In the New Testament, God highlights and empowers a new principle of identification. This identification is called koinonia or fellowship, and by it God intends to transform the world. And we are given a small glimpse in microcosm of how this is to work in the remarkable book of Philemon.
“Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds” (Phil. 8–10Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).
Timothy is mentioned in the salutation, but the primary author is Paul. The epistle is to Philemon, a dear friend of Paul’s. He is probably an officer in the church, with a house large enough for the church to meet in. Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon’s, whom Paul had met and led to the Lord. Onesimus had apparently stolen something from Philemon, and he was returning home (and probably carrying this letter).
There is an interesting historical detail that may factor into this. Somewhere around 110-115 A.D. the early church father Ignatius wrote to the church at Ephesus, addressing the bishop there, a man whose name was also Onesimus. This letter to Philemon was written from Ephesus around 55 A.D.. It is not impossible that a young runaway slave could have been a respected senior churchman fifty-five years later. That would be a grand ending to this story.
Apphia is likely Philemon’s wife (v. 1), and Archippus is probably their son. And since we know that Epaphras (Paul’s fellow prisoner) was once sent by the Colossians (Col. 4:12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)), it is likely that Philemon lived at Colossae.