So, we’ve established that Paul and Timothy are the authors of the New Testament letter of Philemon.
But now, to whom are they writing? Philemon 1:1 continues and tells us the recipient of this letter and what Paul and Timothy consider him to be to them.
our dearly beloved,
So, Paul and Timothy are writing to a man named Philemon.
How to Pronounce “Philemon”
Let’s get something out of the way first. How do you pronounce that name Philemon? It’s not that common of a name where I’m from – maybe you’re like me and you don’t know anyone by that name.
The Greek word is φιλήμονι. Transliterated into English that’s philemoni. The last i at the end of the word is simply telling us that this letter is being written to this man, so we can drop it out for now, leaving philemon. The first i is short, the e sounds like ay and the o is short. So, you would pronounce Philemon like Phih-LAY-mon. Almost like you’re a Jamaican telling someone the fish is ready to eat – “There’s a filet, man!”
Who is Philemon?
So, we know how to say his name. But who is Philemon?
Well, he’s actually not mentioned anywhere in Scripture outside of this epistle. So, we have to gather our facts about this man from this short book that bears his name.
And so, what does the apostle Paul say about this man Philemon in this book written to him?
First, Philemon is our dearly beloved. Both Paul and Timothy loved this man. When they’re writing to this man they’re not writing to a stranger. They’re not writing to an enemy. They’re not even writing to a fair-weather lukewarm friend. They are writing to someone that they both love.
And part of why Paul and Timothy love Philemon surely must involve the second description given to him – that he’s a fellowlabourer of Paul and Timothy. He has worked with them in times past and continues to work with them.
But, what kind of work are we talking about? Is Paul saying that Philemon was a tent-maker like he was for a living?
No, I think it goes beyond that. Paul made tents so that he could do the work he was really called to – preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to both Jew and Gentile. And I think it’s that work that Paul is referring to here.
Philemon was – in some ways at least – in on the action that Paul and Timothy were involved in – evangelizing and doing the work of the ministry. He was a fellow-worker with them in this business of spreading the news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
So, when Paul and Timothy consider Philemon, they think of a man that they just absolutely love. And part of that love they have for him stems from the fact that he is interested in proclaiming the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Philemon’s Not Alone
And actually, I’ve been speaking so far as if there was only one recipient of this letter. But actually, in Philemon 1:2, Paul and Timothy name two more individuals that they’re writing this letter to – as well as a congregation of people of some size that they intend to have this letter read to.
our beloved Apphia,
Archippus our fellowsoldier,
the church in thy house:
So, Paul and Timothy are writing this letter – anticipating that this lady named Apphia will read it. We know she’s a lady because her name in Greek is feminine.
The King James Version quoted above has her as the beloved. This corresponds to how Paul and Timothy describe Philemon – just in the feminine form (Greek: agapete) rather than the masculine (Greek: agapeto) describing Philemon.
However, the Nestle-Aland and UBS Greek texts have the word sister (Greek: adelfe) instead of beloved (Greek: agapete).
So, if the original writing was beloved then Paul and Timothy consider Apphia as just a precious to them as they consider Philemon.
If the original was sister then that sort of coincides with how Paul described Timothy in Philemon 1:1 (as “brother”) perhaps pointing to the fact that just like Timothy was a helper to Paul, so too was Apphia a helper to Philemon.
Now, Apphia’s relationship to Philemon was likely that of spouse. In other words, she was Philemon’s wife.
And if that’s the case, then quite possibly the next name mentioned was their son.
Archippus is said to be the fellowsoldier of Paul and Timothy. Paul is speaking metaphorically.
That is, Paul and Timothy and Archippus were not all in the Roman army together. They certainly weren’t in some sort of early Christian militia.
No – Paul says in 2 Corinthians that his weapons – and ours – are not carnal. He and all Christians are in a war – but we’re not fighting against humans. Our enemy is spiritual and unseen. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, he admits in Ephesians. Our struggle is against spiritual invisible enemies.
And Archippus has entered that battle alongside of Paul and Timothy. They knew him and knew of his fighting in prayer and in other spiritual disciplines.
Archippus may likely have been the son of Philemon and Apphia – and he was probably at least in his teens.
And if that’s the case, then what we see here in Philemon 1:2 is a wonderful picture of a family determined to do God’s will. We see each of the members of that family faithfully following Christ and thereby earning the commendation of the apostle Paul and Timothy.
So, Paul and Timothy are writing to a family of believers.
Recipient: The Church Hosted by Philemon
But Paul’s not done yet. Because not only did Philemon’s abode house a family of believers – it housed a church.
Paul writes to the church in Philemon’s house. So, apparently Philemon and his family hosted a gathering of believers regularly in his home.
Of course, Church buildings as we know them today were likely not being constructed in the times of the apostle Paul. When a number of sinners were won to Christ, they had to find a place to meet. And often – from casual references in the New Testament – it seems that these congregations would meet in the home of a more wealthy individual in the church who would have a home large enough to host numerous individuals.
And so, Philemon – as we can imagine – may have been wealthy in addition to being godly.
The picture we get of this man keeps getting more and more encouraging. He’s a beloved fellow-worker of the apostolic company. His wife is a believer and his son is also. They have kindly opened their home to the church in their city. And this man is getting these commendations by no less a spiritually-mature man than the apostle Paul. Philemon is a godly man.