I sent him back, for, if I had kept him, I might have defeated the purpose for which he was allowed to be separated from you for a time. “We are not to be too sure of what God means by such and such a thing, as some of us are wont to be, as if we had been sworn of God's privy council
. A humble 'perhaps' often grows into a 'verily, verily' - and a hasty, over-confident 'verily, verily' often dwindles to a hesitating 'perhaps.' Let us not be in too great a hurry to make sure that we have the key of the cabinet where God keeps his purposes, but content ourselves with 'perhaps' when we are interpreting the often questionable ways of His providence, each of which has many meanings and many ends” (Maclaren).
He therefore departed ( διὰ τοῦτο ἐχωρίσθη )
The A.V. misses the ingenious shading of Paul's expression. Not only does he avoid the word ran away, which might have irritated Philemon, but he also uses the passive voice, not the middle, separated himself, as an intimation that Onesimus' flight was divinely ordered for good. Hence Rev., correctly, he was parted. Compare Genesis 45:5.
For a season ( πρὸς ὤραν )
A brief season. See 2 Corinthians 7:8; Galatians 2:5.
Thou shouldst receive ( ἀπέχῃς )
The compounded preposition ἀπό may mean back again, after the temporary separation, or in full, wholly. The former is suggested by was parted, and would fain have kept: but the latter by Philemon 1:16, no longer as a servant, but more. The latter is preferable. Compare the use of ἀπέχω in Matthew 6:2, they have received. (see note); Matthew 6:16; Luke 6:24; see on Philemon 4:18; and ἀπολαμβάνω receive Galatians 4:5.