Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his customary manner, Paul begins this letter by saying who the senders are, and to whom it is written. Since we have inferred that it was sent at the same time as his letter to the Colossians, it is very interesting to compare the two openings:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
Aside from the obvious difference in recipients, it appears identical… well, almost. Notice that in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul describes himself as “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”, and in Philemon, he describes himself as “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus”.
Why do they differ?
As in most everything, people have their theories, but it appears to me that Paul takes a different tact here in order to do two things: First, he is not writing to Philemon as an apostle, someone who is to be listened to with an obedient ear in reverence. Instead Paul is writing this man-to-man, friend to friend, brother to brother; it is entirely personal as opposed to professional. Second, by mentioning the fact that he is in chains for Christ, and he will mention this four more times before he is finished, he is showing his friend Philemon that he is enduring a great personal sacrifice for Christ as he is asking Philemon for a sacrifice of his own.
Paul has also introduced some more characters, Apphia and Archippus, and all three have a description of their own given them by Paul. With so little to go on, there are more theories, but most scholars agree that Apphia is Philemon’s wife and that Archippus is his son, and I will continue under that assumption. Notice that the three descriptions indicate that each is a committed follower of the Lord, and that they all have a very close personal regard for one another.
Believe it or not, the biggest controversy in academic circles with these verses is whether or not Paul intends for this letter to be read to the entire church that met in Philemon’s house. Personally, I don’t see the point of the dispute: Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. At least they were to receive his warmest greetings.
As we continue, we’ll next have a look at Paul’s prayer- see you next time!