Philemon: 19 – 25
19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
23 Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you,* 24and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow-workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.*
Paul has said that if Onesimus owes Philemon anything, or if his running away has cost Philemon anything, then Paul himself will repay it. He goes so far as to write this himself; it is a solemn debt he accepts. But, he then goes on to state that Philemon is indebted to him, owes him his own self, saying that he is not mentioning this, even as, of course, he mentions it! He is applying pressure to Philemon’s conscience, and calling on his friendship, to treat the returning Onesimus as a brother, rather than as a runaway slave. He pleads that Philemon may let him have this, as a gift from him, in the Lord, stating that this gift will refresh his heart! Going on, he states his confidence that his friend will do even more than he asks. Paul is making an intense, personal plea for the sake of the slave who has become a friend, almost a son, to him. He never denies that Philemon has the right to treat Onesimus poorly – they do, after all, live in the first century, in a time and place where slavery was never questioned. He asks Philemon to relinquish his “rights” and to treat this man differently. Don’t we all sometimes put too much emphasis on what is our “right”? He does not attack the system of slavery, but addresses the individual, about an individual. Does this mean that Paul would have us continue to support slavery today? No, Paul lived in his own time, his own culture. He seeks to encourage those to whom he writes to do the best thing within the structure of the times. What we should gain from this is that we should do the best thing within the structure of our times. We cannot use Paul’s words to support slavery today, although people in the South prior to the Civil War did exactly that, and people when I was growing up used them to support segregation – that is not in keeping with Jesus’ message of loving our neighbor!
Changing topics, he asks that Philemon prepare a guest room for him, as he hopes soon to be released and come to him. Again, this makes sense if he is imprisoned in Ephesus, but not for an imprisonment in Rome. He sends him greetings, just as he had sent to the Colossians, from those with him, including Epaphras, Luke, Mark, Aristarchus, and Demas, all of whom he calls his co-workers.
And finally, he closes with a benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”