A Very Precious Letter

An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on Paul’s Letter to Philemon

www.easyenglish.info

Keith Neville and Marion Adams

The translated Bible text has been through Advanced Checking.

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

 

About this letter

This is a very personal letter. It does not teach about Christian beliefs. It does not give advice on how Christians should live together as a church. It does not contain any of the usual things that are in a *New Testament letter.

People in the early church wrote some other short texts. These are probably as old as this letter. But they are not in the *canon. So we want to think about why this letter is so important. And we want to think about why people included it in the *canon.

This is very important. It does seem strange that such a short personal letter is in the *New Testament. We want to know why it is there. And we want to know how it can help Christians today.

1. A Personal Letter

In the first century, letters were often very short. This letter is longer than letters usually were at that time. Most of the *New Testament letters are longer than usual. They are not typical of the letters that people wrote at that time.

Paul wrote this letter to a certain person called Philemon. It is about another person called Onesimus. Paul was writing about a certain situation. He was not giving general advice to Christians. He was helping people whom he loved. He was a very good church leader. Church leaders need to deal with their people’s personal situations.

2. The Request

Paul wants Philemon to do something different from what people in his *culture expected. We all live in *cultures. In different *cultures, people expect us to behave in different ways. Sometimes, church leaders must urge people to obey what the Bible teaches. This might be different from what people expect in their culture.

3. Onesimus

An early church leader called Ignatius wrote many letters. In one letter, he refers to someone called Onesimus. He describes this Onesimus as the Bishop of Ephesus. (A bishop is the leader of the church or churches in a certain area.) Ignatius’s letter is not in the *New Testament. But many *scholars believe that this Onesimus and the Onesimus in Paul’s letter are the same person. If this is true, then Onesimus’s life changed completely because of Paul’s letter. Onesimus was a slave. He had run away. A judge should have punished him. Instead, Onesimus received mercy. (Mercy means that someone is kind when he or she does not have to be kind.) Onesimus developed to become a church leader.

This is not certain fact. But many *scholars have this opinion about this letter. Maybe that is why such a private letter is in the Bible.

There is another opinion. Some *scholars think that Onesimus collected Paul’s letters together. He decided to include the letter about himself. This is also possible. But there is no evidence that Onesimus did this. We cannot prove it.

4. The letter is in the *New Testament

We do not know exactly who put this letter into the *New Testament. But it is certainly in our Bibles.

People in the early church decided that we should know about this letter. It would be good for us to study it. And it would be good for us to teach about it. (Look at 2 Timothy 3:16.) It may seem to be different from other *New Testament letters. We may want to use it in different ways. But it is in the *canon. So, we should understand it. And we should use it to serve God.

The letter

v1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our *brother are writing this letter. We are writing to Philemon our *fellow worker and friend, whom we love very much. v2 And we are writing to Apphia our sister and to Archippus our *fellow soldier. And we are writing to the Christians who meet in your house. v3 We pray that God our Father and the *Lord Jesus Christ. will give *grace and *peace to you.

Verse 1 Paul greets Philemon in a friendly way. Paul loves Philemon and he respects Philemon. Paul calls him ‘our *fellow worker’. This means that Philemon, Paul and Timothy do the same sort of work. Paul calls Archippus also ‘our *fellow soldier’. They all work for God. Paul calls Timothy a ‘brother’. Christians often spoke about other Christians like this.

Verse 2 Paul writes his letter to other leaders also in that church. He mentions two men and one woman. He also writes it to the other people that are members of the local church. Paul sends a greeting. It is *grace, which is God’s free love. He also sends *peace, which comes from God. ‘Sister’ means a lady who is a Christian.

Verse 3 ‘our Father’. God made us and he loves us. In that way, he is our Father.

v4 Whenever I pray, I remember you. I always thank my God. v5 I hear about all the love that you have for all God’s people. That is why I thank him. It is also because you have *faith in the *Lord Jesus. v6 I pray that you will eagerly tell other people about your *faith. Do this. Then, you will understand all the good things that we can do for Christ. v7 Your love has made me very happy. Your love has encouraged me. My *brother, this is because you have cheered God’s people.

Paul prays for them. He prays especially for Philemon. He says more about what kind of person Philemon is. Philemon loves other people and he helps them. His actions show what God is like. Paul prays that Philemon will do this successfully. Philemon knows that God has been so good to him. Therefore, Philemon does what is right. He wants to please Christ. Paul prays that this will continue.

v8 Because of this, I could order you with Christ’s authority. I could order you to do what you should do. v9 However, I would rather appeal to you because of your love. I appeal to you as Paul, an old man, and a prisoner of Christ Jesus. v10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus. I have become like his father during my time in prison. v11 In the past he was not useful to you. But now he is useful to us both. v12 I love him very much. But I am sending him back to you. v13 I wanted to keep him here with me. He could serve me for you while I am in prison. I am in prison because I taught the *gospel. v14 But I do not want to do anything unless you permit it. Then you will be kind because you want to be kind. I will not force you.

v15 Maybe this is the reason why he was away from you. Maybe he was away for a short time so that you may have him back for always. v16 You will not have him as a slave any longer. But you will have him as more than a slave. You will have him as a *brother whom you love much. I love him very much. But you should love him much more. You should love him as a person. And you should love him as a *brother in the *Lord’s family. (All who believe in the *Lord are like one family. And he is your *brother in that family.)

Paul wants to convince Philemon to do the right thing. Paul does not want to order him to do it. Onesimus has run away from Philemon. This was wrong. But Onesimus has come to Paul. He has been useful to Paul. Paul wants to keep Onesimus with him. Paul wants Onesimus to help him. But he must ask Philemon to agree to this. Otherwise, it would not be right.

Paul has sent Onesimus back to Philemon. So, Onesimus can ask Philemon to free him. Then, Onesimus would not be a slave. Onesimus must ask Philemon to send him back. Then Onesimus could work with Paul.

Paul is asking Philemon to accept Onesimus. He is asking him to love Onesimus as a *brother. Onesimus is a *brother in God’s family and Philemon loves him very much. Also, Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as a *fellow Christian rather than as a slave. This is a lot to ask anyone. But Paul knows what Philemon is like. So, Paul can ask this. Paul tries to convince Philemon to make the right decision. Paul does not want their *culture to affect Philemon’s decision. He wants Philemon to do what Philemon thinks is right.

The name ‘Onesimus’ means ‘useful’. However, Onesimus ran away. So he became ‘not useful’. But now he has come to Paul and he has come to God. So, he is ‘useful’ again. Paul wants Onesimus to be useful to Paul. And he wants Onesimus to be useful to God. But Philemon owns Onesimus. So Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. Paul asks Philemon to free Onesimus to work for God.

v17 If you consider me as your partner, then greet him. Accept him as you would accept me. v18 If he has done anything wrong to you, make me responsible for it. Or if he owes you anything, charge it to me. v19 I, Paul am writing this to you myself. I will pay it back. You owe me everything. But I shall not say anything about what you owe me. v20 My *brother, let me have this gift from you. Refresh me inside with joy that Christ gives. (To refresh means to make as new.) v21 I am confident that you will obey. So I am writing to you like this. In fact, I know that you will do even more than I ask.

Paul continues to convince Philemon of the right thing to do. Onesimus does not deserve what Paul is asking Philemon to do. Onesimus has run away. Probably, he stole something from Philemon. So, Onesimus has done wrong. But God and Paul have accepted Philemon although he has done wrong. They have accepted him although he was a *sinner. So now Philemon should accept Onesimus as a *repentant *sinner and as a *fellow Christian.

If Onesimus stole anything, Paul will pay it back. Paul promises to be responsible if any punishment was due to Onesimus. Paul also reminds Philemon that Philemon was a *sinner. So Philemon deserves punishment from God. But God forgave him. Paul forgave him, too. Paul says this to persuade Philemon to do the right thing. Paul knows what Philemon’s character is like. So, he feels sure that Philemon will do the right thing.

v22 I have one last thing to ask. Prepare a room where I can stay. I am hoping that, because of your prayers, I will be with you soon.

Paul encourages Philemon. He says that Philemon is his friend. Paul wants to be with his friend soon.

v23 Epaphras, my *fellow prisoner, sends his greetings to you. He is my *fellow prisoner because he taught about Christ Jesus. v24 My *fellow workers – Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke – also greet you.

v25 The *grace of the *Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Paul sends his final greetings. He also sends greetings from those who are with him. Some are prisoners like him. They are in prison because they have *faith in Jesus the Messiah. (The Messiah is God’s special servant. The Messiah saves the people from punishment for their *sins.) Other helpers are there to support Paul. They work with him even while he is in prison.

As Paul finishes his letter, he blesses Philemon. He asks that *grace will be in Philemon’s life. *Grace is the gift of God. God gives it to us whatever we are like. In these final words, Paul reminds Philemon that God has loved him freely. So Philemon must love other people in the same way as God loves him.

What this letter means for us

Onesimus has done wrong things. In his *culture, this deserved serious punishment. Paul reminds Philemon that we all have done wrong things. But God has saved us from punishment. He has accepted us into his family. God has accepted Philemon. Therefore Paul says that Philemon must accept Onesimus. Philemon must free Onesimus. Then Onesimus can serve God. And Onesimus can be ‘useful’ to God.

We have all *sinned. We have not done all that God wants us to do. God wants us to turn away from our *sins. He wants us to serve him, so that his plans will happen for us.

We should forgive other people when they *repent. We must encourage them to serve God in their lives. This may not be easy for us. There may be a cost to us because of it. This is not a cost in money, but it is a cost in other things. However, God paid the price for us. He did not pay the price in money. But he paid it when he sent Jesus. He sent Jesus to die for us. So, when we forgive other people, we should accept the cost to us. God loves us. By his *grace, he has forgiven us. So, because of this, we should forgive other people.

Word List

brother ~ Christians often spoke about other Christians like this.

canon ~ a word that means all the books in the Bible together. People in the early church decided which books to include. They included only books that were true. These books teach true things about God and Jesus.

culture ~ the social customs, traditions and laws of a certain group of people. This group may be a nation, or sometimes it may be a group of nations.

faith ~ belief and trust in God and in Jesus, his Son.

fellow ~ when someone does the same work as we do; or someone believes the same things as we believe.

gospel ~ the good news that God saves people from punishment for *sin. This news is for everyone.

grace ~ a gift of God that we do not deserve. We do not deserve it, because of the bad things that we have done.

New Testament ~ the second part of the Bible. The writers wrote it after Jesus had lived on the earth.

Lord ~ A name that writers use for God (or Jesus) in the Bible. It means that he is above all other things. We use this name for Jesus when we obey him.

peace ~ when a person is not afraid or angry and they feel calm inside themselves. We can have God’s peace even when bad things happen to us.

repent ~ to turn away from *sin to God’s ways.

repentant ~ when a person *repents, he or she is repentant.

scholars ~ people who study a subject. Often, scholars who study the Bible write books about it. These books help us to understand it better.

sin ~ to do something bad against God or against other people; or something bad that a person does against God or against other people.

sinner ~ a person who *sins.

 

© 1997-2004, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

July 2004

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