Outline of the Epistle to Philemon
A Plea for a Runaway Slave
Salutation, Philemon 1:1-3
Conclusion, Philemon 1:21-25
The Epistle of Paul to Philemon is unique in that it is addressed to a personal friend regarding a private matter. No doubt Paul wrote many such personal letters but this one alone has been preserved.
Philemon seems to have been a wealthy citizen of Colosse. He was a personal convert of the Apostle's and there were strong bonds of friendship between them.
Paul writes on behalf of a thief and a runaway. Philemon had suffered serious loss through the irregular conduct of his servant Onesimus, and might well be hesitant about trusting him again. Paul sees that it is the duty of the slave to return and of his master to receive him. By personal persuasion he had won over Onesimus to return, and by this letter he seeks to insure for him a welcome in his master's house. Onesimus goes back, not merely as a penitent but as a Christian. Paul pleads that he be received as a brother.
The Epistle was written from Rome, the natural center of attraction for all fugitives, and is associated with the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.