The book of Philemon was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison with Timothy and a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul is writing to his “brother in Christ,” Philemon, asking Philemon to accept Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave. However, Onesimus is no longer the person he once was. Onesimus is now “a brother in Christ” whom Paul has helped become a Christian while in prison.
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It is significant that even though Paul is writing the letter to Philemon and making a request of Philemon, Paul also addresses the letter to: Apphia: Philemon’s wife,
- Archippus: Philemon’s son, and
- The Church that regularly met at Philemon’s house: This body of Christians serves as “accountability partners” for Philemon because they are not influenced by emotions and feelings about the situation between Onesimus and Philemon.
Sending the letter to these “accountability partners” helps to influence Philemon to do the right thing. Even though Paul is the most powerful person mentioned in the letter (more on this later), he strategically uses his influence by enlisting others to make sure Philemon makes the correct decision and does the right thing, which is to send Onesimus back to Paul so Onesimus may be used to spread the gospel with Paul.