Unlike many of Paul's other letters, this letter is not to a church community, like Ephesians or Philippians, rather it's written to an individual named Philemon. He owned slaves (which was not uncommon in this ancient culture), but one of those slaves named Onesimus (OH-NIS-I-MIS) had become a Christian and a dear friend of Paul.
v1-3 - Although the letter was addressed to Philemon, the introduction makes clear that it was an open letter.
v4-7 - It becomes clear that Philemon is an upstanding Christian man as well.
v8-22 - The purpose of this letter is to request that Philemon grant Onesimus his freedom.
As an apostle, Paul makes clear that he had the authority to order Philemon to do this, but that instead he's asking him to do the right thing.
Onesimus has become like a son to Paul,
and Onesimus is already living apart from Philemon,
Paul recognizes that Philemon has a legal right to reclaim Onesimus, so he sends Onesimus back.
Once again, we see that social status and worldly wealth are meaningless to Paul, who's making his decisions based on a Kingdom economy.
In the Kingdom of God, the slave Onesimus has the same value and worth as the master Philemon.
Paul wants Philemon to voluntarily do the right thing.
Paul is confident that Philemon will, so much so that he also asks to have the guest room prepared so that Paul can visit (remember, Paul's in prison as he writes this. He's very optimistic!).
v23-25 - Once again Paul acknowledges those supporting him in prison as he concludes this short letter.
OLD TESTAMENT REFERENCE: Jeremiah 34:8-22 tells the account of how the Israelites had promised to give freedom to their slaves but then reneged.
Use the comment box below to discuss one or more of these questions:
EYE FOR DETAIL—From what you recall seeing in this chapter, try answering the following question without looking at your Bible: In the first verse, what does Paul call Philemon?
Why do you think Paul didn’t ask Onesimus to simply enjoy his freedom, and to stay away from Philemon forever?
Questions 1-2 taken from The Complete Bible Discussion Guide: New Testament
Follow the AAA Prayer Pattern:
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: God, our Father and the one who is reconciling all things to Himself
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Don't wait for God to order you what to do, rather align your life with His will on the basis of love (v8-9)
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: