The final demand seems to be made as an afterthought: And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me. Yet Robert Funk has called attention to the theological importance of these offhand references to Paul's itinerary that are found in most of his writings (Funk 1967; also Jervis 1991; Wall and Lemcio 1992:142-60). Funk suggests that Paul's declared interest in visiting a congregation (such as in Rom 1:10; 15:22-24; 1 Thess 2:17-18; 3:11) or a person (in the case of Philemon) is a metaphor of his apostolic authority and power: until Christ's parousia, Paul stands in for Christ as his substitute for God's redemptive power (see commentary on Col 4:7-9). When he comes to visit (the "apostolic parousia"), the power and truth of God's reign are present in him. Paul visits people, then, to test and empower them for ministry. In this sense, the stated reason for Paul's visit and the congregation's prayers implies the hope of dispensing the gift of his apostleship. In fact, restored (charizomai, literally "to give a gift") may very well have a double meaning: on the one hand it refers to Paul's release from prison (a gift in answer to the congregation's prayers), and on the other hand it refers to Paul's opportunity to now give this congregation the "gift of his apostleship" (compare Rom 1:5, 10-11).
Another more pointed way of saying this is that without the benefit of Paul's apostolic gift, Philemon will not be well grounded in the truth and praxis of Christian faith. Indeed, Paul's request for Onesimus's emancipation would be imperiled by spiritual immaturity. True, he wrote letters and sent others in his place when circumstances prevented him from coming in person; but these were inferior substitutes for his own apostolic persona, which conveyed the full powers of the apostolic charisma God had given him. For this reason, the letter he now writes to Philemon and even Onesimus's role as his substitute are second best: Paul wants to visit Philemon and the others in person to fortify their resolve with regard to Onesimus.
This interpretation is at odds with many commentators who think Paul's remark carries no implied threat or warning. However, if we recognize this verse as another use of Paul's "apostolic parousia" motif, we must also suppose that the intent of his anticipated visit is not friendly and casual but apostolic and official (although certainly neither unfriendly nor unwelcome). More than anything else that might come from such an official visit, the apostle wants to make certain that his request is acted on by Philemon and that the results in the congregation's life are positive. If not, then Paul's ministry in person would no doubt enable Philemon to mature to the point of granting Paul's request. R. P. Martin is surely correct is saying, then, that Paul's mention of his travel plans is "no courtesy gesture" but a convention of his writing used to "drive home a point" (1991:145).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.