A personal letter from the apostle Paul during his 1st imprisonment at Rome, addressed to a Christian living in the city of Colossae, whose name stands as its title. Onesimus was dispatched with this letter to Philemon, in company with Tychicus, who carried the epistles to the churches at Colossae (see Col 4:7 9), and Ephesus (see Eph 6:21, 22). All 3 letters were doubtless written at Rome, probably about a.d. 62.
Onesimus had formerly been a slave of Philemon, but had deserted his master and taken some of his money or possessions (see Phm 16, 18). He had found his way to Rome, doubtless expecting to lose himself among the crowds of that city. While there, Onesimus met Paul, and through him became a believer in Jesus Christ. Paul advised Onesimus to return to his master, and wrote a letter with the express purpose of securing a favourable reception for the returning slave, confident that Philemon would receive Onesimus now as "a brother beloved" (v 16). This little gem of Christian love and tact is unique in Scripture, in that its claim to a place in the sacred canon may be in the fact that it vividly reflects the change that came over one man because of his faith in Christ, and that slave and master are brethren in Christ. It is a simple appeal to Philemon to exercise Christian kindness and mercy toward a slave who had defrauded him. The epistle assures Christians of God's interest in the practical problems that arise when they find their way to Christ, and points the way to a solution to some of them.
After the salutation (Phm 1 3) Paul commends Philemon for his Christian love and faithfulness. With great tact Paul then appeals to Philemon, reminding him that he himself is a debtor to Paul for his faith in Christ, and assumes as a personal obligation any debt that Onesimus still owes Philemon. In verses 21 25 Paul sends his personal greetings to certain believers at Colossae, and ends with his benediction.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.