Philemon 1:1-3 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer, … Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many bible scholars believe that this epistle was written at Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment, nearly four years after his arrest at Jerusalem (Acts 21:33), during all of which time he had been in bonds, but permitted to preach. (See Acts 28:16, 30-31.)
Philemon was one of Paul’s prison epistles, but this one was the most personal of all. This letter was written at the same time that Paul wrote the Colossian epistle. When Paul wrote the Colossian epistle, he made mention that he was sending the letter with Tychicus, and that Onesimus, who was one of their own, would be coming with Tychicus with the epistle. Onesimus (whose name means profitable or useful) was a slave who had robbed his master Philemon. He then ran for his life to the city of Rome, where in the providence of God, he became acquainted with the apostle Paul. It was here that he heard Paul preach the gospel of God’s grace and came to the saving knowledge of The Lord Jesus Christ. After hearing his testimony, Paul sent him back to his Christian master Philemon with the following letter of apology.
It has been said that this epistle of Philemon is a beautiful picture of redemption. In verse 18, Paul wrote to Philemon regarding Onesimus, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account”. This Greek phrase “put that on my account” is translated “imputed” in Romans 5:13. Paul asked Philemon to impute or reckon Onesimus’s debt against Paul’s account and to receive him as he would receive Paul himself. This is a beautiful illustration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Imputation means that because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sin, the totality of the sin debt that we owed God was placed upon Him. Thus, when we believe the gospel and receive Christ as Lord, His perfect righteousness becomes (is imputed unto us) as our righteousness. Our righteousness, or right standing with God, is not earned or deserved; it is imputed unto us by grace through faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. That is what it means to be in Christ—accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). Oh, what a picture this is of the way God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ accept you and accept me! “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” (hymn by John Newton, 1772) Glory to God for His redeeming grace and love! Selah