Bible Topics
in the Christian Library
Brotherly Fellowship Features

Philemon 12-16

John L. Kachelman, Jr. 


I. A missionary to Africa told about a beautiful rite he observed among a tribe. Two people wanted to take upon themselves what they called the "brother rite." To do this they sat down face-to-face, with legs crossed, holding in their laps implements of war. A sheep or goat was killed and its heart roasted and brought to them and each took a half. They then cut a vein and allowed blood to be caught and rubbed on the wound of the other. This rite signifies that henceforth they are halves, or parts of each other. Each through his own blood thus eaten and absorbed by the other's veins, is considered as living in and of the other. Henceforth, should either be in any trouble, the other is to feel "it is myself that is in trouble," and thus do whatever he can to assist the other. 

This is a good illustration of the beauty and blessings of brotherly fellowship in Christ--we become a part of one another! It is the same principle that Christ stressed (Mt 25:40). This wonderful fellowship is a union of heart, soul, goals and dreams. This fellowship is a bond drawing us closer than flesh and blood. It is open to all and will unite all into a perfect unity of "one" with Christ (Ep 2:21,22; 1 Co 12:27). 

II. This marvelous fellowship of the New Testament Church was a trait that distinguished it early in history. 

1. "The heathen are won't to exclaim with wonder, 'See how these Christians love one another!' for they (the heathen) hate one another; 'and how they are ready to die for one another!' for they (the heathen) are more ready to kill one another" (Tertullian,Apol.,39). 

2. The fellowship associations of the early Christians presented radical changes in the usual practices of that time (Gal 3:28,29; Col 3:10,11). 

III. The present text gives us a good illustration of the radical nature of this brotherly fellowship. 

A Jewish scholar is writing to a Gentile businessman and pleads the cause of a runaway slave! Ordinarily these three would have had absolutely no contact with one another; but, because of fellowship with Christ they are all "brothers"! Such a wonderful situation deserves a close study. 


I. The Marvelous Goals of fellowship presented. 

A. The Book of Philemon was written to explain to and encourage Philemon to strive toward the goals of fellowship in Christ. The church at Colossae shared the joys of this blessed fellowship (Col 2:2). But with Onesimus there was a special problem to be addressed. The great love of Philemon (4-7) could be ruined by bitterness over personal injury. Paul needed to write about the goals of fellowship. 

B. These goals are found throughout the short book but can be summed up into one--UNITY! 

1. Ro 12:15-16a; Rv 21:24-27 

2. This blessed unity is spoken of in matchless terms in the hymns we sing--"Blest Be The Tie." "How Sweet, How Heavenly," etc. 

3. This is the grand goal Paul was reminding Philemon about. 

II. The Major Features of fellowship presented. 

A. A binding affection--"very heart" (12). 

1. "Heart"--used to refer to the place of deepest emotions, strong feelings, tender attachments.

2. The runaway slave, after obeying the gospel, had become so endeared to Paul that the departure of Onesimus was like tearing his heart out. The separation from a brother in the Lord was like the tearing out of a vital organ necessary for continued life. 

3. Such is the way fellowship's affection affects us. It endears us to one another and binds us to each other with cords of strength and love. Although invisible, they unite and compel us to be together! 

4. When the fellowship is harmed, the affection causes us to feel pain and loss (1 Co 12:26; Philip 4:18). 

5. This affection is characteristic of those in fellowship with God (Ps 16:3; Ro 12:10; 2 Co 7:13-16; 1 Ths 2:8). 

B. Mutual strength shared with one another--"minister" (13). 

1. Fellowship in Christ brings about a sharing of strength where each relies upon the other--its strength is found in its unity! (Ep 2:19ff; Ro 14:19; 1 Co 12:23; Ro 1:12). 

2. Paul's fellowship with Onesimus brought him strength. Paul needed Onesimus--as a sufferer, captive, and stranger he needed attention. A source of strength and comfort would be a priceless treasure to the Apostle. 

3. Paul wished Onesimus could remain because in the person of that runaway slave Paul had found strength! 

C. Consideration for one another--"without consent" (14). 

1. A most visible aspect of this fellowship is the consideration paid to one another (Hb 10:24). Care and attention FOR one another's needs and feelings were top priorities (Hb 10:32-34). 

2. Paul was considerate of Philemon. He really wanted Onesimus to stay in Rome, but he did not want to impose or run "roughshode" over Philemon. He shows himself as a perfect Christian gentleman as he put aside personal considerations and conveniences. 

3. The fellowship found in Christ's church today must demonstrate this sensitivity and consideration FOR one another (Ro 14:15b,20,21; 15:1,2). 

D. Eternal scope of the fellowship--"forever" (15). 

1. The temporary loss of Onesimus had led to everlasting gain. Now both were eternally related. They found fellowship in earthly life and anticipated fellowship in heaven's eternity. 

2. 1 Ths 4:17--the glorious benefits of this eternal fellowship are delightful to contemplate. Such is possible only for those who share in the glorious brotherly fellowship of Philemon and Onesimus (Ps 119:63). 

E. Enhancement of personal worth and value--"much more" (16). 

1. Onesimus returned not as a mere slave but much more! He returned as a "brother beloved"! He was in a different class altogether. He had gained new dignity as Philemon's equal and as a brother of Christ--all because he was now "in the Lord." 

2. The fellowship of saints accomplished this not only for Onesimus, but for all who obey God (1 Co 6:9-11; Ep 2:11-13; 1 Ti 1:13-16; etc.). All in society who are counted as useless find great value in the fellowship of Christ's church. Their value becomes priceless! (Gal 2:20) 

3. Summary of Fellowship Features 

a. Binding affection 

b. Mutual strength 

c. Consideration 

d. Eternal scope 

e. Enhanced worth/value 

III. The Mandatory Duty of this marvelous fellowship 

A. "Of your own free will" (14b). Here is one imperative of this brotherly fellowship. If such brotherly fellowship is to exist and bless us as it was designed to do so by God, it is crucial that we choose, of our own free will, to do it! 

B. This duty involves a number of specifics. A few... 

1. I must become involved with brethren! I cannot isolate myself and ignore my brethren. 

2. I must reorder priorities so "eternity" becomes a realistic term in my vocabulary. 

3. I must demonstrate genuine "affection" to all who are my brethren! (Gal 3:22; Col 3:10,11). 

4. I must see each Christian as possessing priceless value (1 Co 12:20-25). 


I. Verse 12--"send back," literally means "to refer a case to." Philemon was confronted with a hard question--"What about brotherly fellowship?" He was to judge Onesimus and give a verdict. Either he would fellowship him or he would not. It was not an easy thing for him to do. 

A. What about you? How do you "fellowship" the brethren? 

B. Verse 12 is a charge to you and me--the case is referred, you are to render a verdict. 

C. Do you judge brotherly fellowship so important that you will do anything to preserve and deepen it? Is it so vital you can easily forgive to protect it? 

II. Go back to the opening illustration. We are "blood brothers" today but in a far different sense than was practiced by the African savages. All who are in Christ are united with blood. We share that blood and whatever happens to one happens to the others. Let us be thankful for this fellowship. Let us adhere to the Scripture's teachings to protect this fellowship!

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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