The book of Philemon gives one of the finest explanations of the meaning of forgiveness and repentance that can be found in Paul’s writings. The Apostle stands revealed as a model of Christlike love and compassion. Encased in prison walls, Paul reveals his tender feelings as he pleads the cause of a poor runaway who has no one but Paul to recommend him.
Prayerfully study Philemon 1and consider the following principles before preparing your lessons.
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 353–55.
Suggestions for Teaching
Use the following idea or one or more of your own as you prepare to teach Philemon 1.
Philemon 1. Through the gospel all are equal before the Lord.
Write Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon on the board, and draw a heavy chain.
What have chains been used for throughout history?
What do they symbolize?
Explain that the names on the board are of people who had chains in their lives. Ask students to quickly read Philemon 1:1–21looking for each person’s chain. As they find the answers, write them on the board and discuss them. (These might include that Paul was in prison, Onesimus was a slave, and Philemon may have been an unforgiving master.)
Share appropriate information from the introduction to the book of Philemon. Explain that in the days of Philemon and Onesimus, slaves were completely at the mercy of their owners. Even trivial offenses often were punished in the most cruel manner. Consider sharing the following explanation:
“The attitude of the law toward the slave was expressed in the formula servile caput nullum jus habet; the slave has no right. The master’s power was unlimited. He might mutilate, torture, or kill the slave at his pleasure. … Tracking fugitive slaves was a trade. Recovered slaves were branded on the forehead, condemned to double labor, and sometimes thrown to the beasts in the amphitheatre. The slave population was enormous. Some proprietors had as many as twenty thousand” (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 4 vols. [1900–1901], 3:519).
What could Philemon legally do to his servant?
Would it be within his religious right?
What had changed in Onesimus’s life that put a different light on the situation? (He had become converted to the Savior’s gospel.)
Read Philemon 1:8–20again as a class, looking for answers to the following questions:
What principle of the gospel was Paul asking Philemon to practice?
Why might it be difficult for Philemon to forgive?
What can we learn from these teachings?
Have students think about a time when they had difficulty forgiving someone. Ask:
How hard was it to change your attitude about the person? Why?
How were you finally able to change it?
Point to the names on the board and ask:
Which of these individuals does God favor the most?
Read 2 Nephi 26:33. Why is it impossible to choose?
We know that each has different circumstances in life, but what do all have in common?
What does the gospel make of all of us, regardless of our place in society?
Testify that the gospel is the great equalizer. Because of that we should practice being more accepting and tolerant of each other.