Like mothers who shout the full name of their children, thereby setting the mood, the mood of Paul’s letter was set. Paul is an apostle. He has the authority to command godly responses from Philemon and the entire church that gathers there. Yet he sets his apostleship aside to write a friendly letter, with full confidence in the grace of God.
He calls himself a prisoner, or one who has sacrificed even his freedom for the sake of Christ. He mentions Timothy. He names Philemon as the primary recipient, describing him as a fellow worker, one who sacrifices his resources and time. He includes Philemon’s wife and son and the entire church meeting at their home, all of whom are addressed with equal possessive pronouns indicating equality and unity.
Timothy is our brother. Philemon is our beloved. Apphia is our sister. Archippus is our fellow soldier. And the greeting is full of theological consequences to our church. Jesus is God and from Him we receive grace which produces peace in our hearts and joins us together in Him.
The tone is set, and it will not be abandoned later. While the letter progresses into deeper and more intense subjects, the tone of love, equality, and friendship will remain strong. Paul is making an appeal to another believer, giving room for godly fruit to manifest from a faithful heart.
In many ways, we should learn from Paul’s loving call to obey the Word of Christ. He is not coercing or commanding. He is simply addressing another believer, hopeful that the right thing will be done. When considering believers with a reputation like Philemon’s, this makes total sense.
Although this is Paul’s introduction, it is profuse with sound application. Consider for example, how often you have sought to exercise your authority to cause change in a situation where humility would have been more effective?
Moreover, how many times have you taken your authority to mean something it does not? How many times has it stirred your pride, making you pompous and arrogant? Have you found yourself at times seeking titles to stroke your ego? Although titles and positions don’t make anyone more or less valuable to God, we often set our value of others by it.
Let us be like John the Baptist. His title was Forerunner of Christ. Jesus called him the greatest man to ever be born of women (Lk. 7:28). Yet he was never considered a man of great value by the world. He laid aside his own freedom, even to the extent of clothing and food. He hid himself in the wilderness for most of his life. He preached the Lord’s message at the cost of ridicule and even death. He did all of this because he considered himself to be of no great importance. He lived for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Rather than boasting of his great spiritual worth, he said, “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). This is a man of humility and selfless living. This is a man much like Philemon.
From the book, Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon, by Jacob Abshire