Lessons from Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Text: Philemon 1

Philemon was a wealthier Christian who lived in Colossae or the surrounding area. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who had run away, met Paul, and obeyed the gospel. Paul was sending him back to Philemon along with this letter. This lesson discusses what we can learn from Paul’s letter to Philemon.

Develop a Reputation for Good Works (v. 4-7)

  • His love and faith (v. 5) – toward the Lord (Matthew 22:37-38; Hebrews 11:6); also toward the saints (1 John 4:21; 1 Corinthians 13:7)
  • Fellowship (communication, KJV) of his faith (v. 6) – sharing what he had with others; he was an example to others (Matthew 5:16); this is more effective as the knowledge of his deeds was known
  • Refreshing the hearts of the saints (v. 7) – more than just encouraging, though this is included; he would help lighten the burden of those who were doing the Lord’s work (cf. 3 John 5-8)

Do Not Obey Grudgingly (v. 8-9)

  • Paul could “order” him to do what was right (v. 8) – he was an apostle, an official spokesman for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20); what he commanded carried the same weight as the words of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:37)
  • Yet he knew he could appeal to Philemon “for love’s sake” (v. 9) – he knew Philemon would want to do what was right; based on his reputation (v. 4-7); God wants us to obey willingly (principle of 2 Corinthians 9:7); real obedience is from the heart (Romans 6:17)

Make Sacrifices for the Lord’s Work (v. 10-14)

  • We already noticed the “fellowship of [his] faith” (v. 6) – necessarily involves making sacrifices; he was also willing to open his home for the congregation in that place (v. 2); he would also aid the apostle Paul in his work and travel (v. 20, 22)
  • A slave was a servant/worker – valuable for what he was able to do (v. 11); Paul made it clear that Onesimus was also valuable to him (v. 11, 13); Paul sent Onesimus back because it was right to do so (v. 12), even though Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him (v. 13); so Paul implicitly requested that Philemon would send Onesimus back to him (v. 14); this would have been a sacrifice on his part because Onesimus was useful (v. 11)
  • We need to also make sacrifices for the Lord’s work (Romans 12:8; Philippians 3:7-8; Luke 9:23)

Forgive Those Who Wrong You (v. 15-19)

  • Prior to meeting Paul, Onesimus was just a runaway slave – wronged Philemon by leaving (Colossians 3:22); but now he was a brother in Christ (v. 16); Philemon needed to forgive him (v. 18)
  • We need to be willing to forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 18:21-22) – necessary to be forgiven by God (Matthew 6:12, 14-15); not to hold grudges against others (James 5:9)
  • Paul reminded Philemon of the debt he owed him (v. 19) – we are in debt to others too in various ways; if we want others to forgive us, we should be forgiving as well (principle of Matthew 7:12)

Go Above and Beyond What Is Expected (v. 21)

  • Paul was confident that Philemon would do what he instructed him to do (v. 21) – and even more
  • Do we try to do the least that we can in our service to the Lord? … Or do we go above and beyond?
  • We need to be like the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) – they first gave themselves to God, then sacrificed


  • Paul was confident that Philemon would obey his instructions (v. 21)
  • Why? – Philemon proved to be trustworthy, dependable, and faithful in the Lord’s service
  • Can the same be said of us?

When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on the Gospel, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Road Trip.