relationships, the 3rd study-Philemon

25 Feb


Design for relationship, a study with Philemon’

Purpose: the purpose of this relationship study is to deepen the understanding and character of each participant by providing an enriching experience with a biblical perspective.

This relationship study #3 links our letter to the person of Philemon to the church at Colossae. Our focus will be on chapter 4 of Colossians

-bible passages

Colossians 1: 9- 29

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.


Colossians 4 English Standard Version (ESV)

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfil the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.



Colossae was a city in decline when Paul wrote this letter. It faced stiff trade competition from the neighbouring cities Laodicea and Hierapolis. Colossae’s fame came from the manufacture of rich red wool called Colossinum pictured here:

Further background information can be found at this link:

The church in Colossae was battling a heresy. We do not know directly what this heresy was. We do know that Epaphras came from the church to Paul in Rome to get a fuller understanding and teaching on ‘knowledge of God.’ (1:10)

Verses 9-29 of the first chapter focus on the ‘the supremacy of Christ’ and by doing so hints at the nature of the heresy. It appears that the heresy was knowledge saves. (Perhaps a type of Gnosis) Paul’s teaching focus at the opening of this letter is that God fills with knowledge; that Jesus rescues us and He gives redemption, the forgiveness of sins. For our 3rd study in this relationship series our focus is Paul’s relationship with the church at Colossae.

-essential question

All essential questions must be carefully constructed with chosen language that illustrates two “essences.” First, an essential question reflects the essence of a person composing the question desire. Second, the language of the questions (and answers) reveals the essence of a person’s character. By their nature, there is no ‘right or wrong’ answer to an essential question.

The essential question for our Philemon relationship study session 3 is:

eq: What was Paul’s desire, his mission statement, for both himself and the church at Colossae?

-unpacking the Bible passage

A possible answer from Paul’s own words in chapter one,

28 ‘Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.’

Paul’s mission, what he was ‘commissioned’ by God to do, is to warn and teach so that everyone can be mature in Christ. His desire is not just to instruct and proclaim but to build and grow. That is his reason for living; his tent making across Asia; his travels and imprisonment. And it was not easy. It was a struggle. Who is Paul’s primary earthly battle with? Himself.

Paul is’ struggling with all his energy.’ (29) ‘His’ energy is the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s energy. It is in Paul, yet Paul struggles with the Spirit because Paul’s spirit has not fully matured in Christ yet. When Paul teaches Philemon; he is also instructing himself; when he writes the church at Colossae; he is speaking with the Spirit to a community and his own self.

This one possible answer to the eg ‘What was Paul’s desire, his mission statement, for both himself and the church at Colossae?’ He desires everyone to become mature in Christ, especially himself. And this is why he is in a struggle with God’s energy.

-closing connections

As we close this third and final session of our study in relationship through the lens of Paul’s letter to Philemon, closing connections will be in the form of questions. They follow below concerning chapters one and four in Colossians and the person of Philemon,

  • If the first chapter of Colossians (the opening of the letter) speaks of ‘sharing in the inheritance of the saints in the light.’ (12) What is this inheritance? Can we also claim it? How can we obtain it?

Paul gives directives to the church.

  • Paul is in chains in a Roman prison. Yet he writes (4:5) ‘Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.’

What is Paul’s opportunity? Whom do you think it is with?

  • How should they pray?
  • What does Paul ask personal prayer for? Why do you think he is asking for clarity in speaking?
  • How should the church community act toward outsiders?

Paul also names individuals; some who are going to Colossae; some who are returning to the church; and some who are staying in Rome.

  • Why is Tychicus being sent to Colossae? Why do think Onesimus is called ‘our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you?’
  • Epaphras is staying with Paul. How is he described?
  • Why do you think he is staying with Paul?
  • Who is Nympa? How did she serve?
  • Why do you think Paul emphasises that he is writing ‘this greeting in my own hand.’? At the end of this letter?

Tychicus carried this letter with Onesimus to Colossae. They also have Philemon’s letter with them.

  • Why two distinct letters? How are they similar?
  • Different?
  • When Paul writes ‘I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand.’ (19) to Philemon what is his purpose? In Colossians he states ‘this greeting’? Is the whole letter the greeting or just this last bit? Do you think Paul wrote the entire letter to Philemon in his own hand? Why? Why not?
  • What do you think Paul’s relationship with Philemon was like?

-personal connection

Consider: there was a letter to the church in Laodicea (4:16) that we do not have. But we have both letters to the city and the church of Colossae-Colossians and Philemon. Why do you think God preserved these two letters? In summary, what is the essence of their teaching?

Form a summary by:

  • Prayerfully rereading both letters in one sitting. (Now more than twenty minutes)
  • Choose no more than one or two verses from each that strike you as essential.
  • Write them down and reflect on what they mean to you and why they are important to you?

Close your study in prayer

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