Here we find that this epistle is a personal letter of the apostle Paul. This epistle of Paul is the only personal letter recorded and canonized in the Holy Bible. Paul wrote this letter with his own hands vs. 19. He took a personal interest in writing an appeal on half of one for who was converted under his ministry (Col. 4: 9). The central theme of this letter is forgiveness. This letter of intercession is not for Paul but for someone else, Onesimus. In verse one; it indicates to us that the apostle Paul wrote this letter from prison. The apostle Paul used terminology for the situation at hand. He used words like those of; prisoner of Jesus Christ, bonds of the gospel, retained with me, servant, fellow laborer, and fellow prisoner. Philemon can identify with these kinds of words.
This epistle is divided as such.
- Verses 1-4: superscription, comprising salutations.
- Verses 5-7: gratitude for the Christian Characteristic of Philemon
- Verses 8-12: Paul intercession on behalf of Onesimus
- Verse 22-25: Paul’s intentions and conclusions.
This letter was written to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Philemon was also converted under the ministry of the apostle Paul. Philemon was a wealthy man. He was a Christian man. He was also a slave owner. Onesimus was one of his slaves. Onesimus wronged Philemon and ran away for fear of punishment. Paul received Onesimus, but he had to honor God and his Word.
(Deuteronomy 23: 15, 16) Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.
The apostle Paul knew he had to send Onesimus back to Philemon, because he did not get permission to retain him. While Onesimus was in his presence, he witness to the once slave and he was converted. He did not judge Onesimus or say how wrong he was or take him to a low-state, the apostle was concerned more about his soul than his crime.
Paul addresses Philemon as dearly beloved and a fellow labor. The terms used here show that Philemon and Paul had a close friendship and a collective effort to spread the gospel. Philemon held church in his house. The apostle Paul did not acknowledge the fact that he was an apostle or having apostolic authority. He addresses Philemon as a fellow labor. No matter what capacity we are in or ministry office we hold, everybody in the body of Christ are fellow labors for the kingdom God. Paul exhorted Philemon by acknowledging his Christian character. He acknowledges his love and faith for Jesus Christ and for all saints. He communicated this for the purpose of Philemon faith that his faith would become effectual, that the faith of Philemon would produce results for Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul built up and exhorted Philemon with the Christ like attributes.
Philemon had a ministry that was effective. Paul acknowledged the fact that the bowels of the saint or (inner affection/spirit) were refreshed by him. Paul could have addressed Philemon boldly in Christ, but instead he humbled himself and begged for the freedom of Onesimus. The letter indicates that the apostle got more done in a state of humility than in a state of boldness. Paul was a very wise man.
The apostle Paul began to argue his case in defense of Onesimus vs. 10. He called Onesimus his son, because of his conversion, the established relationship and ministry he had with Paul. The persuasive terms Paul used acknowledges that Onesimus had an unprofitable history, but acknowledges that his future is profitable. He pleaded with Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive him. He said, “He is of my own bowels.”