Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,
This single epistle infinitely transcends all the wisdom of the world. And it gives us a specimen how Christians ought to treat of secular affairs from higher principles.
Paul a prisoner of Christ — To whom, as such, Philemon could deny nothing.
And Timotheus — This was written before the second epistle to Timothy, Philemon 22.
 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
To Apphia — His wife, to whom also the business in part belonged.
And the church in thy house — The Christians who meet there.
 Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
Hearing — Probably from Onesimus.
 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
I pray that the communication of thy faith may become effectual - That is, that thy faith may be effectually communicated to others, who see and acknowledge thy piety and charity.
 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
The saints — To whom Philemon's house was open, Philemon 2.
 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,
I might be bold in Christ — Through the authority he hath given me.
 Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Yet out of love I rather entreat thee — In how handsome a manner does the apostle just hint, and immediately drop, the consideration of his power to command, and tenderly entreat Philemon to hearken to his friend, his aged friend, and now prisoner for Christ! With what endearment, in the next verse, does he call Onesimus his son, before he names his name! And as soon as he had mentioned it, with what fine address does he just touch on his former faults, and instantly pass on to the happy change that was now made upon him! So disposing Philemon to attend to his request, and the motives wherewith he was going to enforce it.
 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
Whom I have begotten in my bonds — The son of my age.
 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
Now profitable — None should be expected to be a good servant before he is a good man. He manifestly alludes to his name, Onesimus, which signifies profitable.
 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:
Receive him, that is, my own bowels — Whom I love as my own soul. Such is the natural affection of a father in Christ toward his spiritual children.
 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:
To serve me in thy stead — To do those services for me which thou, if present, wouldest gladly have done thyself.
 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
That thy benefit might not be by constraint — For Philemon could not have refused it.
 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
God might permit him to be separated (a soft word) for a season, that thou mightest have him for ever - Both on earth and in heaven.
 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
In the flesh — As a dutiful servant.
In the Lord — As a fellow-Christian.
 If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
If thou accountest me a partner — So that thy things are mine, and mine are thine.
 I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.
I will repay it — If thou requirest it.
Not to say, that then owest me thyself — It cannot be expressed, how great our obligation is to those who have gained our souls to Christ.
Beside — Receiving Onesimus.
 Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
Refresh my bowels in Christ — Give me the most exquisite and Christian pleasure.
 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
Given to you — Restored to liberty.