Summary: This is a study in Philemon.
Just because a book of the Bible is small in length does not mean it is small in meaning. Philemon is one of these books. Onesimus was a slave owned by Philemon, who was a wealthy Christian living in Colosse and a friend of Paul’s. Onesimus robbed Philemon and ran away to Rome where he met Paul and was led to Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Once Paul heard Onesimus story he decided that Onesimus had to go back to Philemon, which was the Christian thing to do. Paul sent a letter to Philemon preparing the way for Onesimus. Look with me at how Christians are to treat one another.
Paul let Philemon know how much he appreciated Philemon’s friendship. Paul was thankful that Philemon was a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
Paul also commends Philemon as being a good father and husband. Most scholars believe that Apphia was Philemon’s wife and Archippus was his son. We are also told in Colossians 4:17 that Archippus had assumed the role of the pastor in Colosse when Epaphras, the founder of the church, went to Rome to see Paul in prison.
Paul also pays Philemon a huge compliment when he tells him what a blessing it is to see how much Philemon loves Jesus Christ.
Paul also thanks Philemon for his hospitality and love shown towards other Christians.
As you can tell, Philemon was a good Christian man with a good Christian reputation. Some people may believe that Paul was just being nice to Philemon so he could “smooth” things over with Philemon and Onesimus, but you will never find Paul saying things that are not true in order to “kiss up” to someone. In fact, Paul was very outspoken and so what he was saying about Philemon was true.
It should be each Christian’s goal to have this type of reputation as a Christian. If Philemon was not of good reputation, Paul would not have even made this request; but Paul believed that Philemon would do the Christian thing in this matter regardless of how hard it would be for him. When your name is mentioned amongst Christian brothers and sisters while you are not present, what is said?
Paul was asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus and restore him to his position before he ran away. He also wanted Philemon to realize that Onesimus was not just his servant now, but also a Christian brother.
Philemon was asked to forgive and restore Onesimus for the sake of three people.
This dishonest slave had been changed by Jesus Christ and had learned a great deal from Paul about living as a Christian.
Philemon had an opportunity to model what Christian forgiveness and love is all about. He would be being an obedient Christian.
As Paul was trying to mediate this problem between these two Christian brothers he was willing to do whatever it took to see them brought back together. Paul told Philemon that if he couldn’t forgive the debt then to just put it on his (Paul’s) account. The theological word for this is imputation and is the theme of this entire book.