Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,
This strictly private letter, which has been well called "the polite Epistle," carries upon the face of it a clear explanation of its contents.
I. THE WRITER OF THE EPISTLE. "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ." He does not describe himself as an apostle, for there was no need here to assert his authority, but as a prisoner, to bespeak the sympathy of Philemon. He was not a prisoner for crime, but for the cause of Christ, and therefore "not ashamed of his chain." Several of his weightiest Epistles were written in prison, as if to show that "the Word of God was not bound." He associates with himself in the address, but with a separate title, the name of "Timothy our brother," who was known to the Colossians (Colossians 1:1), and now in sympathy with himself respecting the object of this Epistle.
II. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THE EPISTLE WAS ADDRESSED.
1. "Unto Philemon our beloved, and fellow-worker."
(1) He was probably a native of Colossae, for his slave Onesimus belonged to it (Colossians 4:9).
(2) He was a convert of the apostle (Ver. 19).
(3) He was an evangelist.
(4) He was a person of mark at Colossae; for the Church gathers in his house; he is able to "refresh the hearts of the saints" both with temporal and spiritual mercies.
(5) It is a sign of the apostle's humility that he places Philemon on an equality with himself as "a fellow-worker." Love bound the two servants of Christ closely together.
2. "Apphia our sister." This name occurs in many Phrygian inscriptions.
(1) She was probably the wife of Philemon. The apostle addresses her because, as the mistress of the household, her consent would be necessary to the reception of Onesimus on a new footing.
(2) She was a true child of God; for she is addressed as "a sister" of the apostle. Therefore Philemon and Apphia were not unequally yoked together.
(3) Mark how ready the apostle is to recognize the graces of the saints, and especially to acknowledge the true place of woman in her household.
3. "Archippus our fellow-soldier."
(1) He was probably the son of this worthy pair.
(2) He was a minister of the gospel either at Colossae or Laodicea (Colossians 4:7); for he is called "our fellow-soldier," as Epaphroditus is called "a soldier of Jesus Christ." The title suggests the idea of conflict and hard service for the truth, with a view to final victory.
4. "The Church in thy house." This does not mean merely the private family of Philemon, though the object of the Epistle has the look of being a matter of strictly private concernment; but the assembly of Christians who met for worship under Philemon's roof. The restoration of Onesimus to his home under new relations would be a matter of profound interest and significance to the whole Church at Colossae.
III. THE SALUTATION. "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (see homiletical hints on Ephesians 1:2). - T.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,