The majority of the letters written in the New Testament are written by Paul and the other apostles to churches. These letters were typically written in response to circumstances that arose within the churches. The Holy Spirit worked through human authors to encourage and exhort the Christians in those churches to think and to act in line with the gospel message. The letters generally begin with theology (teaching about God: his nature, character and works) and quickly move to discipleship – to what Christian living looks like as a result of what God has accomplished through Christ in saving a people for his own possession.
The letter of Philemon is unique for several reasons. This letter is addressed to a single person rather than to a church. The content of this letter deals explicitly with the issue of slavery. The purpose of the letter is to provide discipleship rather than to address incorrect theology.
Paul writes his letter to Philemon, a prominent person in the Colossian church, and seeks to broker peace between him and Onesimus, an estranged slave. The contents of this letter reveal the apostle Paul employing Christian thinking, gentleness, and tact to encourage Philemon to be reconciled with Onesimus. Though this letter is about a slave and his master, the applications for today go further than an affirmation that slavery is wrong, and extend to the nature of the church, and the reality that God’s design is for his church to be full of reconciled (and reconciling) relationships since God has first reconciled sinful humanity to himself.