Introduction (vv.1-7)

1 Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timotheus the brother, to Philemon the beloved and our fellow-workman, 2 and to the sister Apphia and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the assembly which is in thine house. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God, always making mention of thee at my prayers, 5 hearing of thy love and the faith which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus, and towards all the saints, 6 in such sort that thy participation in the faith should become operative in the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in us towards Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great thankfulness and encouragement through thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.

Body (vv.8-22)

8 Wherefore having much boldness in Christ to enjoin thee what is fitting, 9 for love’s sake I rather exhort, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Bondage and Freedom. Onesimus is like many who are seeking freedom, freedom from many forms of bondage. He thought rebellion would give him freedom. But rebellion against authority never truly gives liberty. When Onesimus met Paul, the apostle was in chains. Perhaps it was the first time Onesimus had seen a prisoner that was truly free! Paul viewed himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus (v.1). To be totally free is to be totally submitted to the will of God.
10 I exhort thee for “my” child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus, 11 once unserviceable to thee, but now serviceable to thee and to me: 12 whom I have sent back to thee: but do “thou” receive him, that is, “my” bowels: 13 whom “I” was desirous of keeping with myself, that for thee he might minister to me in the bonds of the glad tidings; 14 but I have wished to do nothing without thy mind, that thy good might not be as of necessity but of willingness: 15 for perhaps for this reason he has been separated from thee for a time, that thou mightest possess him fully for ever; 16 not any longer as a bondman, but above a bondman, a beloved brother, specially to me, and how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord? 17 If therefore thou holdest me to be a partner with thee, receive him as me; 18 but if he have wronged thee anything or owe anything to thee, put this to my account. 19 “I” Paul have written it with mine own hand; “I” will repay it: that I say not to thee that thou owest even thine own self also to me. 20 Yea, brother, “I” would have profit of “thee” in the Lord: refresh my bowels in Christ. 21 Being confident of thine obedience, I have written to thee, knowing that thou wilt do even more than I say. 22 But withal prepare me also a lodging; for I hope that I shall be granted to you through your prayers.

Conclusion (vv.23-25)

23 Epaphras salutes thee, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus; 24 Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workmen. 25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  
The Importance of Having a Gracious Spirit. As the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9), the Lord is correcting our attitude or spirit. It is perhaps one of the most important things in our Christian life to maintain a gracious spirit. It is possible to do right things with the wrong attitude. God insists that His servants reflect His character. We see this with Moses, when he failed to reflect the gracious heart of Jehovah to the children of Israel, and said "Hear now, ye rebels, etc." and struck the rock twice (Num. 20:10). Because of this he was not allowed to enter Canaan. We see it again with Elijah, who remained faithful to the Lord, but developed a bad attitude, and said twice "I, even I only, am left, etc." (1 Kings 19:14). Because of this, Elijah was told to anoint Elisha to be prophet instead of him. The same is true in the New Testament. There are a number of times where we are exhorted to have a right spirit at the very close of Paul's epistles. Each occasion corresponds to a circumstance where is would be easy to develop a bad attitude or spirit:
  • Galatians 6:18. When we have been carrying on in a legal way, and when we have been corrected.
  • Philippians 4:23When there are disagreements between brethren.
  • Philemon 25. When we are called on to forgive someone who has offended us.
  • 2 Timothy 4:22. When we look around and see failure in a day of public ruin.