to relate to one another. This letter is relevant to you and I because, even though slavery is illegal in our culture, there are many scenarios in our culture where people exercise authority over other people. 

Sometimes Christians exercise authority over other people. Sometimes Christians submit to people in authority. Sometimes it’s both. Sometimes Christians exercise authority over other Christians. As Christians, we need to know how to exercise that authority, how to submit to that authority, and how to relate to our fellow Christians, both as brothers and sisters in Christ, and also within this context where some people have authority over other people. The book of Philemon is a short, little story that illustrates for us how to live out the commands that tell us how to relate to one another in the context of authority when we are also brothers and sisters in Christ. 

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