Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Philemon 1:9

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Paul the aged - If we allow St. Paul to have been about 25 years of age at the utmost, in the year 31, when he was assisting at the martyrdom of Stephen, Acts 7:58; as this epistle was written about a.d. 62, he could not have been at this time more than about 56 years old. This could not constitute him an aged man in our sense of the term; yet, when the whole length of his life is taken in, being martyred about four years after this, he may not improperly be considered an aged or elderly man, though it is generally allowed that his martyrdom took place in the 66th year of our Lord.

But the word πρεσβυς signifies, not only an old man, but also an ambassador; because old or elderly men were chosen to fulfill such an office, because of their experience and solidity; and πρεσβυτης, for πρεσβευτης, is used in the same sense and for the same reason by the Septuagint; hence some have thought that we should translate here, Paul the ambassador. This would agree very well with the scope and even the design of the place.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Yet for love‘s sake - For the love which you bear me, and for the common cause.

I rather beseech thee - Rather than command thee.

Being such an one as Paul the aged - πρεσβυτης presbutēs- an old man. We have no means of ascertaining the exact age of Paul at this time, and I do not recollect that he ever alludes to his age, though he often does to his infirmities, in any place except here. Doddridge supposes that at the time when Stephen was stoned, when he is called “a young man” ( νεανίας neanias Acts 7:58), he was 24 years of age, in which case he would now have been about 53. Chrysostom supposes that he may have been 35 years old at the time of his conversion, which would have made him about 63 at this time. The difficulty of determining with any degree of accuracy the age of the apostle at this time, arises from the indefinite nature of the word used by Luke, Acts 7:58, and rendered “a young man.” That word, like the corresponding word νεανίσκος neaniskoswas applied to men in the vigor of manhood up to the age of 40 years.

Robinson, Lex. Phavorinus says a man is called νεανίσκος neaniskosa young man, until he is 28; and πρεσβύτης presbutēspresbutēsfrom 49 until he is 56. Varro says that a man is young (“juvenis”), until he is 45, and aged at 60. Whitby. These periods of time, however, are very indefinite, but it will accord well with the usual meaning of the words to suppose that Paul was in the neighborhood of 30 when he was converted, and that he was now not far from 60. We are to remember also, that the constitution of Paul may have been much broken by his labors, his perils, and his trials. Not advanced probably to the usual limit of human life, he may have had all the characteristics of a very aged man; compare the note of Benson. The argument here is, that we feel that it is proper, as far as we can, to grant the request of an old man. Paul thus felt that it was reasonable to suppose that Philemon would not refuse to gratify the wishes of an aged servant of Christ, who had spent the vigor of his life in the service of their common Master. It should be a very strong case when we refuse to gratify the wishes of an aged Christian in anything, especially if he has rendered important services to the church and the world.

And now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ - In the cause of Jesus Christ; or a prisoner for endeavoring to make him known to the world; compare the Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:20 notes; Colossians 4:10 note. The argument here is, that it might be presumed that Philemon would not refuse the request of one who was suffering in prison on account of their common religion. For such a prisoner we should be ready to do all that we can to mitigate the sorrows of his confinement, and to make his condition comfortable.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
It does not lower any one to condescend, and sometimes even to beseech, where, in strictness of right, we might command: the apostle argues from love, rather than authority, in behalf of one converted through his means; and this was Onesimus. In allusion to that name, which signifies "profitable," the apostle allows that in time past he had been unprofitable to Philemon, but hastens to mention the change by which he had become profitable. Unholy persons are unprofitable; they answer not the great end of their being. But what happy changes conversion makes! of evil, good; of unprofitable, useful. Religious servants are treasures in a family. Such will make conscience of their time and trusts, and manage all they can for the best. No prospect of usefulness should lead any to neglect their obligations, or to fail in obedience to superiors. One great evidence of true repentance consists in returning to practise the duties which have been neglected. In his unconverted state, Onesimus had withdrawn, to his master's injury; but now he had seen his sin and repented, he was willing and desirous to return to his duty. Little do men know for what purposes the Lord leaves some to change their situations, or engage in undertakings, perhaps from evil motives. Had not the Lord overruled some of our ungodly projects, we may reflect upon cases, in which our destruction must have been sure.
Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 78

So the work of grace in the heart is small in its beginning. A word is spoken, a ray of light is shed into the soul, an influence is exerted that is the beginning of the new life; and who can measure its results? COL 78.1

Not only is the growth of Christ's kingdom illustrated by the parable of the mustard seed, but in every stage of its growth the experience represented in the parable is repeated. For His church in every generation God has a special truth and a special work. The truth that is hid from the worldly wise and prudent is revealed to the child-like and humble. It calls for self-sacrifice. It has battles to fight and victories to win. At the outset its advocates are few. By the great men of the world and by a world-conforming church, they are opposed and despised. See John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, standing alone to rebuke the pride and formalism of the Jewish nation. See the first bearers of the gospel into Europe. How obscure, how hopeless, seemed the mission of Paul and Silas, the two tentmakers, as they with their companions took ship at Troas for Philippi. See “Paul the aged,” in chains, preaching Christ in the stronghold of the Caesars. See the little communities of slaves and peasants in conflict with the heathenism of imperial Rome. See Martin Luther withstanding that mighty church which is the masterpiece of the world's wisdom. See him holding fast God's word against emperor and pope, declaring, “Here I take my stand; I can not do otherwise. God be my help.” See John Wesley preaching Christ and His righteousness in the midst of formalism, sensualism, and infidelity. See one burdened with the woes of the heathen world, pleading for the privilege of carrying to them Christ's message of love. Hear the response of ecclesiasticism: “Sit down, young man. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.” COL 78.2

The great leaders of religious thought in this generation sound the praises and build the monuments of those who planted the seed of truth centuries ago. Do not many turn from this work to trample down the growth springing from the same seed today? The old cry is repeated, “We know that God spake unto Moses; as for this fellow [Christ in the messenger He sends], we know not from whence he is.” John 9:29. As in earlier ages, the special truths for this time are found, not with the ecclesiastical authorities, but with men and women who are not too learned or too wise to believe the word of God. COL 79.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 730

“God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, ... and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” 5T 730.1

Such are the words in which “Paul the aged,” “a prisoner of Jesus Christ,” writing from his prison house at Rome, endeavored to set before his brethren that which he found language inadequate to express in its fullness—“the unsearchable riches of Christ,” the treasure of grace freely offered to the fallen sons of men. The plan of redemption was laid by a sacrifice, a gift. Says the apostle: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.” Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity.” And as the crowning blessing of redemption, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 5T 730.2

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” Surely there are none that, beholding the riches of His grace, can forbear to exclaim with the apostle. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” 5T 730.3

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