Summary: The book probably doesn’t turn heads because of the subject matter. It’s about a slave. Actually, it’s about a runaway slave named Onesimus who had stolen something from his master, Philemon and ran away to avoid being caught. The Book of Philemon
The book probably doesn’t turn heads because of the subject matter. It’s about a slave. Actually, it’s about a runaway slave named Onesimus who had stolen something from his master, Philemon and ran away to avoid being caught. The Book of Philemon is very interesting. Its probably a book we hear quoted the least out of all the books of the Bible and probably one that we look at the least. This book is a letter from Paul. But instead of a letter to a church, it’s a letter to a person – Philemon – thus the title of the book.
Paul wrote the letter to Philemon in approximately 57-60A.D. probably during his first imprisonment in Rome. This letter was written at about the same time that he wrote his letters to the church at Ephesis (Ephesians) and to the church at Colosse (Colossians).
1-3 The Greeting-“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, (2) to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: (3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
Paul identifies himself and mentions Timothy .He Addresses Philemon as a “dear friend and fellow worker” which shows there was a warm personal relationship already established between Philemon and Paul. Paul knew that Philemon always went the extra mile . He was not just a brother to Paul and the head of a household of a Christian Family. In verse 2 we find out that Philemon also held a church in his own home.
Verses 4-7. Prayer and thanks-“I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, (5) because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. (6) I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (7) Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (NIV)
Paul reminds Philemon that he is thankful to God for him because, even in Rome he has heard of Philemon’s faith in Jesus Christ and his love for the believers. Paul prays that Philemon will be active in sharing the faith. To us this would sound like witnessing or preaching. Being active, “so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Again Paul mentions the joy and encouragement he has received because Philemon has refreshed the hearts of the saints. (Probably both spiritually, financially and physically.)
Now, if you were going to write a letter to someone requesting a huge favor wouldn’t you use a beginning format like this? A warm greeting, a prayer of thanksgiving for them which builds them up and encourages them to read the remainder of the letter with warmth and a smile in their heart.
Let’s start by looking at the 2 main men mentioned in this letter.
1. Philemon- He was a rich man. A Man of considerable wealth with servants. The church at Colosse met in his house. He was a very benovolent person who is said to have helped many people after the earthquake of 60a.d. Philemon was a righteous man. He was a convert under Paul’s ministry at Ephesus. He Later became bishop of Colosse. Philemon hosted a church in his house, - this was a dangerous occupation. But more so, it was a symbol of the gracious acts of kindness he willingly showed. Philemon loved the people of God and always went the extra mile for them. In offering his home, he was risking invasion by the unruly crowds, and condemnation from the Roman government opposed to this new found religion. Paul held him in high esteem calling him "dearly beloved, and fellow laborer." He was Commended for his faith & love for Christ, and the saints. "Philemon" means "affectionate one". He lived up to his name and brought joy and encouragement to other believers. It is said that he died a martyr at the hands of Nero.
2. Onesimus- His name means "useful." He was the slave of a Christian named Philemon. Whoa! Hold it right there. What’s a Christian doing with a slave? Isn’t slavery wrong? Actually, the Bible never condemns slavery. In fact the apostles Paul and Peter encouraged slaves to obey and respect their masters, even the ones who weren’t nice (2 Tim. 6:1, 2; 1 Pet. 2:18). Of course slave owners were, in turn, to love and care for their slaves. The Golden Rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself” applied to them as it did to everyone else. Millions of people were slaves throughout the Roman empire.It is said that he stole from his master Philemon and then ran away. He tries to get as far away as possible. He goes from Colosse to Rome which is a distance of over1000 miles. Why would he try to get so far away ? He was a fugitive. If he were found as a runaway slave, he could have possibly been executed. Slaves were hated in the Roman empire. In 73 B.C. Spartus led some 70,000 slaves in a revolt which created much havoc, and brought much bloodshed to Rome. After the revolt, Roman officials would crucify 6,000 slaves side by side along a 130 mile stretch of road leading out of Rome ! There would be no more revolts .