Philemon: Jesus our Liberator

If you look closely you’ll see that Philemon, Paul’s shortest letter, reveals Transformation and Forgiveness.

Slavery existed in Biblical times and here we find Paul asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus a slave who had run away. Not only was he asking him to forgive him but to receive him not as a slave but as a brother in Christ and release him to the work of the Gospel back with Paul.

Onesimus had escaped to Rome where he met Paul. Paul led him to Jesus embracing him calling him a son in the faith. Paul’s heart was to father many young men deepening their faith.

Phil 1:9-10 I appeal to you (on the basis of love) for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. NIV

Here we find Paul in his 60’s as a very loving father figure constantly mentoring and sacrificially encouraging younger believers to be devoted to the work of the church Jesus came to establish in the earth.

Paul was a very changed man. In his 30’s he was dangerously devoted to religious hate as a member of the Sanhedrin.

Acts 9:1 Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples… NIV

Transformation is a lot like climbing a mountain. It's deliberate and difficult at times. At some point you turn around and your entire point of view has changed. #destinyokc

There is a huge difference between climbing alone and climbing with others. Stronger pace, stay encouraged (sissy), helping others keep stronger pace and be encouraged.

Intentionally choosing to live lives inspired by God in the community of God's family awakens destiny. ‪#‎destinyokc

You must establish patterns of the spirit or you’ll not grow in purposes of the spirit.

1.    Seek God Personally. #turnthepage #prayattention

2.    Seek God corporately. Like Onesimus we’ve moved from slavery to family!

3.    Love, Serve and Give sacrificially to expand the work of God in earth!

GP4RL: This week turn the page, invite somebody tonight & to come back next Sunday.

Every decision we make in response to God has a ripple effect. Everybody in Philemon are behaving differently than they would have before meeting Jesus. Saul/Paul – Philemon had been ripped off as Onesimus ran away probably taking belongings to get a new start. Onesimus now returning in an attitude of surrender hoping to be sent back to Paul but willing to face Philemon submitting this request.

Becoming family together is a fundamental goal of the Gospel. #destinyokc


Click here for a downloadable pdf file of this guide.

A slave named Onesimus had escaped from Philemon. He ran away to Rome and somehow came into contact with Paul, who led him to faith in Jesus. Paul wrote a personal letter to Philemon sending Onesimus to him.

Some have argued against the Bible saying it promotes slavery. The Bible never endorses slavery but it does focus constantly on promoting the attitude of serving, loving and giving no matter what your circumstances may be. 

Paul had explained the gospel to Philemon and had witnessed the profound result: new life blossoming in a once-dead heart (Philemon 1:19). Paul knew that conversion is nothing to trifle with, but that it should be honored and fostered.

So Paul made a request. He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus, to accept the slave as a brother in Christ, and to consider sending Onesimus back to Paul, as the apostle found him useful in God’s service (1:11–14).


    1.    Share one area in your life where God has obviously been at work transforming you. 

Phil 1:9-11I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. NIV

Paul is referencing Onesimus as a spiritual son in the same way he referenced Timothy and Titus. He’s appealing to Philemon to send him back to him now that Onesimus has repented for his wrong to Philemon. In Christ we all become family!

Gal 3:26-29 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. NIV


    2.    Describe a relationship you have with somebody who is family to you though they are not a member of your family. 

Becoming family is a fundamental goal of the Gospel.


    3.    What are some specific things that cause us to refuse to allow people into our lives?

    4.    What are the obvious ingredients to meaningful relationships with friends? 

Last week we talked about how hospitality is welcoming people into your life and at times your home, treating them in a gracious way, having a meal with them inviting another level of friendship. Our city will be transformed by Christian hospitality more effectively than by preaching sermons. Sermons are to be preached so Christians can be empowered to live out the love of Jesus.


    5.    Share one thing you can do this next week to more effectively extend hospitality to someone in your life.


Chuck Swindoll on the book of Philemon:

Who wrote the book?

 For more than two years during his third missionary journey, Paul ministered in Asia Minor among the people of Ephesus. This was a successful period for the apostle to the Gentiles, who saw many converts among both residents of Ephesus and visitors to the city. One of the visitors converted under Paul’s teaching was a man named Philemon, a slaveowner from the nearby city of Colossae (Philemon 1:19). In the Bible book that bears Philemon’s name, Paul addressed his “beloved brother” as a “fellow worker,” a title given to those who served for a time alongside Paul. (Gospel writers Mark and Luke also received this title later in the letter [1:1, 24]). Clearly, a kinship existed between Paul and Philemon, one that would serve a significant purpose in light of the circumstance that brought about the letter.

Where are we?

A slave named Onesimus had escaped from his owner, Philemon, and had run away from Colossae to Rome in the hope that he could disappear into that populous, urban environment. Once in Rome, Onesimus, either by accident or by his own design, came in contact with Paul, who promptly led the runaway slave to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul had already been planning to send a letter to the Colossian church by the hand of Tychicus. So in AD 60 or 61 from a prison cell in Rome, Paul wrote a personal letter to Philemon and sent Onesimus the slave back to Colossae.

Why is Philemon so important?

The letter to Philemon reminds us that God’s revelation to humanity is intensely personal. In more formal biblical works such as the Gospels or the epistle to the Romans or even Paul’s letters to churches at Philippi or Colossae, it might be easy to get the impression that God does not care or have time for the trials and tribulations in a single household. Philemon stands as one piece of strong evidence to the contrary, revealing that lofty doctrines such as the love of God, forgiveness in Christ, or the inherent dignity of humanity have real and pertinent impact in everyday life. The book of Philemon illustrates that principles like these can and should profoundly affect the lives of believers.

What's the big idea?

Paul’s message to Philemon was a simple one: based on the work of love and forgiveness that had been wrought in Philemon’s heart by God, show the same to the escaped and now-believing slave Onesimus. The apostle’s message would have had extra force behind it because he knew Philemon personally. Paul had explained the gospel to Philemon and had witnessed the profound result: new life blossoming in a once-dead heart (Philemon 1:19). Paul knew that conversion is nothing to trifle with, but that it should be honored and fostered.

So Paul made a request. He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus, to accept the slave as a brother in Christ, and to consider sending Onesimus back to Paul, as the apostle found him useful in God’s service (1:11–14). Paul did not minimize Onesimus’s sin. This was not some kind of cheap grace that Paul asked Philemon to offer. No, there was sacrifice required in this request, and because of that, Paul approached the topic with gentleness and care (1:21). His letter to Philemon presents in full color the beautiful and majestic transition from slavery to kinship that comes as a result of Christian love and forgiveness.

How do I apply this?

Live long enough, and you will understand the difficulty of offering forgiveness when you have been wronged. It does not come easy, yet as believers, we have to recognize that our ability and willingness to offer it are the result of Christ’s saving work on the cross. Because of that fact, forgiveness serves as a determining factor in who we say we are and how we hope to live our lives. When we do not forgive, bitterness takes root in our hearts and chokes the vitality out of us.

In what ways has forgiveness been a struggle for you since you accepted Christ’s forgiveness? Allow Paul’s letter to Philemon to encourage forgiveness in your own life, and trust God to foster renewed life in your heart and your relationships.




Every movement we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community. Belief in God alters our language. Love of God affects daily relationships. Hope in God enters into our work. Also their opposites—unbelief, indifference, and despair.

None of these movements and responses, beliefs and prayers, gestures and searches, can be confined to the soul. They spill out and make history. If they don’t, they are under suspicion of being fantasies at best, hypocrisies at worst.

Christians have always insisted on the historicity of Jesus—an actual birth, a datable death, a witnessed resurrection, locatable towns. There is a parallel historicity in the followers of Jesus. As they take in everything Jesus said and did—all of it a personal revelation of God in time and place—it all gets worked into local history, eventually into world history.

Philemon and Onesimus, the slave owner and slave who figure prominently in this letter from Paul, had no idea that believing in Jesus would involve them in radical social change. But as the two of them were brought together by this letter, it did. And it still does.