This is Paul's shortest letter and was written to a man named Philemon who had a house church. Paul had led Philemon to Christ, but now a uncomfortable situation had arisen. Paul was in prison with Onesimus, who was a slave to Philemon. Paul had led Onesimus to follow Christ, and was now requesting that Philemon give Onesimus his freedom. It was the right thing to do.
The Greek "way" was to build rapport, then appeal to the mind, and finally appeal to the heart of someone to reason with them. This is exactly what Paul did with Philemon.
In verses 4-5 that Paul is building rapport. In verse 6, the word "sharing" is translated "koinonia" which speaks to the fellowship of believers.
In verses 11-19, Paul is speaking to Philemon's mind. He does something brilliant with Onesimus' name meaning (useful) by saying that he is useful to both Philemon and Paul for the sake of the gospel. He goes on to say that he is "sending him back to you, sending my very heart." Reconciliation is costly (but it always costs more to not reconcile...). Philemon had a right to hurt Onesimus for fleeing from his owner, and Paul could be punished as well. Paul is doing the right thing by sending Onesimus back, but it could be costly. In verse 17, Paul addresses Philemon as "brother" - partners in Christ. In verse 19, Paul is standing between Philemon and Onesimus like Christ did for us. He is living out his theology.
Finally, in verse 20, Paul moves to the heart. He goes on to say to Philemon that he had better do the right thing because he (Paul) would be visiting soon!
Questions to Consider:
1. Read Colossians 3:11-15. This is a charge to live with grace among one another and to forgive freely. Where do you need to rebuild a relationship? When will you do that?
2. How much "junk" and sin has God forgiven you for? How much goodness and grace has God given you? How can you give that grace and goodness away?
3. Talk about the word "perhaps" in verse 15. Knowing that it is a word of "possibility", how does it inspire you to be ABLE to abide, build and live with everything. How does this challenge you in your relationships?