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by Stanley L. Derickson
We know little about this book other than what we can read from it. Onesimus seems to have been a slave of Philemon. Onesimus had run away, but he ran into Paul and his usual evangelization. The result was that he had met Christ. Paul is seeking restoration between the two men, even unto Paul offering to pay anything that the slave owes his owner. Not a small offer, in that Paul was self supporting and probably not well-to-do at all.
Colossians 4:9 mentions Onesimus as being "one of them" at Colosse thus most assume Philemon’s home was in Colosse, and most likely the home of the church that Colossians was written to.
Ephaprus is also mentioned in Philemon as well as twice in Colossians, thus another indicator that Philemon was at Colosse. (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12)
There is no other information about Philemon and we have no idea of his decision that this letter would have required. From reading the letter, it would take a cold cold hearted man to not respond positively.
Most feel this letter was written about the same time as Colossians thus it was around 62 A.D.
Barnes introduction to the letter is of worth. "THIS letter is almost wholly of a private character; and yet there is scarcely any portion of the New Testament of equal length which is of more value. It is exquisitely beautiful and delicate. It is a model of courtesy and politeness. It presents the character of the author in a most amiable light, and shows what true religion will produce in causing genuine refinement of thought and language. It is gentle and persuasive, and yet the argument is one that we should suppose would have been, and probably was, irresistible. It is very easy to conceive, that the task which the apostle undertook to perform, was one which it would be difficult to accomplish--that of reconciling an offended master to a runaway servant. And yet it is done with so much kindness, persuasiveness, gentleness, and true affection, that, as the letter was read, it is easy to imagine that all the hostility of the master was disarmed, and we can almost see him desiring to embrace him who bore it, not now as a servant, but as a Christian brother...."
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20