Introduction: How do you deal with broken relationships among fellow
church members? Do you just avoid those church members? Do you try to
reconcile with them? Do you try not to think about it? Our lesson
this week is about trying to heal broken relationships. Let’s plunge
into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Philemon and Onesimus

    1. Read Philemon 1:1-3. Where is Paul when he writes this
      letter? (He is a prisoner of Rome. The Greek suggests that
      Paul is bound with a chain.)

      1. Read Ephesians 1:1. How does Paul introduce himself
        here? (He says he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by
        the will of God.”)

        1. Why does Paul use such a radically different
          introduction in Philemon? Instead of saying he
          is an “apostle of Jesus” he says that he is a
          “prisoner” bound with a chain? (We will see
          that Paul is writing on behalf of a runaway
          slave named Onesimus. By starting out this way,
          Paul identifies with Onesimus.)

    2. Read Philemon 1:4-7. What do we learn about Philemon,
      Apphia, Archippus and their home church? (They are good

      1. Are they related? (The letter does not make clear the
        relationship between Philemon, Apphia and Archippus.
        It is possible that Apphia is Philemon’s wife and
        Archippus is their son. Since Paul says the church
        meets in their home ( Philemon 1:2), it is most likely
        that they are related in some way. For supposes of
        simplicity, I’ll merely refer to Philemon from now

    3. Read Philemon 1:8-11. Let’s break this down. First, Paul
      says that he could order Philemon to comply, but he
      appeals to him based on love instead. How would you react
      to a statement like that? (This reflects the way Paul
      starts out his letter by saying that he is confined,
      rather than a representative of God.)

      1. How did Paul meet Onesimus? (Onesimus was converted
        to Christianity while Paul was imprisoned.)

      2. Paul says that Onesimus was formerly useless to
        Philemon. What does that tell us about Onesimus the
        slave? (He was rebellious, or lazy or both.)

        1. How do you think Onesimus came in contact with
          Paul, since Paul was a prisoner? (Paul likely
          first met Onesimus when he was visiting
          Philemon and Onesimus was a slave of Philemon.)

    4. Read Philemon 1:12-16. What decision does Philemon need to
      make about Onesimus? (Whether he will keep Onesimus or
      send him back to Paul.)

      1. If Philemon keeps Onesimus, how must he treat him?
        (“As a man and as a brother in the Lord.”)

    5. Our lesson is about mending broken relationships. How do
      you think Philemon felt about Onesimus before he read this
      letter? (I’m sure Philemon paid money for Onesimus, and
      thus thought that Onesimus had robbed him. The fact that
      Paul says that Onesimus was previously “useless,” suggests
      that Philemon already had a low opinion of Onesimus.
      Onesimus was a bad investment.)

    6. How do you think Onesimus felt about Philemon? (It is hard
      in our culture, where slavery is universally considered
      illegal and immoral, to put ourselves in Onesimus’ place.
      But, we can be sure he hated being a slave. No doubt being
      “useless” was part of his rebellion against his status. As
      a Christian, he would think slavery was immoral.)

    7. From this we can conclude that when Philemon started
      reading this letter, he was angry towards Onesimus and
      Onesimus was resentful and rebellious towards Philemon.
      How does Paul reconcile the two? What approach does he
      use? (I would call it a heavy-handed appeal to love. Paul
      does not “force” (v. 14) or “order” (v.8) Philemon to
      reconcile with Onesimus, but he mentions those
      possibilities while making his appeal based on love.)

      1. How do you think that Paul approached Onesimus to get
        him to return without any guarantee that Philemon
        would treat him properly? (Paul tells Philemon that
        even if he keeps Onesimus, he cannot continue to
        treat his as a slave because he is now a “brother in
        the Lord.”)

    8. Read Philemon 1:17-21. Once again, Paul sets out his
      argument as to why Philemon should treat Onesimus well.
      What does this tell you about Paul’s confidence that
      Philemon will do what he asks? (It appears that Paul is
      not confident.)

      1. As you look at these verses, what arguments do you
        find Paul making? (He first appeals to him as a
        Christian – “if you consider me a partner.” Later
        Paul tells Philemon that he wants to have “some
        benefit from you in the Lord.” Notice how this
        reverses the issue. Philemon is supposed to get a
        benefit from Onesimus! Paul then offers money to
        Philemon for any damages Onesimus might have created.
        Finally, Paul calls for “obedience” on Philemon’s

    9. Read Philemon 1:22. Why would Philemon need to prepare a
      guest room when Paul is a prisoner? (I don’t think this is
      about preparing a guest room, I think it is a message to
      Philemon that Paul may be checking up on his treatment of

    10. As you think back on the arguments that Paul makes, are
      there any that are inappropriate for reconciling church
      members today?

  2. You and Someone Else

    1. Read Matthew 18:15. Let’s look very closely at this verse.
      First, what is the group addressed as potential sinners?
      (Church members. The use of the term “brother” means that
      Jesus is not talking about the world.)

      1. Second, what is the nature of the problem? (It is sin
        that is being addressed. No doubt there are lots of
        things that might make us unhappy that are not a sin
        against us.)

      2. Third, what is the nature of the problem? What is
        being “fixed?” (Not simply a “sin,” but one against
        you personally.)

      3. Let’s say that I read some published statement or
        argument that is in error. Is that a sin against me?
        (Not unless it mentions me in a malicious way.)

        1. Am I free to write a public statement saying
          that I think the statement or article is in
          error? (Yes. This is not addressing
          disagreement in public debates.)

    2. Let’s look at the last half of Matthew 18:15. What is
      Jesus’ goal? (To keep the problem confined between the two
      of you.)

    3. Read Matthew 18:16. What if your brother listens, but
      disagrees? Do you still bring more people to the meeting?
      What do you think is the purpose of bringing others? Is
      it just to convince the “sinner?” (My experience is that
      the person who believes he is the victim, might be wrong.
      If you cannot get others to come with you, it might be
      because they also think you are not a victim.)

      1. When the text says, “that every matter may be
        established by the testimony of two or three
        witnesses,” what does that mean? (The facts of a
        controversy are often in dispute. This helps to
        ensure that when the alleged victim and sinner get
        together, the factual disputes will be ironed out.)

    4. Read Matthew 18:17. At this point, is there general
      agreement about the sin? (Yes. As you get larger groups,
      if they agree with the victim, it shows that the sinner is

      1. How would you treat a pagan or a tax collector? Toss
        them out of the church?

    5. For context, read Matthew 18:12-13, which is the
      immediately preceding statement. Is a pagan or a tax
      collector the same as a runaway sheep?

    6. For more context, read Matthew 18:18, the verse that
      follows our story? How serious is it if the church agrees
      to throw a person out of membership? (On the one hand, we
      are told that Jesus runs after those who leave the flock
      (and so should we), and on the other hand, Jesus tells His
      disciples ( Matthew 18:1)that their local decisions have
      heavenly consequences.)

      1. Do you think that being bound or loosed refers to
        eternal life? (Humans do not make the decision on
        eternal life for others.)

    7. Read Matthew 18:35. If you have time, read Matthew 18:21-35 for more context. What is Jesus’ final statement about
      conflicts between fellow church members? (That we must
      forgive because God has forgiven us much more.)

    8. Friend, if you have a conflict with another church
      brother, will you be guided by the study today to resolve

  3. Next week: Unity in Worship.