In this epistle the Apostle Paul commended Philemon for his faith and his love for the Savior and fellow Church members. He counseled Philemon to receive his runaway slave Onesimus back as a brother in the gospel.
As members of the Church, we often encounter new people. Imagine that someone new joins your ward or branch. In your scripture study journal, write about the social challenges that someone might experience when joining the Church or moving into a new ward or branch. If you have joined the Church or moved into a new ward or branch in recent years, describe any social challenges you experienced.
Think about the following questions: How do you treat new members of your ward or branch? How do you treat Church members who behave differently, have different interests, or belong to different social groups than you do?
As you study the Apostle Paul’s epistle to Philemon, look for a truth that can guide you in your interactions with fellow Church members.
During his first imprisonment in Rome, while under house arrest, Paul wrote to Philemon, who was probably a Greek convert to the Church. As recorded in Philemon 1:1–3, Paul began his epistle by greeting Philemon and others, including the congregation that met in Philemon’s home.
Read Philemon 1:4–7, looking for why Paul praised Philemon. In this context the word communication refers to participation and fellowship (see Philemon 1:6, footnote a) and the phrase “become effectual” means to become active or take effect (see Philemon 1:6, footnote b).
It may help to know that when Paul said that “the bowels of the Saints [had been] refreshed” (Philemon 1:7), he meant that their hearts had been cheered by Philemon.
Paul’s main purpose in writing to Philemon was to address a situation involving Philemon and his servant, or slave, named Onesimus. Onesimus had run away and may have stolen something from Philemon (see Philemon 1:18). Slavery was not viewed as evil within the New Testament Judeo-Christian culture and was supported by Roman law. Punishments for runaway slaves included being severely beaten, branded on the forehead, or even killed. After running away, Onesimus had encountered the Apostle Paul.
If you had been in Philemon’s position, what might you have thought or felt when you received Paul’s request?
Notice the phrase “whom I have begotten in my bonds” (Philemon 1:10). One meaning of the verb beget is to give life to someone. While Paul was in prison, he had helped Onesimus begin a new life as a follower of Jesus Christ.
As recorded in Philemon 1:13–14, Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him so that Onesimus could assist him, but Paul did not want to do so without Philemon’s consent.
Read Philemon 1:15–16, looking for how Paul encouraged Philemon to view his relationship with the newly converted Onesimus. Consider marking or noting what you find.
Why might viewing Onesimus as a “brother beloved” (Philemon 1:16) have been difficult for Philemon?
One truth we can learn from verse 16 is that we are brothers and sisters in the gospel.
We are all spirit children of Heavenly Father (see Hebrews 12:9), and thus are all brothers and sisters. In addition, through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, the continual exercise of faith in Jesus Christ, and consistent repentance, we are spiritually reborn. In this way we become sons and daughters of Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 5:7) and, therefore, brothers and sisters in His covenant family. Regardless of our gender, culture, age, background, or social status, we become equal in God’s kingdom.
As you read the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball, look for ways in which the truth that we are brothers and sisters in the gospel can influence the way we treat one another, particularly new members of the Church:
“I have always been uplifted by reading the short epistle of Paul to Philemon; it teaches us a principle and a spirit concerning gospel brotherhood. …
“It is an inspiration and joy to see this same spirit at work throughout the Church, to see the Saints embrace and help and assist and pray for those who daily enter the kingdom of our Lord. Continue to reach out to each other—and the many more who will enter the Church. Welcome them and love and fellowship them.
“Sadly, there have been occasional incidents where some among us have not done so, accounts of some who have rejected those whom the Lord has accepted by baptism. If the Lord was ‘not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Heb. 2:11), let us, therefore, … take our brothers and sisters by the hand and lift them up into our circles of concern and love” (“Always a Convert Church: Some Lessons to Learn and Apply This Year,” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 4).
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
Why do you think it is important to understand that we are brothers and sisters in the gospel?
When have you seen someone treat others as brothers and sisters in the gospel? What good results came from such kindness and love?
Write a letter to someone in your ward or branch who may need to feel loved and accepted. You might compliment the person on his or her gifts and contributions and express your regard as a brother or sister in the gospel. After you write the letter, record a summary of it in your scripture study journal.
To prepare to identify an additional truth illustrated in Paul’s epistle to Philemon, think about a time when someone offended or wronged you.
Read Philemon 1:17, looking for what Paul counseled Philemon to do for Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave.
Paul was asking Philemon to welcome Onesimus back into his household without inflicting on him the severe punishments that runaway slaves normally received. As illustrated in Paul’s instruction to Philemon, we learn that disciples of Jesus Christ extend mercy and forgiveness to others.
Why can it sometimes be difficult to extend mercy and forgiveness to others?
Note that extending mercy and forgiveness to those who have wronged us does not necessarily mean allowing them to avoid the consequences of their actions, nor does it mean immediately restoring our trust in them. Instead, it means that we show compassion toward others and let go of any resentment, anger, or hurt we may be harboring. When appropriate, we may also allow those who have wronged us to regain our trust.
Read Philemon 1:18–21, looking for what Paul offered to do on Onesimus’s behalf.
Just as Paul interceded on Onesimus’s behalf, Jesus Christ will intercede on our behalf and plead our cause before Heavenly Father (see D&C 45:3–5). Jesus Christ has also paid the spiritual debt we owe for our sins.
How can remembering what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf help us extend mercy and forgiveness to others?
Answer one or more of the following sets of questions in your scripture study journal (be sure to not write anything too personal or private):
When have you, like Philemon, needed to extend mercy and forgiveness to someone else? How were you able to extend mercy to and forgive this person? How were you blessed in doing so?
When have you, like Onesimus, hoped to receive mercy and forgiveness from another person? How did you seek this person’s mercy and forgiveness? How were you blessed by doing so?
When have you, like Paul, served as a mediator between someone who was seeking forgiveness and the person who needed to extend forgiveness and mercy? How were you able to help the wrongdoer receive forgiveness and the injured person forgive the wrongdoer?
Consider what you can do to extend mercy and forgiveness to others. As you seek to include, accept, and extend forgiveness to others, the Lord will help you in your efforts.
Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Philemon and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: