Let’s take a different approach in this post. Our working outline for Philemon divides the short book into four sections. Let’s use that outline to generate questions that will aid our reading and study of the book. Rather than sharing facts or context, I will offer questions that you can use as tools to break down what you are reading. Sound good? Let’s give it a go.
Here is our working outline:
Paul’s Greeting – verses 1-3
In the greeting or conclusion of many of Paul’s letters he often specifically names or refers to fellow believers. Take a moment and look at some of Paul’s letters to see this common practice of his. Why do you think that Paul consistently did this?
Forgiveness requires Christ-like character. 4-7
These verses show us the stellar character of Philemon. How many Christ-like traits can you spot in these verses? As you spot them, jot them down. Use them as you pray and ask God to develop those same characteristics in your heart and mind.
Forgiveness requires Christ-like actions. 8-18
Paul had led Onesimus to Christ. As a brother in Christ, Paul then began to help restore Onesimus to Philemon. This would not be easy, or simple. Is there a fellow believer in your life that needs your help or encouragement? Take a moment and pray about it. Be still. Wait. I am certain that God will bring someone to mind. Then, consider calling them or sending them a note to encourage them. When someone needs our help it rarely happens at a time that suits our schedule (Paul was in prison after all, not exactly a place of convenience or comfort). We have to go out of our own way it we want to be useful to others.
By the way, there is a great play on words in verse 11. In the original language of the New Testament the name Onesimus means “useful.” In verse 11, Paul says that because of his disobedience “Useful” was no longer “useful” to Philemon, but now, in Christ Onesimus is “useful” again. Ponder on that one for a little while. There is a great lesson and it is beautifully crafted. God’s word reveals His truth and Himself, and God does it with amazing images, language, and word play. In your daily Bible reading keep your antennae perked to spot how God uses words cleverly to convey His truth.
Forgiveness requires Christ-like motives. 19-25
For the sake of Onesimus and Philemon, Paul was willing to do, or pay, whatever it took to re-connect the two. He was putting his money where his motives were. Paul longed for their reconciliation. He was willing to go to any lengths to see it through.
Is there an act of service, or sacrifice, that you need to consider for a fellow believer? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see it through?
Sometimes, pesky questions give us powerful answers — answers that move us toward Christ and shape us to become more like Him.