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Getting to Know the Bible: Philemon Overview

Peace & Blessings Beloved,

TGBTG for allowing us to see another day. I pray all is well with you and yours, and that your week has been fruitful & blessed thus far.

Today we are going to visit our Getting to Know the Bible Series. In this series, our goal is to come to a comprehensive understanding of each book of the bible. At this point of the series we're going to focus on Philemon. But before we get to Philemon 1, I want to ensure we have a baseline understanding of the book of Philemon. This way we can have a full appreciation for the exquisiteness of the entire book, as well as each individual chapter.

And so, in that spirit, see below for a comprehensive overview of the book of Philemon, as we prepare to behold and discern Philemon, beginning with Philemon 1 in our next installment of this series.

Book Type: Prison Epistle, 18th book of the New Testament

Authors: Paul, with the help of Timothy

Date of Writing: ~ A.D. 60-62

Audience: Philemon, an affluent Christian in the city of Colossae

Original Language: Greek

Genre: Letter

Purpose of Writing: Philemon is about reconciliation and relationships between Christians. Onesimus (which means useful) was a slave of a believer named Philemon in Colossae. Apparently Onesimus had stolen from Philemon and fled. At some time while Paul was under arrest, Onesimus met him and became a Christian. Paul apparently wrote this letter at the same time as Colossians and gave it to Onesimus to carry back to Philemon (see Colossians 4:9). Paul appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, but as a brother in the Lord rather than a slave. In Paul's estimation, Onesimus was far more useful (v. 11) now that he was a Christian. Paul even promised to pay whatever debt Onesimus might owe Philemon.

Summary: The letter to Philemon is the shortest of all Paul's writings and deals with the practice of slavery. The letter suggests that Paul was in prison at the time of the writing. Philemon was a slave owner who also hosted a church in his home. During the time of Paul's ministry in Ephesus, Philemon had likely journeyed to the city, heard Paul's preaching and became a Christian. The slave Onesimus robbed his master, Philemon, and ran away, making his way to Rome and to Paul. Onesimus was still the property of Philemon, and Paul wrote to smooth the way for his return to his master. Through Paul's witnessing to him, Onesimus had become a Christian (Philemon 10) and Paul wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ and not merely as a slave.

Overview: Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s 13 letters. It is one of only four letters written to individuals, along with 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. This is also one of four Prison Epistles, along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

Paul wrote this letter regarding Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. The letter was likely delivered by Onesimus and Tychicus during the same trip described in Colossians 4:7–9. Runaway slaves could be put to death in the Roman Empire. After leaving Colossae, Onesimus traveled to Rome where he connected with Paul and became a Christian. Paul then sent Onesimus back to Colossae, and to Philemon, along with this letter which encourages Philemon to forgive his slave and release him. Tradition states that Onesimus later became a leader in the church.

Application: Employers, political leaders, corporation executives and parents can follow the spirit of Paul's teaching by treating Christian employees, co-workers and family members as members of Christ's Body. In addition, all Christian leaders must recognize that God holds them accountable for the treatment of those who work for them, whether the helpers are Christians or not. They must eventually answer to God for their actions (Colossians 4:1).

Key Verses (ESV):

Philemon 6: I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Philemon 16: no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Philemon 18: If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

*Note: Mentioned in the book’s second verse, Apphia was likely Philemon’s wife, while Archippus was his son (he is also mentioned in Colossian 4:17). Both are described in ways which suggest all three family members had become believers.

Philemon was wealthy enough to own a home large enough for church meetings, as well as at least one slave named Onesimus. This slave is the main concern in the letter. He and the church members in Colossae knew Luke (writer of Luke and Acts, see Colossians 4:14), as well as Epaphras, who was apparently from Colossae (Colossians 4:12). The church also had close connections with churches in Laodicea and a church led by Nympha (Colossians 4:15–16). They also appear to have known, at least by name, Aristarchus, Mark, Barnabas, and Jesus called Justus (Colossians 4:10), as well as Timothy (Philemon 1:1).

I pray you receive this with the love intended, and apply it to wisdom.

May the joy of the Lord continue to be your strength.

Love you much.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Blessed!

-Humble Servant

P.S- If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ, I implore you to take the time to do so right now. Use John 3:16 & Romans 10:9-10 as a foundation for making your confession of faith. And use Ephesians 2:1-10 to provide proper context for your salvation.

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