Concerning a Runaway Slave
Was a Christian of Colossae, a convert of Paul's, a very well-to-do man. A church met in his house. He and Paul, it seems, were intimate friends. It is likely, though not recorded, that Paul visited Colossae during his 3-year stay at Ephesus (Acts 19).
Onesimus was the name of a slave who belonged to Philemon. He may have been a very talented young man. The Roman army, in its excursions, often took the brightest and best young men and women, and brought them home to be sold into slavery.
Occasion of This Letter. Some four or five years after Paul had left that part of the world, and was way to the west in prison in Rome. Onesimus, it seems, stole some money from his master Philemon and ran away to Rome. While there, perhaps the stolen money gone, he managed to find Paul. Possibly he had learned to love him in his master's home years before. It is not likely that he could have just met him by accident in a city of 1,500,000. Paul persuaded him to be a Christian, and sent him back to his master, bearing this beautiful little Letter.
The Object of the Letter was to intercede with Philemon to forgive the runaway slave, and receive him as a Christian brother, Paul himself offering to repay the stolen money. The Letter is a perfect gem for its Courtesy, Tact, Delicacy and Generosity, climaxing with its tender appeal to Philemon to receive Onesimus "as you would receive me" (17).
The Slave's Reception. The Bible gives no hint as to how the master received his returning slave. But there is a tradition that says his master did receive him, and took Paul's veiled hint and gave the slave his liberty. That is the way the Gospel works. Christ in the heart of the slave made the slave recognize the social usages of his day, and go back to his master determined to be a good slave and live out his natural life as a slave. Christ in the heart of the master made the master recognize the slave as a Christian brother and give him his liberty. There is a tradition that Onesimus afterward became a bishop in Berea.
"Apphia" (2), was, probably, Philemon's wife. "Archippus" (2), probably pastor of the congregation. "Onesimus" (10), means "profitable." Notice the play.on the word. "Forever" (15), is a hint of the persistence into eternity of earthly friendships. "Epaphras" (23), was a Colossian imprisoned in Rome. The salutations (24), indicate
personal friends of Philemon.