What does Philemon 1 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Philemon chapter 1 is the first and only chapter of Philemon, the shortest of the apostle Paul's 13 letters. A large portion of the letter addresses the Roman practice of slavery, specifically in the life of a man named Onesimus. This man was a runaway slave of Philemon, a church leader in Colossae.

Paul's letter to Philemon includes five main parts: An introduction (Philemon 1:1–3), encouragement to Philemon (Philemon 1:4–7), a request regarding the runaway slave Onesimus (Philemon 1:8–16), a pledge to Philemon from Paul (Philemon 1:17–22), and a brief conclusion (Philemon 1:23–25).

In the introduction, Paul clearly identifies himself as the letter's author, calling himself a prisoner. This letter was written during Paul's two-year house arrest in Rome and is considered one of four Prison Epistles. It seems to have been co-written with Timothy (Philemon 1:1). The main recipient was Philemon, but it is also meant for Apphia and Archippus, probably Philemon's wife and son. It also mentions the house church in their home in Colossae. It includes Paul's standard greeting, "Grace and peace to you."

Philemon 1:4–7 encourages Philemon in many ways. Paul confesses his regular prayers for Philemon, and compliments him on his love, faith, and willingness to share his faith. This section also suggests that Philemon had provided financial assistance to Paul in the past (Philemon 1:7).

Verses 8–16 address a special request of Philemon. Though Onesimus could have been punished or even put to death for running away, Paul urges forgiveness and freedom. He explains that Onesimus had come to faith in Jesus during his time with Paul and wanted to be useful. This is an example of wordplay, as the name Onesimus itself means "useful."

Verses 17–21 display how serious Paul is about his request. He strongly asks Philemon to treat any wrongs or debts of Onesimus as those of Paul himself. Paul essentially signs himself to an obligation to make up for anything Onesimus' escape has cost Philemon. Paul also shares his plans to soon visit Colossae (Philemon 1:22).

Verses 23–25 conclude the brief letter to Philemon, mentioning five additional fellow workers in addition to Timothy, who was mentioned in verse 1. He then ends with, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit," a common conclusion used by Paul.
Verse Context:
Philemon 1:1–3 introduces Paul’s letter written to Philemon, the owner of a runaway slave named Onesimus. Philemon was a member of the church in Colossae, which met in his home. Paul uses his customary greetings, which imply shared faith and a common Savior. The introduction also mentions Timothy, who is with Paul at the time the letter is written.
Philemon 1:4–7 describes Paul’s positive views of Philemon. Paul says he not only thanks God for Philemon, but does so always. Paul praises Philemon’s selfless acts of love and generosity, especially those towards fellow Christians. This is meant to set the stage for Paul’s upcoming request: that Philemon forgive and free his runaway slave, Onesimus.
Philemon 1:8–16 is Paul’s plea to Philemon that he would forgive and free the runaway slave Onesimus. Onesimus seems to have known Paul from his visits to Colossae, then encountered him in Rome after running away. After becoming a Christian, he returns to Philemon with this letter from Paul. Paul reminds Philemon that the three of them, including Onesimus, are brothers, and should be treated the same way.
Philemon 1:17–22 continues Paul’s request that Philemon free his runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul goes so far as to ask Philemon to treat Onesimus exactly as he would Paul himself. And, Paul pledges to repay any debts which Onesimus now owes to Philemon. Paul seems confident that Philemon will grant his request, and asks him make a room ready in anticipation of his release from imprisonment.
Philemon 1:23–25 closes Paul’s letter to Philemon. After asking Philemon to forgive and free the runaway slave Onesimus, Paul sends greetings from five of his companions: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. All of these men are referred to in other scriptures written by Paul. Mark and Luke are the authors of those gospels. According to 2 Timothy 4:10, however, Demas eventually dropped out of his ministry work.
Chapter Summary:
Philemon is a letter from Paul, regarding a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul respectfully requests that Philemon forgive his runaway slave, free him, and allow him to serve Christ without restrictions. Philemon was a prominent figure in the church of Colossae. Paul goes so far as to ask Philemon to charge any debts owed by Onesimus to Paul himself.
Chapter Context:
Philemon is short enough that it only contains a single chapter. Because Paul knows Philemon personally, and has only positive things to say about him, there is no need for a lengthy discussion. Paul appeals to Philemon to forgive and release his runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus, a convert to Christianity, seems be the one sent to deliver this letter to his former master.
Book Summary:
Philemon is one of the shorter books in the Bible, but it contains some important information. The Christian concept of slavery cannot be understood without a proper review of this letter. Paul recognizes the facts of slavery in his era, and does not command Philemon to release Onesimus. However, he does appeal to the unity we share in Christ as a reason for Philemon to set this man free.
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