Short summary of the book of Philemon in the New Testament Bible, as recorded in TheBibleBrief – a summary of the complete Bible. (by permission)
When Philemon was written: Written in A.D. 60
Who was the author: The Apostle Paul
Notable People & Places: Jesus Christ; Paul; Timothy; Philemon; Apphia; Archippus; Onesimus; Colosse
Sound-Bites: I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers. (Ch.1:4)
no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Ch.1:16)
The Messianic Link: The Lord Jesus Christ (V. 3)
This is the shortest of Paul’s letters, and covers one subject in the main; that of the runaway slave Onesimus.
Paul writes directly from a Roman jail to Philemon who was a Christian, but also a slave-owner; as were other Christians at this early time.
The crux of Pauls appeal is that Onesimus is not only a personal friend of the Apostle, but that he is also now a brother in Christ (v16); and should perhaps be considered in a different light.
Notes & Quotes:
Paul in this short letter confronts what was a difficult issue for the early Church. Slavery was a fact of life throughout the World at this time, and Christians did indeed possess slaves. In other letter Paul instructs slaves to obey their masters, and masters to be fair to their slaves (Eph.6, Colossians 3), because God was watching and would take all things into account.
Onesimus was a different case only inasmuch as he had become a Christian, and at the same time befriended Paul, who was then able to appeal on his behalf. The penalty for a runaway slave was death.
This is an excellent example of what Jesus does for Christians, he appeals to God the Father on our behalf because the penalty for our sins was death; but now we have eternal life in Him. (Rom.6:23)
Paul’s letter to Philemon here is a look into the personal nature of the gospel. This is indeed where the ‘rubber hits the road’. Onesimus was a runaway slave and a thief besides, and the punishment for this at the time of paul’s writing was death according to Roman law.
Philemon was entirely within his rights to have Onesimos punished for his crimes – if not killed for them!
However, here we have Paul appealing to Philemon as a personal friend and fellow believer in Christ, to not only forgive Onesimus, but to accept him as a Christian brother and as such a slave only to Christ.
Paul highlights the fact that as a slave Onesimus was useless to him (Philemon), but now as a brother in Christ he was a ‘beloved brother’ and as such a valuable member of the Christian family. Onesimus name actually means ‘useful’ which he certainly was now as far as Paul was concerned.
Paul basically hints strongly to Philemon that as Christ forgave him, then he in turn cannot now bear a grudge to Onesimus who Christ has also forgiven.
Indeed to emphasise this Paul goes even further and tells him that he (Philemon) must accept Onesimus as he would Paul himself.
Put yourself in Philemon’s shoes for a moment.
You live in the 1st century AD, and your slave has stolen from you and them absconded. You then hear from your Christian friend (maybe minister?) that he has become a Christian and wants to return as a free man to your employ.
What would you do…