Philemon is about reconciliation and relationships between Christians. Onesimus (which means “useful”) was a slave of a believer named Philemon in Colossae. Apparently Onesimus had stolen from Philemon and fled. At some time while Paul was under arrest, Onesimus met him and became a Christian. Paul apparently wrote this letter at the same time as Colossians and gave it to Onesimus to carry back to Philemon (see Col. 4:9). Paul appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, but as a brother in the Lord rather than a slave. In Paul’s estimation, Onesimus was far more “useful” (v. 11) now that he was a Christian. Paul even promised to pay whatever debt Onesimus might owe Philemon.
1 Paul, aa prisoner for Christ Jesus, and bTimothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and cArchippus our dfellow soldier, and ethe church in your house:
3 fGrace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 gI thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hhear of your love and iof the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full jknowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.1 7 For I have derived much joy and kcomfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints lhave been refreshed through you.
8 Accordingly, mthough I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do nwhat is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now oa prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for pmy child, qOnesimus,2 rwhose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me son your behalf tduring my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be uby compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why vhe was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 wno longer as a bondservant3 but more than a bondservant, as xa beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, yboth in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me zyour partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 aI, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. bRefresh my heart in Christ.
21 cConfident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for dI am hoping that ethrough your prayers fI will be graciously given to you.
23 gEpaphras, my hfellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do iMark, iAristarchus, jDemas, and jLuke, my fellow workers.
25 kThe grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Or for Christ’s service
For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface twice in this verse