Paul's Prison Epistles: Paul and Philemon


 Who is Philemon? Colossians 4:9

Philemon’s hometown is not mentioned in Paul’s letter to him, but Colossians 4:9 indicates that Philemon’s slave Onesimus was a resident of Colosse. Consider Paul’s words there:

[Tychicus] is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you (Colossians 4:9).

Since Onesimus lived with his master Philemon at the time Colossians was written, Philemon must also have lived in Colosse.

Colosse was a fairly small city situated in the Lycus Valley near the towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis. The Lycus Valley lay in the region of Phrygia within the Roman province of Asia, known in modern times as Asia Minor.

Philemon himself appears to have been actively involved in ministering to other believers in Colosse. For instance, in Philemon 7, Paul spoke of the way Philemon had lovingly refreshed the hearts of other believers. Paul thought so highly of Philemon that in verse 17 he spoke of Philemon as his partner in gospel ministry. And it may even be that in verse 2 Paul identified Philemon as the host of the local church.

But beyond this, Philemon seems to have had a significant history with Paul that formed a strong bond between the men. Consider Paul’s reminder to Philemon in Philemon 1:19:

You owe me your very self (Philemon 19).

In all likelihood, Paul meant that he had brought Philemon to faith, although it is also possible that he had literally saved Philemon’s life in some other way. But whatever the case, Philemon owed Paul a great debt. 

We can also see the strength of their relationship in Philemon’s prayers for Paul’s release from prison, and in Paul’s plan to lodge with Philemon after being released from prison. We read Paul’s words to this effect in Philemon 22:

Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers (Philemon 22).

The Bible does not explain how Paul came to know Philemon. But it does say that Paul traveled through Phrygia during his second and third missionary journeys. But as we have seen, Paul was not familiar with the churches in the Lycus Valley. The truth is we don’t know how Paul and Philemon became friends. But we can say with confidence that they knew each other very well.  

Click here to watch Paul's Prison Epistles: Paul and Philemon, lesson four in the series Paul's Prison Epistles.