As I have spent time revising, updating, and adding information to my series of blog posts (see links below) about the book of Philemon I have realized that an updated review of who the letter was written to is required. Why? Because who a letter is written to dramatically impacts how we interpret the meaning of the letter. And if we are gong to interpret this letter with a leadership focus we must know who the letter was written to.
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In order to bring the utmost accuracy to my series of blog posts about the apostle Paul’s leadership style displayed in the letter to Philemon, I would like to share some important background information about the audience to which the book of Philemon was written to.
- People: This letter is written to Philemon (who Paul calls a “co-worker”), Apphia (whom Paul calls “our sister”), Archippus (whom Paul calls “our fellow soldier”), and the people of the church which met at the house of these people (Phlm 1:2-3). These people were probably Jews who had a faith in Jesus Christ as Paul references that he keeps “hearing about [their] faith in the Lord Jesus” (Phlm 1:5).
- Location: The people this letter was written to were located in the city of Colosse. Colosse was a small town in the Roman province of Asia (which is now Eastern Turkey) about 100 miles east of the city of Ephesus. 1 There were many Jews living in Colosse; however their faith was not very strict as they were known to also worship angels.
- When the Book was Written: This letter was written during Paul’s first imprisonment sometime between 58 AD and 64 AD. Other possible dates could be 61 AD or 62 AD. The specific date is not as important to know as is the fact that Paul was in prison in Rome at the time of the letter’s writing.
- The Recipient’s Problems: People were faced with the dilemma of what to do with this runaway slave who might have stolen money from them. There were specific customs and laws of culture that dictated what type of punishment would normally happen to a slave in this circumstance. Philemon and the church needed to decide how to deal with Onesimus in light of their new faith which embodied grace and forgiveness while also balancing how slaves normally would have been treated in that environment.
- Purpose of the Book: Paul writes this letter so that Onesimus would be welcomed back and put to good use for the Lord, instead of being punished and prevented from spreading the gospel. Onesimus was useful to help spread the gospel and Paul did not want to see that opportunity squandered. Therefore, this letter was written to intercede for Onesimus.
Read the series of posts about the Apostle Paul’s leadership in the book of Philemon here:
- A Leader Extends His Influence for the Benefit of His Follower (part 1)
- A Leader Extends His Influence for the Benefit of His Follower (part 2)
- A Leader Extends His Influence for the Benefit of His Follower (part 3)
- A Leader Extends His Influence for the Benefit of His Follower (part 4)