By Joseph Benson
Philemon lived at Colossae and was probably a convert of Paul and member of the Colossian church. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who had robbed his master (v 18) and fled to Rome where he had been converted under Paul's preaching (v 10). It is the only individual or private letter written by Paul and is written to tell Philemon of the conversion of Onesimus and to make a plea for him. Through the kindness shown Onesimus we have revealed to us the great kindness of the Apostle's heart. He speaks to Philemon not as an apostle in authority, but as a friend to a friend, thereby showing his great courtesy. The letter is of inestimable value as showing the power of the gospel to win and transform a poor slave and to soften the harsh relations between the different classes of ancient society.
Date, From Rome about A. D. 63.
For Study and Discussion. (1) How Christianity deals with slaves. (2) The effectiveness of the Christian religion in a life: (a) Even a fugitive slave would confess his guilt, as, no doubt, Onesimus had done to Paul; (b) It will make one desire to correct any wrongs one has done, and willing, as was Onesimus, to go to the one wronged and make confession; (c) It often raises one from worthlessness to great usefulness (v 11); (d) It will not only make one useful to others in temporal matters, but will make one profitable in things spiritual (v 13). (3) Concerning a real Christian helper, we may learn that, like Paul: (a) He wilt not try to hide or cover up a man's past faults; (b) He will sympathize with the poor fellow who has a bad record behind him; (c) He will make it as easy as possible for such a convert to right the past; (d) He will gladly use the very humblest Christian (v 13); (e) He will be courteous and recognize the rights of others, as in the case of Philemon; (f) He will not force a man to do his duty, but will use love and persuasion to bring him to it. (4) Make a list of all the persons named and learn something of each.