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Philemon 1:15-20 We Are Family

Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This is the eighth lesson in a series of lessons on the Book of Philemon. In this lesson I’m going to look at verses 15 thru 20 and talk about being family.

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Transcript:

Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This is the eighth lesson in a series of lessons on the book of Philemon. In this lesson I’m going to look at verses 15 through 20 and talk about family. 

I mentioned in earlier lessons that Philemon is in the Bible because it’s a short little story that illustrates how to live out various commands we see in the New Testament about how to exercise authority and how to submit to authority. What I’m going to do in this lesson is go through the New Testament and look at some of those verses, verses that talk about how to exercise authority and how to submit to authority. Then I’m going to read the book of Philemon to see how Paul brought in the concept of family and how the fact that we are brothers and sisters in Christ affects how we live out the commands that are given about exercising authority and submitting to authority 

Let’s get started in Ephesians.

Eph. 6:5   Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

Here, slaves were told to be obedient to their masters. They were specifically told to obey their earthly masters, their masters according to the flesh. They were also told to submit to their earthly masters as if they were submitting to Christ. We see that in verse five. We also seen in verse six “as slaves of Christ”. We see in verse seven “as to the Lord”. Slaves were told to obey their masters as if they were obeying the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. 

Eph. 6:9   And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Masters were told not to threaten their slaves. Masters were also reminded that they too have a master in heaven. Then they were reminded that they and their slaves have the same heavenly master. So while masters have authority over their slaves, there is also a sense in which masters and their slaves, when they’re all followers of Jesus, are also equal, because they all have the same heavenly master.

Col. 3:22   Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

Again, slaves were told to obey their earthly masters. They were reminded in verse 24 that it is the Lord Jesus Christ whom they serve.

Col. 4:1   Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Here, masters were told to give justice and fairness to their slaves. Masters were reminded again that they too have a master in heaven. 

1Tim. 6:1   All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. 2 Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

Slaves were told that when their master is a believer, they cannot use that as an excuse to be disrespectful. They still have to respect their master, and they must actually serve them all the more because of the fact that they are a fellow believer.

Titus 2:9   Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.

In this verse bondslaves were told to be subject to their own masters in everything. 

We see in these verses instructions on how to exercise authority and how to submit to authority. Something that comes up a little bit in the background is the idea that when both the master and the slave are followers of Christ, then there’s a sense in which they’re not merely master and slave, they’re also brothers in Christ, and there’s a sense in which they’re also equal. 

Now let’s take a look at Philemon to see how Paul addresses that very directly. The main verses I want to look at are verses 15 through 20, but I’m going to start at verse one for context. 

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.

In verse nine we see that Paul exhorted Philemon to do the right thing. Paul was writing to Philemon about a man named Onesimus. Onesimus apparently became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ while Onesimus was visiting Paul. Paul was in prison. Paul knew that Onesimus was a slave of Philemon. Therefore, Paul knew that Onesimus had to go back and submit to his master Philemon. That’s why Paul mentioned in verse 12 that he was sending Onesimus back to Philemon. 

Paul did that even though he wanted to keep Onesimus with himself. Paul wanted Onesimus to serve Paul on behalf of Philemon, but Paul knew that since Onesimus was a slave of Philemon, Onesimus had to go back to Philemon.

Paul stated in verse 14 that he didn’t want to do anything without Philemon’s consent. Paul didn’t want to force Philemon to allow Onesimus to serve Paul,

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. 

Paul brought up the fact that Onesimus was now a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was not merely a slave. He was more than a slave. He was now a beloved brother. That changed the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. Philemon was still master over Onesimus, and Onesimus was still a slave to Philemon. But in addition to that, they were also brothers in Christ. So in one sense Philemon had authority over Onesimus, but in another sense they were equal because they were both followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:17 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.

Paul practiced what he was teaching. Paul was an Apostle. Paul was also a Roman citizen. Paul was probably high up in the social order of the day. Onesimus was a slave. Onesimus would have been low in the social order. However, even though Paul was a Roman citizen and Onesimus was a slave, Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus as if Onesimus was Paul himself. Paul was willing to lower himself and ask Philemon to accept a slave on his behalf. 

Paul was living out what he was teaching. Paul himself treated Onesimus as a brother in Christ, even though Paul was a Roman citizen and Onesimus was a slave. In addition, Paul offered to pay anything that Onesimus might owe to Philemon. Paul was treating an Onesimus as a brother in Christ. 

As we go through the New Testament and look at verses that give instructions on how to exercise authority and how to submit to authority, one of the concepts that comes up is the concept that as followers of Jesus, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. When a Christian has authority over another Christian, there’s a sense that the one has authority over the other, but there’s also a sense that they are both equal because they are brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Paul addressed that very directly. Paul pointed out to Philemon that Onesimus was now a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. That meant that Onesimus was now not merely a slave, he was also a brother. Philemon was still master over Onesimus. Philemon still had authority over Onesimus, but there was also a sense in which they were equal because they were both brothers in Christ. 

We see that Paul lived that out in how he treated Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Paul was a Roman citizen. Onesimus was a slave, but Paul treated him as an equal. He retreated him as a brother in Christ. 

As we go through our lives as Christians in the 21st century, there will be times that we will have authority over another Christian. While it’s appropriate to exercise that authority, we have to remember that, in one sense, we’re also equals. As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. In that sense we are equal and that has to influence how we exercise authority and how we submit to authority. 

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Scripture quotations from Philemon taken from a translation by Bible Mountain.

“All other Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)

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