True Friendship - Living For Others


A Bible Study of Philemon


Twenty Characteristics of a True Friend - Philemon


Philemon is the last of what are grouped as the Prison Epistles or the letters penned by Paul while he was incarcerated (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon). Of course, the reality expressed by Paul is while he may have been physically behind bars he was truly only a prisoner to One, Jesus Christ (cf. Philemon 1:9; Ephesians 3:1; Colossians 4:18; Philippians 1:12–14). Furthermore it is believed that Paul was awaiting execution while he was inspired to write his second letter to Timothy. In this last of Paul's letters, while in prison, the Spirit came upon him to write the glorious words, "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless  I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day" (2 Timothy 1:12).

The prison context from which Paul wrote the Spirit inspired letter to Philemon and its content  is proof of the Spirit provided indomitable spirit. This letter is evidence of the compelling love of Christ that sustained and worked in and through Paul even in the midst of trials (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-21). In particular this letter is an example of "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17). The love of Christ compelled Paul to be a friend and to encourage others to act in friendly ways.

Even though Paul was himself in prison and going through trials, it did not deter him to act on behalf of his friends. It would have been easy for him to hold a pity party and focus on his own personal difficulties. It would have been easy, and by many expected, that Paul would use his circumstances to garner sympathy and attention from others. But instead, as he lives out his problems in the Spirit, Paul takes the time to act as a friend. He writes this letter to a friend to introduce him to another friend. Paul writes to encourage one friend to go beyond the relational level of master to slave and to encourage a deeper relational friendship ; even sonship. Therefore, when we read this epistle the underlying life principle to be noticed and applied in the Spirit is Friends are friends even when it isn't convenient. Friendship is a priority to Paul. This letter shows us our focus in life, after our prime personal relationship with God in Christ, is to be on others. The title of our study in Philemon is therefore, True Friendship - Living for Others. 

The human author of this short epistle is believed to be Paul since he is mentioned by name three times in the letter (vs. 1, 9, 19). This letter also mentions that Paul is in prison when it was written (vs. 1, 9). The letter is written by Paul to Philemon, a man of some standing and material means, concerning Onesimus, a runaway slave. Onesimus is mentioned by Paul as accompanying another faithful minister Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-9). Therefore, "Because Onesimus accompanied Tychicus, who carried the letter to Colosse, it is evident the two epistles were written at about the same time, probably in the summer of a.d. 62."[1]

When we look at friendship as presented in this epistle we are going to see what true biblical friendship is. When we mention friendship we will distinguish it from lesser forms of friendship by referring to the friendship we see in the epistle as true friendship. If we are going to experience the best kind of friendship we have to look to the Lord and His word for definition and explanation. That is what we will do in this study.

What are true friends? If friendship is living for another, what does that look like? What does a true friend do? What are true friends for? These are the questions that we need to consider in this great inspired letter of Paul.


Philemon (NKJV)


Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus,


First, true friendship starts with Jesus. Paul identifies himself as "a prisoner of Christ Jesus." He emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Jesus his Savior by referring to Him as "Christ Jesus." "Christ" refers to the mission of Jesus who came to give Himself a saving ransom for the lost sinner (e.g. Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Timothy 1:14-15). Jesus did this as an outgrowth and demonstration of God's love for the world (Romans 5:8; 2 Cor. 5:14-21). And the ultimate aim of such loving redemptive sacrifice is to make a way for us to enter into a friendship with Him:


·         John 15:11–15 (NKJV) - 11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

Jesus came to make a way for us to befriend Him. He came to remove the sin which prevented friendship with God. And those who receive Him as Savior can now be friends with Jesus. And those who are friends with Jesus are friends with each other. Jesus brings people together in friendships (e.g. Ephesians 2:11ff.). God has always looked at humanity in terms of friendship. Abraham is referred to as "the friend of God" (James 2:23). Jesus mentioned friendship as an objective of His mission. And therefore when we see such a personal letter as that of Paul to Philemon we shouldn't be surprised at the undercurrents of friendship.


and Timothy our brother,


Second, true friendship is an eternal  brotherhood. It is popular even in secular circles to refer to others as "bro," or "brothers." We read and hear of a Band of Brothers describing those who serve in the military. Those on sports teams often use the imagery of family and brothers or sisters to describe the closeness of relationship. But the "brother" used by those who have a friendship with Jesus transcends that described in the secular world. A "brother" or a "sister" in the Lord is an expression of an eternal connection, an eternal friendship. We will see Paul make this exact point later in the epistle (vs. 15-16).


Too often friendships among believers are targeted by the devil and unfortunately the enemy has too much success in dividing the brethren. Too often because believers are more concerned with self as driven by their flesh instead of giving priority to others, relationships are strained and even severed. Paul referred to Timothy as a "brother." That didn't mean he always agreed with Timothy. 1 and 2 Timothy are letters written to Timothy to encourage and correct. Scripture indicates Paul had a falling out with Barnabas over Mark (Acts 15:36-41). But later he gives evidence of reconciliation and that they were once again in ministry together as friends (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:6; Colossians 4:10).


"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17). Brothers and sisters in Christ may have differences and even be at odds to some extent, but when trials hit they have a way of reuniting those who had separated. Is that a reason God permits difficulties and trials, even persecution in this life for His followers? I'm sure that is a consequence He is well aware of. He can use even trials to being good (cf. Romans 8:28). Trials have a way of helping us see things from an eternal perspective. Difficulties have a way of helping us reset our priorities in light of eternity. It is when we look at others from a worldly and fleshly perspective that we fail to see the eternal value of our friends in Christ. God uses trials to help us snap out of such deluded and selfish thinking. Our friends in Christ are those we will spend eternity with in the presence of the Lord, our greatest Friend. Remember that. Remember that and treasure your friends in Christ; your brothers and sisters in Christ.


To Philemon our beloved friend


Third, true friendship is a fruit of agape love. Translators inserted the word "friend" as in Paul's introductory words, "To Philemon our beloved friend." That's because the word "beloved" (Greek agapetos) means beloved, dearly beloved, esteemed, dear, favorite, one worthy of love, a person who is the object of love, a dear friend.


Interestingly the name "Philemon" means one who kisses. This letter is addressed to one who was named for affection and very likely was known for his affection to others. When we look at names of people in the Bible we should understand that they too are inspired by the Spirit. Philemon wasn't named as such by accident. The Spirit wanted to convey affection through this name Philemon.


There is a love between friends which the Bible refers to a phileo love. It is a strong affection for another person. This is a high form of love but it isn't the highest form of love. The highest form of love is agape love. Agape love is the love of God. Agape love is the love that is best defined and exemplified by God's love for lost sinful humanity that led to His giving His most precious only Son Jesus to redeem the world. This agape love is most clearly defined and expressed in the atoning sacrifice and death of Jesus on the cross. God gave His only Son Jesus to redeem the world in love (John 3:16). Such love took the initiative and did not wait or require a reciprocal love (Romans 5:8).


A glorious truth is that when a person repents of their sins and turns to God through faith in Christ and admits their sin and asks God' forgiveness for their sins on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, God will forgive their sin (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:21; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; 1 John 1:7 and 9). Upon being forgiven sin God then regenerates or gives spiritual eternal life to the forgiven person (Titus 3:4-7). They are born again (e.g. John 3). The Holy Spirit indwells the new believer (Romans 8:9-11). And when the Holy Spirit indwells a person the love of God is poured out into their heart by the Spirit (Romans 5:5). The fruit and evidence of the regenerative presence and work of the Holy Spirit is this agape love (Galatians 5:22-24). And the natural outgrowth of such love is friendship with God and with others. Friendship is a fruit of agape love.


and fellow laborer,


Fourth, true friendship involves working together. A friend is someone you love. A friend is a "fellow laborer" (Greek synergos) or co-laborer, companion in labor, fellow helper, fellow worker, one who labors together with, a workfellow. Friends are united in mission purpose and ministry. When we serve and work together a byproduct is that friendships are created and friendships that already exist are strengthened in their relational ties.


to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier,


Fifth, true friendship involves soldiering together. Paul uses the phrase, "fellow soldier" (Greek systratiotes) refers to  a comrade in battle. This is a fellow soldier, one who fights side by side in the trenches. When you go into battle you want to be able to depend and trust the soldier next to you. You want to know they have your back. A friend has your back. A friend doesn't shoot you in the back. You can trust a friend with your vulnerabilities. You want to know a friend will be there to fight with you. That's a true friend. A fellow soldier is someone you can count on, someone who will stick with you, fight with you, defend you, help you up if you fall, and someone you can confide your fears to. The imagery a soldier conveys is integral to friendship.


The name "Apphia" means fruitful. Since the name is in the Feminine Gender grammatically many commentators believe this to be the wife of Philemon. "She may have possibly served in a semi-official position in the church in their home. “She is as much a part of the decision as her husband, because according to the custom of the time, she had day-to-day responsibility for the slaves” (Arthur A. Rupprecht, “Philemon,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 11:458)."[2]


"Archippus" which means master of the horse and is in the Male Gender grammatically is very possibly the son of Philemon. But it's also possible that, "He may likely have been a mission-pastor in Colosse, for Paul gave a brief instruction for the Colossians to pass on to Archippus (Col. 4:17). Perhaps Archippus, because of his position, could have exerted additional influence on Philemon."[3]


and to the church in your house:


Sixth, true friendship involves hospitality. Paul also addressed "the church in your house." The term "church" (Greek ekklesia) means a gathering of citizens convened to a public place of council for the purpose of deliberating, the gathering of called out ones, those who meet, especially for a religious meeting, a religious assembly. Philemon evidently had opened his home to other Christians to gather in for the purpose of discussing "the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer" (Acts 2:42). Philemon was part of this "house to house" meetings of the early church (cf. Acts 2:40-47). Philemon was therefore a hospitable friend.


At this point in New Testament history the church met commonly in the homes of its members. That Philemon had a home big enough to have such a meeting tells us he was a person of means. Churches normally met in homes up to 200 A.D. In the third century churches began to meet in separate buildings due to the growing size of the gatherings. Paul mentions such house churches elsewhere too (Romans 16:5 and Colossians 4:15). Such gatherings don't preclude any further use of homes for meeting, it just means as the church grew it resulted in gathering in places other than homes; places that could accommodate a growing church.


There is value in meeting in homes and there is value in meeting in larger venues. Smaller groups meeting in a home is a good environment for personal conversation and discussion of particular questions. Christians meeting in larger groups serve to allow greater numbers of people being taught the word at one time. And there is something precious about larger groups of believers gathering together to worship the Lord en masse. Both settings are used by the Lord and serve His purposes and therefore both venues or settings for meeting are worth experiencing and using in ministry.


The idea that "the church in your house" refers to Archippus' house isn't supported by the context. Philemon is the one referred to first and with priority in the salutation. And since the letter is addressed primarily to him when we see the personal pronouns in the letter it is most likely referring to him (cf. "you" in Philemon 4, 6–8, 10–12, 16, 18–21, 23). "You" and "your" are plural in only in verses 22 and 25.[4]


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Seventh, true friendship offers "grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. "Grace" (Greek charis) is undeserved, unmerited favor. Grace is God giving to those who don't deserve anything. Salvation is a gift of God's grace in that sinners deserve nothing but eternal damnation because of their sin. God could have wiped out sinful humanity at any point started over with an alternative creation. But because He is a God of grace He made a way for sinful humanity to be saved from their sin. This salvation includes the possibility of friendship with God.


"Peace" (Greek eirene) is peace, prosperity, quietness, at one again, at-one-ment. Peace is the result of reconciliation between parties that were once warring with each other. Before we accept Jesus as Savior we are enemies to God (Romans 8:7; James 4:4).


Friends extend grace and peace to others. This is not something a person can generate and do on their own. No, Paul is very clear that such grace and peace is " from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace and peace in friendship flows out of our friendship with God. Christians are called to "be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice of God for a sweet-smelling aroma" (Ephesians 5:1-2). We are to "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). We can't be true friends apart from our highest friendship with God. We should also say here that it is a shame when Christians act in less than gracious and peace promoting ways with others. It's an indication of a disconnect with God.


I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers,


Eighth, true friendship involves praying for each other. Paul was a good true friend to Philemon because he prayed for him. "Prayers" (Greek proseuche) the speaking to God on behalf of others, is integral to friendship. We can't be true friends in our own strength. We need God's grace and peace to help us to be gracious and peace promoting to others. Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon God. Prayer is the means by which we receive the resources necessary to be true friends.


hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,


Ninth, true friendship takes every opportunity to affirm, commend and encourage. Paul wastes no time in his letter before he affirms, commends and encourages Philemon for his "love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus  and toward all the saints." This is evidence and expression of Paul's others orientation. He doesn't boast about himself. He also doesn't start by pointing out deficiencies in Philemon. Paul affirms and commends and encourages Philemon for his "love" (Greek agape) and "faith" (Greek pistis). It's as though Paul is saying, "Philemon, I'm so proud and blessed by the love and faith fruit in your friendship with God and your friendship with other saints."



that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.


Tenth, true friendship exhorts others to effectively share their faith. Paul points out and explains to Philemon with these words that the best evangelism is evangelism that comes when we live out our faith. Philemon walked his talk. The word "effective" (Greek energes) means active, operative, effective, powerful. In other words Philemon had a faith that was effective in influencing others toward Jesus, salvation and friendship with God.


There is such a thing as friendship evangelism. As we live lives of friendship it creates opportunities for others to see the friendship with Jesus we have. When we befriend people it creates a trusting relationship in which people see the genuineness of our faith and become more open to it. When people see our friendship with Jesus it makes them curious and influences them to learn more for themselves about such a friendship with God. When people see the "every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus" that flows from your friendship with Jesus, it draws them in to a desire to experience the same. The Holy Spirit uses our friendship with Jesus to attract others to the same friendship.


For we have great joy and consolation in your love,


Eleventh, true friendship is approachable. Paul Philemon were true friends. Their relationship was characterized by "great joy" (Greek chara . . . pollen) or great graciousness, great gratification, a satisfying reflection on life, a gratitude and thanks. Joy is an inner satisfaction, comfort, rest, and security of God's sovereign control of kingship over reality. Paul and Philemon had a common faith. In this they were both mutually joyful. They both knew God was in control. They both lived to have God's will be done in all things. They had a common ground and this paved the way that both could approach the other without fear of offending or hurting their friendship. When you have the joy of Jesus, you are transparently open to anything that would help you hit the target of His will in your life. Paul and Philemon were joyously surrendered to the Lord and His will. This led to a blessed openness between the two.


Their friendship also included "great. . . consolation" (Greek pollen parakelsis) or great comfort, great encouragement that comes from being near. Paul directly associates this encouragement from "your love" (Greek agape) of Philemon. Paul was comforted by the true love Philemon exhibited in life. Such love in Philemon made Paul's contacting him in this letter more possible. Paul knew he could count on Philemon's love. Paul had a request to ask of Philemon. Because of Philemon's friendship and love Paul felt comfortable to approach him in the way he was doing. Paul didn't have to worry about Philemon being easily offended or touchy about certain things. Paul's friendship with Philemon made approaching him about an issue a comfortable not uncomfortable thing to do. True friends are approachable and open to discuss life's circumstances honestly. They aren't easily offended.


Such approachability can be abused though. Approachability implies the true friend is a good listener. Sometimes people abuse this friendly trait by dumping on the true friend. The abuser regurgitates their complaints and dissatisfactions about life until the true friend is swamped and drowning under the pile of garbage spewed. And then, when the true friend tries to get a word in edgewise the dumper promptly loses interest and ends the conversation leaving the true friend reaching out forlornly like a drowning man in the sea being passed by a ship in the night. What's the remedy? True friends share a give and take. There is an accepted and understood protocol or equitability in their sharing. One shares and then one receives the friends response. This is true friendship.


because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.


Twelfth, true friendship is refreshing. Paul counted himself among "the saints" who "have been refreshed by you, brother." "Refreshed" (Greek anapauo) means to be set at ease, repose, rest, refresh. The Complete Biblical Library commentary states the following about this term:

            In classical Greek one could use anapauō if he were laying an object down, finishing a      speech, telling an army to halt, allowing his field to lie fallow, or taking a break to      refresh himself. The Septuagint [the Greek translation of the OT] uses anapauō to          translate primarily three Hebrew words: nûach (the name Noah comes from this word),          “to rest,” rāvats, “stretch oneself out,” and shākhan (the word shekhînâh glory comes             from a form of this word), “settle down, dwell.” The tabernacle in the Old Testament was            called the mishkān, “dwelling place” (of God), but now the Spirit dwells in the Christian       (Romans 8:11). [5]

A true friendship is a relationship that refreshes. It is a relationship filled with listening more than speeches. It is a relationship characterized by resting in God to work more than making one feel guilty for not working (e.g. Mark 4:26-29). It is a relationship suited to taking a break rather than constantly moving at a breakneck pace. It is a relationship that creates an environment for the Holy Spirit to comfort  and restore.


Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ—10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.


Thirteenth, true friendship "for loves sake" seeks the best for others. True friends genuinely and honestly seek the best for others. They do this "for loves sake." Paul could have pulled rank on Philemon and demanded that he give Onesimus his freedom. Paul had the authority to do that. But that's not what Paul, the true friend of Philemon did. Instead Paul relied on an "appeal" (Greek parakaleo) or calling one alongside to request or entreat. This is the same word that is used to describe praying to God (e.g. Mat. 26:53; Mark 5:17-18). It involves coming alongside one to ask a favor or make a request. Paul was using this word and communicating to Philemon that he was approaching him on friendly terms in a friendly way.


The motive and basis for such a friendly request was the highest and deepest of motives, "yet for loves sake," for the sake of agape Godly love. The apostle John was inspired to write, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). There is no greater motive or basis for an appeal than God's agape love. Paul was approaching his friend Philemon in such love. How could Philemon deny such a request?


Paul was not shy to ask a favor of a friend. But he didn't ask for personal gain. Paul was willing to ask on behalf of others. He wanted what was best for others. He wanted God's will in their lives. And he wasn't shy about making requests that would cost his friends if he knew it was God's will. It was God's love that compelled him and directed him in doing such things. It was God's love that had directed Paul to make this request of Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. It was not his flesh or love of the world, it was the love of Christ that compelled him.



Paul was using words to put his arm around Philemon to say, "My brother, friend, I have something I want to request of you." Paul mentions himself as "the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ" not to garner sympathy or pity from his friend Philemon but to express his vulnerability as well as the seriousness of his request. Yes Paul was getting up in years and he was in prison, time was at a premium, but he was taking some of that precious remaining time to make this request of his friend.


Paul goes on to say, "10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains," Paul saw Onesimus as a son. That's because Onesimus received his second birth (his spiritual birth) through the ministry of Paul while Paul was in prison. Paul was the spiritual father of Onesimus. Chains and prison bars didn't stop Paul from ministering.  We know Onesimus is a runaway slave (vs. 15-16). Perhaps he had been caught and imprisoned alongside Paul for being a runaway slave. Whatever the circumstance Paul witnessed to Onesimus and the slave accepted Jesus as his Savior.


The name "Onesimus" means profitable. Paul uses this name to make a play on words. Paul states, "11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me." Onesimus was once profitable to Philemon in the role of a slave. Now though Onesimus had become a slave of Jesus and was profitable in a higher way to Paul.


The point being made by Paul is that the decision about what to do with Onesimus should not be made on the basis of worldly profitability and loss. There was a higher purpose that should be viewed in light of the love of God. That higher purpose was how Onesimus could profit to the glory of God. Paul was seeking from Philemon what was best not only for Onesimus, but what was best in light of God and His love. True friendship "for loves sake" seeks what is best for others.


When a true friend seeks the best for others it sometimes involves making a bold request of a friend. That's what Paul was willing to do here. Paul didn't shy away from asking Philemon what might have been an uncomfortable request. A slave was a valuable and costly commodity in these times. Paul was asking his friend Philemon to sacrifice monetarily. But he was driven to do so on the basis of God's love and with the intent was best for all involved. That's what true friendship does.


12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing,


Fourteenth, true friendship is a loving, fully surrendered to God, motivation to do what is right. Remember, Paul has "great joy" (v. 7), Paul has a settled and secure trust that God is in control. And Paul feels Philemon has a mutual joy and desire that God's will be done. Therefore Paul sends Philemon back to his master and owner Philemon. Philemon could have punished Onesimus. He could have put him back into slavery. Philemon had the rights to Onesimus.


But Paul sends Onesimus back as a part of "my own heart." Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon because it was the right thing to do. Slavery in Paul's day was not the same as the human trafficking of centuries later when people groups were stolen from their homelands and homes, families were separated, and those abducted and enslaved were treated more like animals than people. It was not like that in Paul's day or in biblical times. But slavery was still not freedom. And slavery here in the case of Onesimus was an obstacle to what was best for this slave and what was best for the ministry purposes of the Lord with Paul. Paul had been used by the Lord in the spiritual birthing of Onesimus. There was a connection between Paul and his son in the faith. Paul didn't win people to Christ to simply add a notch to his Bible as another one who bit the dust in evangelism stats. No, Paul gave a piece of his heart to everyone he led to the Savior. And he wanted Philemon to know that. "Philemon, I'm sending your slave Onesimus to you because it is the right thing to do. But I want you to know I love this brother. Sending him to you is like sending him a piece of my own heart. I need him for ministry. But I wouldn't keep him without your rightful consent. I'm entrusting him to you and to the Lord. His will be done." That's the heart of Paul's sending Onesimus back to Philemon.


that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.


Fifteenth, true friendship is not manipulative. Paul, as a true friend, didn't resort to any arm twisting or emotional manipulation with Philemon. True friendship does not coerce others.  Paul says, " that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary." Paul was not using manipulation to get his way with Philemon. Paul was genuinely entrusting the situation to his true friend and leaving the outcome to him. Paul knew Philemon was a godly friend and Paul had confidence that he would do the right thing in the Lord. But Paul didn't get his fingers into the outcome. Paul didn't try to help the Lord along in influencing Philemon. Paul was a true friend. Philemon was a true friend. And true friends don't coerce each other or manipulate each other. True friends trust each other.


Manipulation is exposed when a person is cornered in conversation in a way that doesn't allow for genuine volitional choice. For instance when a person is unfairly questioned in public with a question designed to put that person on the spot and embarrass them into a specific direction, that is manipulation.  The manipulator approaches the Pastor after service in a crowd of seekers and asks, "Pastor, are you going to see that such and such is installed for those needy people? I'm sure you are. It wouldn't be right not to do it. I'm sure it's the will of God." Now there might not be funds for such a project or their might be other ministry priorities, there might not be time at that moment to go into details of an appropriate response or a number of other reasons that now is not the time for the "such and such" to be installed, but no matter how kindly and gently the Pastor responds he has been put on the spot. They usually throw in a reference to "the will of God" as though they alone knew what God's will was in the particular pet situation. If the Pastor doesn't agree and say the "such and such" will be installed forthwith the door is opened for the enemy to get in and make him look like someone who is neglecting the needy in some way or worse, not following the will of God. Maybe that's not the best example but hopefully the point is made that true friends don't put friends on the spot or in potentially embarrassing situations. True friends don't manipulate people with conversation that steers a person in the way they want them to go. True friends are discreet and considerate of circumstances. They address issues with friends privately or in settings appropriate for the topics under discussion. True friends are not manipulative.


15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.


Sixteenth, true friendship transcends worldly status to see others as brothers in Christ. Paul had written to the church in Rome that, "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Now he was practicing what he had preached. Yes, Onesimus had run away and went AWOL from his enslaved position with Philemon. We aren't given any information on the causes of his running away. It's hard to think of Philemon as being unjust or unloving or in some way treating Onesimus harshly given the loving terms used by Paul in his speaking to Philemon.


Paul's words "For perhaps" may imply Philemon was wondering and contemplating why Onesimus had run away too. Whatever the reason for Onesimus' departure Paul is pointing out the possible good reason that God allowed it to happen.  Paul says perhaps the reason God allowed Onesimus to run away was so through the circumstances of life God could lead him to Paul and could save his soul. And in this development the good that would result was that Philemon would then be blessed to ” receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord."


Paul states there may have been a higher more important purpose of God in the running away of Onesimus; the salvation of his eternal soul; that is the highest priority. And that would benefit Philemon too as he would gain a brother in Christ. Yes, Philemon could receive Onesimus back as a slave "in the flesh" and benefit from his return. But more importantly he could receive Onesimus back "in the Lord" as a brother who would join him in eternity. That latter profit was the greatest profit. As a true friend Philemon shouldn't see Onesimus first as a slave, but he should see him first as a brother in Christ. That is the higher priority of true friendship.


True friendship doesn't follow the worldly way of making friends in order to gain influence in high places. True friendship is not a means to profit in this world. True friendship doesn't see  people as slaves or tools to get what they want. No, true friendship sees brothers and sisters in Christ as the top overriding priority of relating to people. True friendship sees people of all worldly classes and stations as equally valuable based on their friendship in Christ.


17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.


Seventeenth, true friendship identifies with others in a Christlike way. "Receive him as you would me." Literally Paul says, "Receive him as me." Onesimus was a slave, an illegal runaway slave for that matter. But Paul was not ashamed to identify with Onesimus. Paul told Philemon to receive this runaway slave Onesimus as he would receive the apostle Paul himself. There was no shame or distancing of Paul from Onesimus. And so closely did Paul identify with Onesimus that he told Philemon if there was anything Onesimus owed he should put it to Paul's account.


"But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account." Paul was willing to accept and pay vicariously on Onesimus' behalf any offense or debt owed to Philemon. In other words, PAUL WAS BEING CHRIST TO ONESIMUS. That is what true friendship is really all about, being Jesus to others. Jesus came to pay a debt He didn't own for those who owed a debt they could not pay. Paul was doing in principle the exact Christlike thing on behalf of Onesimus. And we can just imagine the impact this had on his friends around him, especially Philemon and Onesimus himself.


"I, Paul, am writing with my own hand." By writing this in his own hand Paul was putting himself under legal obligation to fulfill what he was promising. Paul says in effect, "Look Philemon, I'm writing this in my own handwriting, it's not someone else embellishing what I said. I'm writing this in my own hand; you can trust me on this." Paul was giving a trustworthy, "I will repay."


Paul then adds the comment, "—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides." This may be an allusion to Philemon coming to the Lord as a result of Paul's ministry. If so then it was a way of Paul pointing out the similarity and equal spiritual standing of Philemon and Onesimus in that they both came to salvation through the ministry of Paul. Paul isn't mentioning this so much to cause Philemon to feel obligated to take him up on his request as Paul is probably seeking to remind Philemon of how he too had been saved from a life of sin, a life where he too had probably done some things he regretted and for which he was indebted.


" 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord."The word "joy" (Greek oninemi) is different from Paul's previous word for joy (cf. v.7). Here the word translated joy means something from which pleasure and gratification is derived, useful, profit. It is the same root of the name Onesimus! Paul is using another play on words to say, "Philemon, let me have 'Profitable' Onesimus from you in the Lord." Paul says, "refresh my heart in the Lord." In other words, "Philemon, put my heart at ease and at rest in this matter by fulfilling what  you and I both know the Lord would have you do; release Onesimus to serve the Lord with me."


21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.


Eighteenth, true friendship is reliable. The word "confidence" (Greek peitho) means convince, reliable, agree, assure, make friend, obey, trust. Again Paul appeals to the Christian character of his true friend Philemon. Paul expresses confidence in the reliability of Philemon. He says, he knows "that you will do even more than I say." And again, Paul was asking Philemon to walk as Jesus walked because Paul had mentioned his confidence in the Lord's answering prayer "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).


Paul's expression of confidence in the reliability of Philemon is really the outgrowth of his full surrender and trust in the Lord to move Philemon in the right direction on this issue. Paul began this letter by saying, "I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers" (v. 4). Paul had prayed. Paul had expressed his heartfelt request to his true friend Philemon. Now Paul would release all of it to the Lord's will. We don't get the idea here that Paul is worried about the outcome. Quite the contrary, the image we get of Paul here is a rested and assured trusting confidence that God was going to work all of this out in the right way. True friendship was a big part of this rest in the Lord.


22 But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.


Nineteenth, true friendship is durable. There were no ultimatums uttered by Paul. His friendship with Philemon was going to be in place and remain so regardless of what Philemon decided to do. Their true friendship was not based on complete agreement. If needs be they would agree to disagree. Their friendship was durable. It would stand the test of these circumstances.


The only time a friendship would be terminated would be in the case of an betrayal or ending friendship with Jesus. Judas terminated his friendship with Jesus. When Judas approached Jesus to betray Him in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus gave him a final chance to repent and salvage the friendship. Matthew's gospel records that Jesus said to Judas, "Friend, why have you come?" (Matthew 26:50; compare with Psalm 41:9 and 55:13). Luke's account of the betrayal states Jesus' asking Judas, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48). Mark's and John's gospel account of the betrayal don't mention Jesus' words to Judas. The Spirit led them to leave the repugnance of Judas' act itself as enough. If Judas would have repented and confessed his sin of betrayal to Jesus perhaps their friendship could have been salvaged. But when Judas disregarded the offer of Jesus he severed their friendship and the rest is history. Judas is culpable for having opened himself to being entered by Satan (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). Satan is the great destroyer of friendships.


But true friendships are even able to endure denials and betrayals at times. Peter denied Jesus three times and upon his repentance Jesus welcomed him back as a friend (cf. John 18:15-18, 25-27 and 21:1-19). True friendships are durable and strong even when threatened by a lapse of sin by one or both of the parties. True friends are always open to forgiveness and reconciliation like Jesus is toward us (cf. Ephesians 4:32).


The situation between Paul, Philemon and Onesimus did not involve a difference over an essential of the faith that might have also caused a parting of the ways. Betraying the truth of God and His word is reason to sever relationships. Jesus made obedience to His word a criteria for friendship. Jesus said, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). The apostle John later stated, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11). But even in such cases the hope remains for the guilty to repent and return to the truth of God's word. James concludes his epistle with the instruction, "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).


Onesimus did leave his master Philemon. But this occurred apparently before he accepted Jesus as Savior. Once Onesimus came to Christ through the ministry of Paul, Paul was sure to encourage Onesimus to do the right thing and return to Philemon to work out their problems. True friendships don't sweep problems under the rug but they deal honestly and openly with problems. Pretension, dishonesty, untruthfulness, and deceit are all detrimental to friendships of any kind, including true friendships. True friendships are cultivated in an environment of truth and honesty and held together by love. True friendships are built by people who speak the truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:15).


But this doctrinal nonessential to the faith matter was not going to sidetrack the true friendship that Paul and Philemon had with one another. They were not dividing over an issue that effected the essential doctrines of the faith. Therefore whatever was decided by Philemon would be accepted by Paul. Paul spoke of Philemon preparing his guest room and to look forward to God granting their prayers to spend some time together in the near future. True friendship endures.


Paul mentions in his closing words, "23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers." Here are some further examples of true friendships held by Paul toward others. Epaphras, ""my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus"  is spoken of very highly by Paul elsewhere in his epistles (e.g. Col. 4:12-13). Here we see that true friendship also means a willingness to be imprisoned together. Nothing stops a true friendship.


Notice Mark is included who Paul had had a dustup with Barnabas over in the past (Acts 15). But there had apparently been a reconciliation. A commentary states on these names:


            The reader should notice that the same five people are mentioned in this passage as in        Colossians 4:10, 12, 14. This fact helps lend credence to the belief of many   commentators that Paul wrote Colossians and Philemon at approximately the same time.         Mark was a relative of Barnabas, a very close friend and associate of the apostle Paul.    Fortunately, Barnabas had shown more patience than Paul, and it seems that Barnabas      was right, and that Paul realized this fact at a later time. Mark not only became an      associate of Paul and a definite help to him, but he also assisted the apostle Peter in his        ministry (1 Peter 5:13), as well as being privileged to write the Gospel that bears his   name. Aristarchus also became one of Paul's trusted associates and traveled with him             many times (Acts 19:29; 20:4), even on his journey as a captive to Rome (Acts 27:2). At   this time even Demas served as a trusted assistant of Paul. Luke, a Gentile physician who             dedicated his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, completed the entourage of people with Paul at           that time, people that Paul honored by calling them "fellow laborers." [6]

25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.


Twentieth, true friendship is based on "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul concludes the letter with mention of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." They had been saved by grace. And they both knew "our" Lord Jesus Christ. Now they needed to continue in their faith by God's gracious provision. True friendship is sustained by the grace of Jesus. This grace is to be received deep into one's "spirit," deep into the depths of the heart and soul of the believer. True friendships are entered into and maintained by those who have been deeply affected in their by the grace of God. The deeper into us the grace of God goes, the deeper and more blessed will our true friendships be.


Maybe the Lord has spoken to you during this message. Maybe you're thinking, I don't have any friends. Maybe the Spirit has spoken to you about that saying Why do you think you don't have any or many friends? In the Old Testament the Spirit inspired the words, "A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). If we want friendships that are like brotherhoods, we need to be friendly.


We can start to be true friends by taking to heart the twenty characteristics found in this epistle. In doing so we should start at the beginning, with Jesus. If you haven't already accepted Jesus as Savior turn from your sins and receive forgiveness for those sins through faith in Jesus. Then receive His outstretched hand to be His friend. Then begin to grow in Christ likeness and walk with Him in friendship, introducing others to the Friend we have in Jesus. Jesus was a Friend of sinners and acted redemptively toward them in love, so should we (Mark 2:13-17). True friendship is living for others. True friendship is being Jesus to others. Therefore true friendship takes the initiative and extends a hand of friendship to the lost. May we all enter into the true friendship we have in Jesus. And may we appreciate the friendships we have and cultivate new friendships as we grow in our true friendship with Jesus.


[1] Deibler, E. C. (1985). Philemon. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 768–769). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Deibler, E. C. (1985). Philemon. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 770). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Deibler, E. C. (1985). Philemon. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 770–771). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Deibler, E. C. (1985). Philemon. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 771). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The - The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Alpha-Gamma.


[6] Complete Biblical Library Commentary - The Complete Biblical Library – Galatians-Philemon.


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