Paul continues dictating his letter. “Whenever I pray, I thank God for you, because I have heard of your faith in our Lord Jesus and your love for Him and for all of our brothers and sisters in Him. I pray that the work that you are doing in faith will produce much fruit among all of our Colossian brothers and sisters, that you all would grow in your faith and in relationship with each other through Jesus, and in relationship with Jesus through your Christian love for each other. Because of the work you are engaged in through the love in your heart for your brothers and sisters in the faith, you give all of us great joy and peace. You are doing wonderful things for the Kingdom of God, by opening up your home to all the brothers and sisters to worship together, by giving financially to those who have been driven from their homes and jobs because of their faith, through simply encouraging and praying for all of us. The hearts of all we who believe in Jesus as our Messiah are encouraged and upheld by you, our beloved brother. I thank God for you, and for bringing us together in His love.”
The day soon comes when Paul tells Onesimus it is time for him to return home. “You have grown in your new faith. You’ve learned much in your time here, and your heart is ready for what you know you must do. I know your master, having had the privilege to meet and work with him while I was in Ephesus. I will write a letter to Philemon and Apphia that you can take to them, explaining what has transpired and asking them to receive you favorably. I shall miss you, my son, and you will be faithfully in my prayers.” Onesimus, though reluctant to leave Paul and apprehensive about the reception waiting for him back home, knows that Paul is correct. He has become a completely different man. He knows that he deserves to be imprisoned, or worse, for what he did to his master and mistress, but he is determined to make it right. As Paul begins dictating his letter to Philemon and Apphia, Onesimus sinks to his knees to pray. “I, Paul, a prisoner for the sake of Jesus our Messiah, along with our brother Timothy, send greetings to you, Philemon, our beloved friend and fellow laborer in the faith, to Apphia, our beloved sister in faith, to Archippus, our fellow soldier for Jesus, and to all the church that meets in your house. I ask our Lord and Messiah, Jesus, and God our Father to grant you His grace and His peace.”
Philemon 1:1-3, Matthew Henry Commentary
The people gradually begin to head for home, but Onesimus lingers behind. He has this feeling that he must talk to this man, that the rest of his life hangs in the balance. He doesn’t even know the man’s name, but as soon as everyone has gone, Onesimus boldly walks up to the door and knocks. Another man opens the door and looks at Onesimus inquisitively. “Yes? What can we do for you?” Onesimus falters for just a moment, not expecting anyone else to be there, but squares his shoulders and takes a deep breath, saying, “I need to speak with the man who talked about Jesus today. I don’t know his name, but his words made me believe…” He trails off, feeling like he’s speaking nonsense, but the other man smiles and gestures for Onesimus to enter. “Please, come in. Paul will be delighted to talk with you, young man.” Relieved that he has not been turned away – yet, Onesimus enters Paul’s home and sits in the chair that the other man directs him to. Paul comes over and sits next to him. “Tell me about yourself, my son.” Onesimus hesitates, not wanting to reveal his crimes against his master and mistress, but that same feeling comes over him again, and somehow he knows he is safe. He launches into a story about his life with Philemon and Apphia, finishing by telling Paul about stealing from them and running away to Rome, then coming upon the gathering here accidentally. “My son, that was no accident! It was the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is that same Spirit who made you feel that you must come and talk to me, and that you would be safe in telling me what you have done.” Onesimus smiles and asks, “Will you teach me? There is so much I want – need – to know!” Paul agrees to teach Onesimus about Jesus and what it means to follow Him. For the next several weeks, Onesimus stays with Paul in his home and soaks in the knowledge that Paul willingly pours out to him. In return, Onesimus serves Paul, attending to his every need in a way that he never had for Philemon and Apphia.
Philemon, Matthew Henry Commentary
Onesimus is a slave. He lives and works for his master, Philemon, in a city called Colossai. Philemon, the master of the house, and his wife Apphia, are Christians, as are many members of their household, but Onesimus has never understood their faith. Philemon and Apphia have made their home into a church, and every Sunday the house is filled with people worshipping the Lord. Onesimus does not attend. He goes about his work as usual. But he is tired of being a slave, working so hard every day to simply earn room and board. These people have so much, and he has nothing. It’s not fair. So one day he decides he is going to take what he believes he is owed and run away. He escapes in the middle of the night, running off with a good amount of money and material goods from his master and mistress. He makes his way to Rome as stealthily as he can, generally traveling by night so that there will be less chance of getting caught. When he gets to Rome, he feels that he has gone far enough for now, and he can hide in the bustle of the great city. For a while, he enjoys spending his master’s money and indulging himself. But he realizes that the money will eventually run out. He is walking through the city one day, trying to figure out a plan for his future, when he comes across a gathering in front of a house. Curious, he moves closer so he can hear what is being said. A man is speaking passionately to a crowd of people. Onesimus finds a spot where he can hear without being conspicuous and listens. After a while, he realizes that the man is talking about this Jesus that Onesimus’ master and mistress worship. He starts to leave, but then something turns him back. He stays and listens, and by the end of the day he is no longer an outsider who can’t understand why anyone would worship a dead guy. He has become a believer.
Philemon, Matthew Henry’s Commentary
The Jews begin to debate among themselves, some believing Paul and others unconvinced. Paul steps in, raising his hand to speak. “In the book of Isaiah, the Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah to our ancestors. He said, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”’ I have spoken only the truth to you. Now, it is your choice whether or not to believe. But know this – this same message, the message of salvation from sins, has been given also to the Gentiles, and they believe it and receive that salvation.” The Jews, recognizing this as their dismissal, begin to disperse, debating as they go. After this, many people come to see Paul and to hear him speak about the Kingdom of Heaven and the message of Jesus. For the next two years, Paul remains in his rented house in Rome, receiving visitors and spreading the good news of Jesus to all who will hear him.
Acts 28:25-31, Isaiah 6:9-10
The Roman Jews look at each other, puzzled. One of them steps forward and tells Paul, “We have heard nothing about you, either good or bad. No letters concerning you have come to us from Judea, and even when we’ve had visitors from Judea, nobody has said anything about you. We are intrigued by what you say, and we would like to hear more. We have heard of this new religious group, but we’ve only heard negative things about it. At this time next week, we will hold a gathering to hear what you have to say on the matter, if you are in agreement.” Paul agrees and spends most of the next week in prayer, hoping that he might persuade at least some of these Roman Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is really the Messiah the Jews have been waiting and hoping for since the beginning of the world. When the appointed day arrives, Jews from all over the city come to Paul’s house to hear his message about Jesus. Paul speaks to them of the prophecies in the Scriptures concerning the coming of the Messiah. He reminds them of all the places in the Torah where Moses foreshadows the coming Messiah, and how even the Law of Moses teaches us about Him. Paul talks to the Jews about the Kingdom of Heaven and the only way to be assured of a place there – by believing that Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all the world when He willingly gave Himself up to be crucified. Paul speaks passionately from early morning until late in the evening, patiently explaining every detail. In the end, the Jews are divided – some believe Paul, convinced by the evidence of Scripture that he has cited, but others are still skeptical.
Paul takes three days to settle in to his new home, and to rest and regain some of his strength after the long journey. Then he goes out into the Jewish sector of Rome, accompanied by his guard and Luke, and asks for an audience with the Jewish leaders in the city. They grant him audience, and as soon as the assembly is gathered, Paul stands before them and speaks to them. “Men, my brothers, I come to you today as a prisoner, and I wish to explain to you why I am here. I was seized by several Jews from Asia while in Jerusalem and accused of all manner of things which I have never done. I was given over to the Romans as a prisoner, and stood trial before the governor of Judea. He found me innocent of all charges and would have let me go, but for the tumult this caused among the Jews who wanted me dead. Because of this, I appealed to Caesar – not because I wanted to do anything against my people, the Jews, but only to prove my innocence before all who would accuse me wrongfully. It is because of the hope that we Jews have of the coming of our Messiah that I am coming to you today as a prisoner, and it is about this hope that I wish to speak to you.”
They travel from Puteoli to Rome by land, and when they arrive at the Appii Forum and the Three Inns, they are once again met by a large group of Roman believers. The Roman church had a message from the believers in Puteoli, where Paul and Luke stayed before continuing on, and they are ready and waiting when the men arrive in Rome. Paul’s spirits are lifted when he looks up and sees the large group waiting to welcome them. He stops in the middle of the road to thank God for His provisions. Upon reaching the city, Centurion Julius leads all the prisoners to the captain of the guard, officially handing them off. Paul, however, remains semi-free. He is under guard twenty-four hours a day, but he is allowed to rent a small house and live there on his own, except for that soldier guarding him. Luke stays with him, assisting Paul in every way he can, while at the same time meticulously noting every detail of the grueling trip they have just endured.
They stay on Malta for the winter, and three months later the seas are safe to travel once more. Centurion Julius secures passage for all the men on an Alexandrian ship with a figurehead of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus in Greek mythology, who are said to protect sailors on the sea. This ship had also spent the winter on the island with them. They set sail with good spirits, landing first in Syracuse on the island of Sicily, where they stay for three days. They set out again, sailing around Sicily to the harbor at Rhegium, on the southern end of Italy. They decide to wait there to make sure they have good conditions to sail onward through the Straits of Messina, the waterway between Sicily and Italy. They only have to wait one day before the wind changes, blowing from the south, and they set out again. They sail one more day and arrive at the port of Puteoli, near Pompeii. It is the biggest and most important port in Italy, and the Alexandrian ship docks amid many other commercial ships, including some bearing grain from Egypt. A group of Italian believers meets them, apparently expecting their arrival. They are very excited to meet Paul, having heard stories of his work throughout Asia. They invite Paul and Luke to stay with them, and they do so for a week before continuing on to Rome.
Publius, the governor of Malta, invites Paul, Luke, Centurion Julius, and a few of the other men from the ship to stay with him at his home. He is a gracious host, and the guests feel quite comfortable in his home. After they have been there for three days, Paul discovers that Publius’ father is very ill. He has contracted a fever and bacterial dysentery from infected goat’s milk, a common malady on the island. As soon as he hears of this, Paul goes to the man, laying his hands on him and praying over him, and immediately the man is healed. There is great rejoicing in the governor’s house that night, and word of Publius’ father’s healing spreads quickly through the island. The next day, a great crowd of people comes to the governor’s house in search of Paul. They have brought all the people on the island with diseases, hoping that Paul might heal them as well. Paul is very busy all day, praying over all these people, and all of them are healed in Jesus’ Name. The Maltans hold a celebration in Paul’s honor and shower him with gifts to thank him for healing so many people.