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May 18, 2009
The Restoration Process


Valuing People
Recognize Relationships








Valuing Co-workers
Remember One’s Attributes
Valuing a Friend
Rescue, Redeem, and Receive the Unworthy
Valuing Each Other

General Comments and Setting:

This letter is very personal, similar to Philippians Chapter 1 and Colossians. I believe this letter was couriered by Tychicus along with the letter to Colossae. Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, was being escorted back to Philemon. Perhaps Paul had some indication that he was to be released soon in that he asks Philemon to have the guest room ready. My theory is that Paul was released sometime later and went on a fourth unrecorded missionary journey [Luke was not with him]. A part of that fourth journey was to Crete, where he left Titus, and then to Ephesus, where he left Timothy. Paul could have visited Philemon’s home before leaving for Macedonia where he wrote I and II Timothy. But this is speculation on my part.

Most scholars believe Onesimus was a runaway slave who somehow hooked up with Paul in Rome. I prefer a different senario. I think it is more likely that Philemon sent Onesimus to Rome as a gift to Paul and as a form of punishment for wronging Philemon [vs. 18] by being lazy or mishandling some of his stewardship responsibilities. He is being returned because there is some informal timetable involved [vs. 12-15]. Onesimus could but doesn’t have to be a slave as we would naturally think of such in America. He could have been educated, competent, and very capable of some trade, even a medical person, as high on the social ladder as a bond-servant. One could even speculate that he was sent to receive training from Luke, Paul’s personal physician. But all we know from scripture is that he was a slave responsible to Philemon. Specifics and details are not recorded. They are not as significant and important as is his redemption and restoration.

Philemon evidently came to faith through Paul’s preaching and had a unique ministry of a.] loving the saints and b.] refreshing their hearts. He was an encourager, a motivator, a stabilizing influence, a unifier, a promoter of hospitality and fellowship. But he needs to be encouraged to be more outgoing in sharing his faith [vs. 6].

Paul has led Omesimus to Christ, trained him for the gospel work, and is now sending him back to his master. Onesimus has the heart of Paul so he will complement Philemon’s ministry, showing him how to share his faith openly with boldness. Onesimus has changed from being useless to being a fellow worker, a partner, just like Philemon. Paul calls Onesimus a son, an honor only bestowed upon Timothy and Titus. So he is very highly thought of by Paul. Tradition speculates that Onesimus later became the bishop of Ephesus.

One wonders why this letter was chosen for canonization in that it is so personal and so specific. But why not? It is a real life story of redemption and restoration. Isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Woven into the theme of restoration [what] is the importance of valuing people [how]. So we have a real life example that shows us what is important and how to accomplish it for the sake of Christ. We are being taught by example through this letter .

As I read through the letter several times I became aware that Philemon is “like God the Father”; that Paul is “like God the Son”; and that Onesimus is “like us”. I thought I had an original thought here but then I discovered in one of my commentaries that such a discovery was attributed to Martin Luther.

I will briefly summarize this letter but the real message for us is contained in the outline[s] on the previous page and the applications drawn later.


Verses 1-3:

Paul and Timothy are writing to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the church; acknowledging their special service to Christ and wishing them peace and grace. This greeting is short, simple, and to the point.

Verses 4-7:

Paul thanks God for their faith and love of the saints. He encourages them to share their faith and receive the blessing that comes from so doing. He acknowledges their gift of love and the refreshing of hearts which causes joy and encouragement to Paul.

Verses 8-19:

Paul appeals on behalf of Onesimus to Philemon [instead of commanding him] on the basis of their love for each other and their love for Christ. Onesimus has become a son [believer, born again] while Paul has been in prison. He has changed from being useless to being useful to them. Paul is sending Onesimus back even though he could use him more. Whether he returned to Paul is Philemon’s decision. Onesimus is now more valuable than a slave. He is now a “brother” and has become “dear” to both Paul and Philemon. Paul asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus just as he would welcome himself and states that he will repay any debt owed by Onesimus [in other words accept Onesimus as if he were a “free man”]. Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his life [eternal life] to Paul’s ministry.

Verses 20-23:

Paul asks Philemon for a personal favor too; “refresh my heart”. Paul expresses confidence in Philemon because he is known for doing more than he is asked or required. Paul says to prepare a guest room for him and pray for his release. The team in Rome sends its’ greeting together with God’s grace.

The Characters:

Where verses are referenced, the information is scriptural. If verses are not referenced, the information is based on tradition or speculation.


  • Friend and fellow worker to Paul [1]
  • Church meets in his home [2]
  • Strong faith in Christ [5]
  • Great love for the saints [5]
  • Shy in sharing his faith [6]
  • Gives joy and encouragement [7]
  • Brother in Christ [7]
  • Refreshes the hearts of saints [7]
  • Obedient to Christ and Apostolic authority [8,21]
  • Partner with Paul [17]
  • Goes the “extra mile” [21]
  • Wealthy gentile
  • Lives in Colossae


  • Sister in the faith [2]
  • Philemon’s wife
  • Managed the household slaves


  • Fellow soldier for Christ [2]
  • Philemon’s son
  • Pastor at Colossae


  • Paul’s “son” [10]
  • Was useless to Philemon [11]
  • Now is useful to Philemon [11]
  • Has the heart of Paul [12]
  • Paul’s helper [13]
  • Separated from Philemon [15]
  • A brother in Christ [16]
  • “Dear” to both Paul and Philemon [16]
  • A slave [16]
  • “Wronged or stolen” from Philemon [17]
  • Faithful [Col. 4:9]
  • Ran away to Rome
  • Became the Bishop of the Church

The Conversion of Onesimus Resulted in:

  • Life vs. death/physical harm
  • A reason to live vs. no reason to live
  • Redemption vs. condemnation
  • Forgiven vs. forsaken
  • Accepted vs. rejected
  • Useful vs. useless
  • Worthy vs. unworthy
  • Industrious vs. lazy
  • Great Value vs. little value

It’s worth noting that what happened to Onesimus happens to all who believe in and place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Application Thoughts:

Make your redemption known, bearing the cross of cultural flak. That is; be like Onesimus and the “new” Philemon.

One doesn’t manage people very long before one realizes the importance of valuing people for purposes of improved productivity, accomplishing objectives, agreeing on purpose and vision, unity in changing direction, promoting loyalty and harmony etc. Everything one wants to do in the workplace goes faster and easier if you value people for their capability/gifts/ideas and trust them with responsibility. People want to be of value and to be valued. We have discussed what happened to Onesimus and now we will focus on the other part of the outline which focuses on how it has and will happen.

When we Value a Person:

  1. We forgive and forget their past.
  2. We accept them in the present.
  3. We prepare them for the future.

A Valued Person is:

  1. Loved and appreciated.
  2. Recognized for their worth.
  3. Supported in tough times.
  4. Dependable, persistent, and industrious.
  5. Growing and maturing.
  6. One with whom you can not get along without.

A Valued Person will change from:

  1. Useless to useful.
  2. Slave to free.
  3. Insecure to secure.
  4. Unworthy to worthy.
  5. Lazy to industrious.

The value of a person is based on his/her willingness to work/serve and not on their wealth or social position.

Valuing Others:

  1. Earns respect.
  2. Increases performance.
  3. Increases opportunities for the Gospel.
  4. Increases growth and maturity.
  5. Increases our own value.

We go about Valuing People by/with:

  1. Appreciative words.
  2. Increasing their skills.
  3. Coaching/mentoring.
  4. Expressing confident trust.
  5. Assigning challenging tasks with increasing responsibility.
  6. Recognizing and rewarding results.
  7. Celebrating talents.
  8. Bearing one another’s burdens.
  9. Following their progress; taking a personal interest.
  10. Sharing emotions.
  11. Working together.
  12. Providing support.
  13. Together, developing clear objectives.
  14. Seeking ideas for improvement.
  15. Etc.

One of Philemon’s gifts was that of Refreshing Hearts. It was a valued gift but just what does it entail? What does this gift look like? How do we go about it? I don’t have a very good answer but I think it looks somewhat like the following statements.

We Refresh Hearts [overcoming sorrow, stress, frustration, tiredness, burn-out, etc.] by:

  1. Fellowship.
  2. Laughter.
  3. Expressing confidence and giving encouragement.
  4. Developing and maintaining unity of thought and purpose.
  5. Helping remove barriers.
  6. Sharing experiences.
  7. Learning to “Rest in the Lord”.
  8. Sharing our Faith.
  9. Affirming.
  10. Vacations.
  11. Using our spiritual gifts.
  12. Etc.

Affirmation seems to play a large part in the role of refreshing hearts. So what is affirmation?

Acknowledgement of one’s value.
Fellowship on a personal basis.
Faith expressed in an individual.
Involved in open exchange of ideas.
Resting in peaceful confidence.
Mentoring mutual maturity/growth.
Acceptance; unconditional love.
Trusting decisions/direction.
Interest in the individual [genuine].
Obedience toward common goals.
Never forsaking.

Affirmation waters Love in the garden of God’s people.

This brings me to my final conclusion and that is we can substitute LOVE wherever and whenever we use the word VALUE. Value is a human term. Love is a spiritual term. Note the outline once again. The HOW, the WHAT, and LOVE form the CROSS of CHRIST. That’s what it’s all about; RESTORATION. That is why Philemon is so important to the Word of God. It is the Word of God.


What I have written about here is the result of practicing the Gospel in my daily life, in industry and in the church body itself. It works wonders because it is of God. There is one couple, a pastor and his wife, who have modeled this concept throughout their ministry. They modeled it for me and I think of them every time I think of Philemon. How can I value people? How might I love people more? What can I do or say to maximize results? Their names are Joe and Berit Olafson. I am forever indebted to them and their ministry; a ministry of AFFIRMATION. What I am unable to explain, they modeled for me and I am grateful. I am a better person because of them. Thanks be to God.

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