PHILEMON, LETTER TO
A letter written by the apostle Paul with his own hand and addressed primarily to Philemon. (Vss. 1, 2, 19) It must have been composed sometime after the start of Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome (probably about 60/61 C.E.), for the apostle entertained the hope of being “set at liberty.”—Vs. 22; see ONESIMUS; PHILEMON.
The apostle’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage Philemon to accept his runaway slave Onesimus back kindly. Rather than using his apostolic authority to command him to do so, Paul appealed on the basis of love and personal friendship. (Vss. 8, 9, 17) Knowing Philemon as a man of faith and love, Paul was confident that he would receive his formerly useless, but now Christian, slave back as he would the apostle himself. (Vss. 10, 11, 21) This is especially noteworthy, since Philemon had the legal right to mete out severe punishment to Onesimus.
Besides providing an actual example illustrating the beauty of Christian kindness, forgiveness and mercy, the letter tells us something about the early Christians. They assembled in private homes, called one another “brother” and “sister” (vss. 1, 2, 20), prayed for one another (vss. 4, 22) and were encouraged by the faith and love manifested by fellow believers.—Vss. 4-7.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Salutation addressed to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the congregation in Philemon’s house (Vss. 1-3)
II. Philemon’s love and faith a source of joy and comfort to Paul, moving the apostle to mention Philemon in his prayers (Vss. 4-7)
III. Paul’s intercession in behalf of Onesimus (Vss. 8-22)
IV. Concluding greetings (Vss. 23-25)