This letter bears the name of the person addressed.
The Apostle Paul was the writer of this epistle as we note in verse 1.
Philemon lived at Colossae, and was probably converted by the preaching of Paul (Colossians 4:9,17; Phil 2,10,19). A church met in Philemon's house (v. 2). The letter indicates that he was a man of wealth and influence. His humility and liberality toward needy brethren showed his noble Christian character.
This letter was written about A.D. 62 during Paul's first imprisonment at Rome (1,2; 23;24). Ephesians and Colossians were written about the same time.
It is difficult to determine who established the church in Colossae. Many name Epaphras as the founder (Col 1:6,7; 4:12,13). However, some suppose that Paul visited Colossae and founded the church on his third mission tour (Acts 18:23-19:1). We do know that he kept in close touch with the church, and that he and Philemon were knitted together in the bonds of friendship (Colossians 1:3,4,9; 2:5-7; Philemon 1,2,9,23). It has been supposed that Philemon was an officer in the Colossian church, that Apphia was his wife, and that Archippus was minister of the church. The New Testament gives no definite evidence in support of these assumptions.
Onesimus, one of Philemon's household slaves, had robbed his master and fled to Rome where he was converted under Paul's preaching (10-20). How Paul and Onesimus were brought together is nowhere mentioned, but Paul seemed to consider it an act of providence. The purpose of the letter was to effect a reconciliation between Onesimus and Philemon. Hence Paul admonished Onesimus to return home, and asked Philemon to receive him back, "no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved" (12-16). The letter is one of four personal epistles by Paul. It differs from his other letters in that it contains no doctrine and is aesthetical in character. In this book we notice the transforming power of the gospel on society. Although Christianity recognized the existence of slavery, its principles of brotherhood softened the harsh relations between social classes and paved the way for freedom and democracy. The epistle is a wonderful illustration of Paul's delicacy and tenderness of character. It has been called "the polite epistle." Certainly, it is a noble example of Christian love.