Paul wrote this short letter probably at the same time as Colossians, and sent it to Colosse with the same travelers, Onesimus and Tychicus. He apparently wrote both letters from prison in Rome, though possibly from Ephesus. Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, a believer in Colosse who - along with others - was a slave owner. One of his slaves, Onesimus, had apparently stolen from him and then run away, which under Roman law was punishable by death. But Onesimus met paul and through his ministry became a follower of Jesus. Now he was willing to return to his master, and Paul writes this personal appeal to ask that he be accepted as a fellow brother in Christ.
To win Philemon's willing acceptance of Onesimus, Paul writes very tactfully and in a lighthearted tone, which he creates with a wordplay. The appeal is organized in a way prescribed by ancient Greek and Roman teachers; to build rapport, to persuade the mind, and to move the emotions. The Onesimus is not mentioned until the rapport has been built, and the appeal itself is stated only near the end of the section to persuade the mind.
While owning slaves was acceptable in Roman culture, this is most certainly not a position letter in support of slavery, but rather an admonition to look past what is acceptable in culture and treat a fellow brother in Christ as a human and release him from slavery.
BIBLE READING FOR NOVEMBER: