An Overview Of The Book Of Philemon


The Writer Of The Letter To Philemon

Paul wrote this letter, Philemon 1:1

The Recipient Of The Letter To Philemon

Philemon, who was a member of the church in Colosse, Philemon 1:1

The Date Of The Letter To Philemon

About 60 to 61 A.D. See The Background For Paul's Prison Epistles: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians

The Occasion For The Writing Of The Letter To Philemon

The letter to Philemon was one of Paul's prison epistles, which he wrote while being held a prisoner in Rome. While being held under house arrest there, Paul received a visitor named Onesimus, whose name meant profitable or advantage. Onesimus had formerly proven to be anything but profitable and an advantage. He was a runaway slave who had fled from his master, a man named Philemon. When Onesimus ran away, he probably took with him money and goods which belonged to his master Philemon. Runaway slaves customarily did this. Onesimus made his way to Rome. In Rome he somehow came to Paul. Through Paul's teaching he became a Christian. A bond of friendship developed between Paul and Onesimus. Onesimus performed valuable services for Paul. He probably ran errands for Paul, who could not leave the house. Onesimus' services greatly aided Paul's ministry.

Paul would have liked to keep Onesimus with him. Paul, however, honored the social tie that bound a slave to his master and respected the duty Onesimus owed to Philemon, his master. Guided by the tenth commandment, which forbids coveting another man's worker, and by the law of love, Paul decided Onesimus should return to Philemon. Paul was about to send Tychicus, a co-worker, to Colosse with a letter Paul had written to the church there. Philemon was a member of that church. Tychicus' traveling to Colosse offered Paul the opportunity to send Onesimus with Tychicus to Philemon. Onesimus went willingly as a penitent Christian to seek his master's forgiveness and to return to his service in Philemon's household. Paul wrote his letter to Philemon and had Tychicus hand carry it to him.

Content Of The Letter To Philemon

In his letter Paul did not command Philemon to free his slave Onesimus. Rather, Paul commended Philemon for the loving compassion he showed to his fellow Christians and then interceded in Onesimus' behalf. Paul pleaded that for love's sake Philemon would treat Onesimus kindly. Slaves, such as Onesimus, who were brought back to their masters were often treated most harshly and under Roman law could be killed. Paul noted that Philemon was having Onesimus come back to him as more than a slave but as a brother in Christ and fellow believer. Paul asked that Philemon would receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul himself. Since it was quite possible that Onesimus had wronged Philemon and was indebted to Philemon for what he had stolen, Paul even offered to have Philemon charge the debt to him so that Paul might repay him. In offering to repay Philemon for Onesimus' indebtedness, Paul reminded Philemon that he owed him his very life, for it appears that in some way as a result of Paul's gospel ministry Philemon had become a believer in Christ the Savior. In the course of his letter Paul hinted that he would very much like to have Onesimus back with him in Rome.

Theme Of The Letter To Philemon

In love we Christians will forgive those who sin against us as God forgives our sins against him for Jesus' sake.

Outline Of The Letter To Philemon

Part 1: Greeting to Philemon, to Apphia who may have been Philemon's wife, and to Archippus who may have been Philemon's son and who was the pastor of the church of Colosse (cf. Colossians 4:17), Philemon 1-3

Part 2: Thanksgiving And Prayer For Philemon, Philemon 4-7

A. Thanksgiving for his faith and love, Philemon 4,5

B. Prayer for the effectiveness of his fellowship of faith, Philemon 6,7

Part 3: Paul's Intercession In Behalf Of Onesimus, Philemon 8-20

A. Paul issues no command to Philemon but appeals to him to do what is proper for the sake of Christian love, Philemon 8,9

B. Paul appeals in behalf of Onesimus, who formerly was useless to Philemon, but who is now useful to both Paul and Philemon, 10,11

C. Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon. Paul desired to have Onesimus remain in Rome with him to aid him in his gospel ministry, but Paul would not retain Onesimus without Philemon's consent, Philemon 12-14

D. Onesimus is being returned to Philemon as more than a slave, but as a Christian brother in the faith, Philemon 15,16

E. Paul appeals to Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul himself, that is, with great kindness, Philemon 17

F. Paul offers to repay Philemon for whatever loss Onesimus may have caused him, Philemon 18-20

Part 4: Conclusion, Philemon 21-25

A. Paul's confidence in Philemon and request for lodging when Paul is released from imprisonment and can come to Philemon and Colosse, Philemon 21,22

B. Closing greetings, Philemon 23,24

C. Closing benediction, Philemon 25