Dr. Andrew C S Koh
Heavenly Father, we acknowledged that You are the only true God, the Trinitarian God of the Holy Bible, the God of creation, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. We thank You for all that You have done for us in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Philemon is one of the four prison epistles written during his first imprisonment in Rome between AD 60-62. The other three are Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Paul was under house arrest in Rome while awaiting trial under Caesar Nero. Although he was allowed to live by himself in a house, he was chained to a Roman Pretorian guard 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who rotated through shift duties. Epaphras visited Paul and brought him a financial love gift from the Colossian church. Paul sent the epistle of Colossians and Philemon back to the house church in Colossae through Epaphras.
Colossae was an ancient Roman province along the Lycus River valley in Asia Minor, now in western Turkey. In its heyday, Colossae was famous for the manufacturing of a dark red wool cloth called colossinum.
Purpose and historical setting
The epistle of Philemon was Paul’s letter to Philemon, a wealthy leader of the Colossian house church. Paul shared the gospel with Philemon when he was in Ephesus, converted, discipled, and mentored him in the faith. Philemon returned to Colossae and planted the Colossian house church. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves who ran away from his master and secretly found his way to Rome. Through providence at work, Onesimus met the apostle Paul in Rome who shared the gospel with him, converted, discipled, and mentored him in the faith. When Paul realized that Philemon was a runaway slave of Philemon, he sent Onesimus back to Philemon with a personal letter. Paul entrusted Tychicus to accompany Onesimus to his master Philemon with this personal epistle called Philemon, Colossians 4:7-9.
Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded himActs 28:16
Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening hereColossians 4:7-9
Onesimus was a runaway slave. Onesimus had committed a very serious offense. In first-century Israel, the consequence of a slave running away from a master was capital punishment. Onesimus confessed his situation to Paul who sent him back to his master. Before we came to know Christ, we too had run away from our Lord and Master but when we confessed our sins, believed, and returned to Christ, He forgave us and gave us eternal life.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this small book of Philemon. We pray that You will speak to us through the pages of Your inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word, in Jesus’ name, Amen.