Philemon or the Epistle of Paul to Philemon is a book that is included in the Christian New Testament. Written by Saint Paul the Apostle along with Timothy, this prison letter was addressed to Philemon who was a leading member of the Colossian Church. The epistle deals with subject of understanding and compassion. Considered as among the undisputed works of Saint Paul the Apostle, it is the shortest of all of his extant letters, comprising of only 25 verses and 445 letters in the Bible. This personal letter was written by Paul during his house arrest in Rome at around 60-62 AD, which was then delivered to Philemon in Colossae by Tychicus.
The 25 verses of the letter are divided into three sections: the introduction, the main body of the letter and the epilogue. The epistle starts with an address to Philemon by Paul, who refers to himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus”. He also calls Timothy as “our brother” and designates him as the co-author. Paul greets the household of Philemon, Apphia, Philemon’s wife and Archippus, his son and the church in Philemon’s house, and prays that the grace from Lord Jesus Christ be with them.
Paul then goes on to illustrate the main reasons for writing his letter. It is so that Philemon was a wealthy devote of Christianity who used to have church congregation in his private home. A slave by the name of Onesimus who worked for Philemon had escaped from him and left Colossae for Rome hoping that he could eventually disappear into the crowd of its urban environment. After arriving in Rome, Onesimus comes into contact with Paul, either completely by fate or through his own eager seeking. Soon Paul converts this runaway slave into an ardent follower of Christianity. In the meantime, Paul had been already planning for some time to convey a letter to Colossian Church and Philemon. He sent back Onesimus to his master in Colossae and sent this letter to him through the hands of Tychicus.
In the letter sent to Philemon, Paul attempts to reconcile the relationship between Philemon and his slave Onesimus. Although Paul had the option to do whatever he feels appropriate and convenient with Onesimus, for the sake of Christian love, he feels that it is his duty to return him to Philemon. Although Onesimus has not been helpful in the past as his name implies, he is now profitable to both. Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as a part of his own heart. Although Paul was eager to keep Onesimus with himself and instruct him during his imprisonment, much like Philemon himself would have done, he still felt it unwise to do anything without Philemon’s decision. He wanted Philemon to be kind to Onesimus voluntarily from the heart and not out of necessity. Maybe as a way of Providence Philemon was separated from Onesimus so that he can be later rejoined with him when he is no more a mere slave but much more than that; a better servant as well as beloved Christian Brother. Paul further asks Philemon to accept him as his own if he has faith in Paul’s words and forgive his wrongdoings thinking that they are done by Paul instead of him. Paul then puts his confidence in Philemon’s decision and end the letter with a final benediction.
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