the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Bridgeway Bible Commentary Bridgeway Bible Commentary
by Donald C. Fleming
Philemon was a Christian who lived in the city of Colossae and owned the house where the Colossian church met (Philem 1-2; see background notes to Colossians). He had a slave, Onesimus, who had stolen some of Philemon’s goods and escaped to Rome in search of a new life of freedom. At that time Paul had just arrived in Rome for the first time, and was being held prisoner while he awaited the Emperor’s decision on his case (Acts 28:16,Acts 28:30). In Rome Onesimus happened to meet Paul and was converted (Philemon 1:10).
Onesimus knew that since he was now a Christian, he should correct the wrong he had done and return to his master, but he was understandably fearful. Paul, however, knew Philemon well, for Philemon also had been converted through the work of the apostle (Philemon 1:19). Paul therefore wrote this letter to Philemon, asking him to forgive the runaway slave and receive him back as a brother in Christ. Not only was Philemon to welcome Onesimus back personally, but the church was to welcome him as a new and useful addition to its fellowship (Philemon 1:17; Colossians 4:9).
It seems that the letters to Philemon and to the Colossian church were sent at the same time (cf. Colossians 4:10,Colossians 4:12,Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:23-24). With them Paul also sent his letter to the Ephesians (cf. Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-9).