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- THE TITLE
This letter bears the name of the person addressed.
- THE WRITER
The Apostle Paul was the writer of this epistle as we note in verse 1.
- THE ADDRESSEE
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.
- TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING
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.
- THE GOSPEL IN COLOSSAE
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.
- PURPOSE AND CONTENTS OF THE LETTER
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.
- EXERCISES FOR STUDENT ACTIVITY
- Paul wrote five personal letters (T F)
- The epistle to Philemon is doctrinal (T F)
- Philemon was a member of the church at Colossae (T F)
- Philemon was probably converted by the preaching of Paul (T F)
- Philemon was an unscrupulous business man (T F)
- At the time of this letter, Paul was a prisoner at Rome (T F)
- Onesimus was a slave of Philemon (T F)
- Onesimus had run away to Corinth (T F)
- Onesimus was converted by the preaching of Paul (T F)
- A church met in Philemon's house (T F)
- Paul had hopes of visiting Philemon (T F)
- Onesimus had stolen from his master (T F)
- Paul urged Onesimus to remain in Rome (T F)
- Paul refused to pay Philemon for what Onesimus had stolen (T F)
- Archippus was probably Philemon's wife (T F)
- Topics for further study
- In the light of Philemon explain how Christianity deals with slavery.
- Summarize the ethical teaching of Philemon.
- Compare Paul's instruction in I Corinthians 7:17-24 with Philemon.
- Discuss the proper attitude of Christians toward a penitent person with a bad record behind him.
- Learn all that you can concerning each person named in Philemon.
- Write a paper on "Slavery in the Roman Empire."
Published in The Old Paths Archive