Paulâ€™s letter to Philemon is another personal letter of Paul that has been preserved through time. It is an unusual letter in the fact that it is not a theological treatise, instructing an evangelist or congregation about proper worship and service to God. Rather, this is a personal letter about a particular problem. So let us read the letter to see why the letter was written.
Paul identifies himself differently in this letter to Philemon than all the other letters Paul wrote. In all of the other letters Paul calls himself either an apostle or a servant. In this letter Paul calls himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ. But this is not the only letter that Paul wrote from prison. I think Paul refers to himself as a prisoner to remind Philemon of his condition and to begin to lay the groundwork in this letter as to why he needs Onesimus. Notice also that Paul is not the only author, but Timothy is with Paul and this letter also comes from him.
The recipients of this letter are Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the church that meets in Philemonâ€™s house. Many of the scholars believe that Apphia is Philemonâ€™s wife and that Archippus is Philemonâ€™s son. These assumptions are possible. But it is just as possible that these are important people in the church that meets at Philemonâ€™s house. Let us not pass over the statement that the church was meeting in a personâ€™s home. We read about Archippus in Colossians 4:17: â€œTell Archippus, â€˜Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.â€™â€ If this is the same person, then we believe the church in Colosse met in Philemonâ€™s home. It is possible that Archippus was the evangelist for the Colossian church. I think we are right to make this connection because we also read about Onesimus in Colossians 4:8.
The opening salutation is the common introduction that Paul gives in his letters. â€œGrace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.â€
Verses 4-7 continue the traditional format of a first century letter with a section of thanksgiving. Paul offers thanks to God because of the faith and love he has toward Jesus and toward all the saints. Paul says that he has personally experienced the refreshing that Philemon offers through his love.
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