Philemon 1–7 (NKJV)
Paul writes this letter to Philemon, not as doctrinal or practical teaching per se, but as a personal appeal on behalf of another soul. Paul’s appeal is in some measure outside of societal norms, but nevertheless shows the reader the greater truth found in Christian love, even though it is not socially normal.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Philemon 1:1-3
Paul’s letter opens with a greeting from Paul and the inclusion of Timothy, most likely as a courtesy to let the recipient know who was present at the time of the writing of the letter. Paul writes, not as the apostle in this letter, but as a prisoner, a brother, a friend. Philemon is the primary recipient addressed in this letter, but Paul also acknowledges others who may be part of the household. Some scholars speculate that Apphia was Philemon’s wife, and that Archippus could be their son. Paul also greets the church that meets in their house, possibly signifying that Philemon is a leader in the church.
4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.Philemon 1:4-7
Paul then moves into a transitional portion of the letter, still greeting Philemon, but also moving toward the main purpose of the letter. He mentions his thankfulness for him, noting that Philemon is always in his prayers. This connection with Philemon is one of affection and admiration. These emotions are true, and are the basis for the request Paul will eventually make in the next passage. Paul sees Philemon as a man of faith and love, extending compassion toward all the saints. He envisions Philemon as a man who will pass on his faith to everyone because of the goodness within him by Christ Jesus. He sees Philemon as a man who refreshes and blesses the hearts of the saints by his love and faith. In other words, Paul sees this brother in the faith as a man of God. It is in this context that Paul will make a solemn request in his next part of this letter.
Every Christian reading this letter should aspire to be the type of example Philemon was to those around him. Paul saw something in Philemon that made him certain that he was a compassionate and forgiving man. This reputation is one to which all Christians should aspire. Be loving, forgiving, faithful, and caring to those around you. When someone is in need, let them think of your name when calling on others for help. You can be the resource that keeps another human being from desperation. Be that soul to another in need. Be a Philemon. Just as Paul was thankful for him, let others be thankful for you.