Introduction to Philemon
According to the notes in my Geneva Study Bible, this is an epistle (letter) from the Apostle Paul to Philemon, a Christian brother and slaveholder in Colosse. We are basically reading someone’s personal mail. It gives us a glimpse into first century life and the Pastoral concern of Paul for individual believers and their relationships with each other.
The letter was written when Paul was in prison in Rome c.60 A.D. It may have been sent along with the letter to the Colossians.
Philemon’s slave, Onesimus had run away and had somehow met Paul in Rome. Through Paul’s teaching, Onesimus had become a Christian. Paul’s purpose in writing was to ask Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a Christian brother. In pursuit of this goal, Paul barely restrains himself from demanding the favour. He writes a powerful appeal to bring about a Christian answer to a very serious problem.
Paul’s judgment appears to be that Philemon should free the offending slave, for the sake of Christian love toward a fellow believer.
The letter was written in his own handwriting, and is much more than an example of rhetoric. We see Paul’s heart and his desire to make Christian love the first rule of human action.