“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The way Paul introduces himself in this book is interesting. He calls himself a prisoner, which he was at the time, but it’s a strange title to claim. If you asked a bunch of inmates at some prison, how many of them would introduce themselves by saying, “I’m a prisoner”? It’s not a position of honor, but Paul considers it true glory because he is a prisoner because of his faith. This adds an impact as well, because a letter from someone suffering for the faith would be tenderly regarded by a believer.
It’s interesting to note that in some of his other letters, Paul refers to Timothy as a “son in the faith,” but this time he refers to him as a brother. This makes sense, as Timothy would have been older at this time.
Philemon is the recipient of this letter. He is the head of his family, a good man, and probably a good minister as well. He is called a “fellow worker” by Paul ~ just the status of a fellow believer ties Christians together, but when the position of minister is added, it’s even more endearing. But while Timothy was an evangelist and Philemon was an ordinary preacher, Paul considered them both on the same level as he himself, an apostle. This is a good thing for us to remember, because all of us are one in Christ, regardless of our supposed rank. We are all fellow workers, whether we are missionaries or simply churchgoers.
Apphia is probably Philemon’s wife. She was also hurt by Onesimus’ departure because spouses have the same interests. It’s a hats-off to Paul that he calls her a sister, and even remembers her at all, because women were still probably not treated all that well at that time. He perhaps considered her a fellow worker as well, regardless of her gender, which is another thing we must remember. Never discriminate on class or gender.
Archippus was a friend of Philemon’s, probably a fellow minister or co-pastor. Paul might think of him as someone Philemon would go to for advice, which is why he mentions him here, or perhaps he hopes Archippus will be an impartial judge to the urges Paul makes on Onesimus’ behalf later in the chapter.
Ministers might well see themselves as laborers and soldiers because of the hardships they endure and the difficulties they face leading a church. They must stand their ground and make good of their position, and more importantly, they must stand together and strengthen one another, because the rest of us really don’t know what they have to face due to their position. They must have spiritual weapons and the skill to use them, they must minister the Word and discipline and watch over souls, and they must fight the Lord’s battles. All of that is a big undertaking, and probably an enormous amount of pressure.
Finally, Paul mentions the church as a recipient of this letter so they will be more ready to receive Onesimus affectionately when he returns.
Paul wishes the best for all his friends, so he always sends them grace and peace. Those are two recurring gifts in all his letters. He can’t give them himself, but he prays for them to be bestowed on the people he cares about. Grace is the free favor and goodwill of God, which none of us deserves, and the fountain of all blessings. Peace is the fruit of that grace. Paul wishes that they would be given and continue on so his friends could sense them within themselves. It is in God that we are accepted, and through Him we have all good things.
Spiritual blessings should be the first things we pray for for ourselves and for others, especially our friends. The favor of God and peace with Him is the most desirable trait and the cause of all other good traits. It puts sweetness into every mercy and can give joy even in the difficulties of this world.