First we notice that Paul is in prison. Philemon is one of four letters Paul wrote from prison. The other three are Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Colossians has some interesting overlap with Philemon. Both are introduced as coming from both Paul and Timothy. Both introduce Paul as a prisoner (Philemon 1:1, Col 4:3). Both mention Onesimus and Archipus (Philemon 1:1:2, Col 4:9, 17). In the final greetings section of both letters, 5 out of 6 of the people mentioned are in both Philemon and Colossians. So we would probably be correct to assume that Philemon lives in Colossae.
In 1:2 we notice that Philemon is probably the head of a house church. The early church didn’t meet in large auditoriums. They met in homes and were probably congregations of 50or less scattered throughout the city.
In 1:3 Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” When you read through Philemon were there any things Paul wrote that could bring you grace and peace just as he intended Philemon to experience it?
Next we find the thanksgiving and prayer section. It sounds like Paul prays specifically for Philemon, by name, and on regular occasions. Who do you find yourself praying for on a regular basis and what makes those people different from others you might pray for regularly?
In verse 6 he prays that Philemon would basically be more evangelistic. We typically think we evangelize to bring a benefit to someone else. But notice Paul flips it here. What benefit does he pray for Philemon to experience in verse 6 as the result of sharing his faith with others?
How do you think you might be benefited in the same way when you share your faith with those around you?It makes sense that the more we share or tell something to others, the better, richer and deeper understanding we will personally have regarding what we share. You might have thought Paul would have told him to “share the Gospel” but instead what does he tell him to share?What is the difference/is there a difference?
What does Paul say Philemon has done that has given him great joy?
How might you go about “refreshing the hearts of the saints” today?
In verse 8 Paul starts off with a pretty strong appeal. Who is Paul appealing for and why?
Why do you think Paul wants this to be Onesimus’ own decision and not something done because Paul is twisting his arm?
Paul wants Onesimus to do this out of love and not out of obligation…and yet Paul is certainly doing some arm twisting in this letter! Paul is making a big appeal here. Something like… “I am old…you wouldn’t want to spite an old man would you? Onesimus is like a son to me…surely you would take back someone I consider a son. I have the right to order you but I wouldn’t do that! No…instead do it because you are supposed to love others.” Paul is really putting the pressure on Philemon to do the right thing.