PHILEMON

A RUN-AWAY SLAVE

Many people evidently came to see Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome ([Acts 28:30]). One man who came to visit him was a slave from Colosse who had stolen his master’s goods and ran to Rome. The slave’s name was Onesimus and his master’s name was Philemon. After his contact with the gospel of Christ which Paul taught him, the runaway thieving slave became a repentant believing Christian – a brother of all who believe in Christ. Onesimus also became a very useful helper and friend of Paul. (The name “onesimus” in fact means “useful.”) Now what would happen to Onesimus? Would he be punished – even put to death – like other run-away slaves? Would Paul keep him as his own helper, even though he belonged to another man? If he was sent back to his master, how would his master receive him? Onesimus’ biggest problem, his problem of sin, was already solved through his new-found Savior. But the practical problem of what would now happen to him was still not solved.

THE SLAVE’S MASTER

Paul knew the master of Onesimus. Philemon was a Christian from the Colosse congregation. In fact, the church met at his home. In Christ he was Paul’s “dear friend and fellow worker” (2). Philemon did not yet know that the slave who had run away with his goods was now his brother in Christ. What would now happen with Onesimus? Paul decided to send Onesimus back to Philemon. But first Paul wrote a letter to Philemon.

PAUL’S LETTER TO PHILEMON

In his letter Paul carefully pointed out to Philemon that the one he was sending back was not just a slave; but he was now also a dear Christian brother. Paul appealed to Philemon on the basis of Christian love to welcome back Onesimus. (Read this brief letter of 25 verses.)

WHERE AND WHEN WRITTEN?

From Rome during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, 61-63 A.D. Philemon, Ephesians and Colossians were all written about the same time and probably carried by the same men, Onesimus and Tychicus. All three letters were going to Asia, Philemon and Colossians to the same city. (See [Eph. 6:21-22]; [Col. 4:7-9])

THEME:

“AN APPEAL TO PHILEMON TO RECEIVE BACK A SLAVE WHO IS NOW A BROTHER IN CHRIST”

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