Paul (1:1) is the only Jew in the Bible who began using a Gentile name, to reflect how he was sent to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21; 26:17).
But if you are Jewish and want to get saved, you must be willing to admit that Israel has lost her “favored nation status” with God, and that “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom.11:13) is your apostle too. You see, he is the only one who teaches salvation by grace through faith without works (Eph. 2:8,9), the only way to get saved in this dispensation. And if you’re Jewish and you’re already saved, and you like to hear Paul talk about how we’ll be raptured before the Tribulation, you must also be willing to admit that the apostle of the nations is your apostle too, for he’s the only one in the Bible to talk about the pre-trib Rapture.
Why did Paul call himself a prisoner “of Jesus Christ” (1:1)? The Jews were the ones who falsely accused him to the Romans and got him arrested (Acts 21:27-32). But Paul explains elsewhere that he was in prison for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (II Tim. 2:8,9), so he calls himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ (1:1) for the Gentiles (Eph. 3:1). God allowed him to be taken prisoner in Rome in the royal palace (Phil. 1:13) so some of the royals would get saved (Phil. 4:22) and their influence could go out over the Roman roads to the world.
“Philemon” (1:2) was probably wealthy, for Paul asked him to get “a lodging” ready for him (1:22), which sounds like he had more than one guest house. And we know he had a slave, for this epistles is about how he ran away. Rich men aren’t always willing to be “fellowlabourers” (1:2) in the Lord’s work, but Philemon was!
“Aphia” (1:2) is a feminine name, probably Philemon’s wife. Wives in those days were to “guide the house” (I Tim. 5:14), which included the slaves, so Paul includes her in the conversation about Philemon’s runaway slave.
“Archippus” (1:2) is a masculine name, probably their son.
I think he might have been pastor of the church that met in Philemon’s home (1:2) because Paul mentions a home church right before telling Archippus to fulfill his ministry (Col. 4:15-17). And since Paul mentions his epistles in between those two verses, it would seem that the way Archippus was neglecting his ministry was by neglecting Paul’s epistles.
Churches were in homes in those days, and can be today, but they don’t have to be. The Corinthians met in a “place” that was separate from their “houses” (I Cor. 11:20-22).
With this mention of a church in Philemon’s home, we get a glimpse of what Onesimus ran away from. Slaves were no doubt required to attend church, so he heard the gospel but never trusted Christ. If your kids didn’t get saved, sometimes they need to hear it from someone else, like he did. Or get knocked around by life first, as he did. You see, if Paul led him to the Lord in prison (1:10), that must mean Onesimus must have gotten a job feeding prisoners to have gotten close to Paul. Most of them probably cursed him, making him miss ministering to a godly family, and opening his heart to the kind words of the gospel Paul spoke.
Paul opened all his epistles with “grace” and “peace” (1:3). Some say they were Paul’s way of saying hello to the Greeks who greeted one another with “grace,” and the Jews who greeted one another with “shalom” as they do today. But that can’t be, for Paul also opens his epistles to individuals like Timothy, Titus and Philemon this way! It was actually an official proclamation of his message.
And it was a message that was new with Paul. The words “grace” and “peace” never appear in one verse before Paul. That’s because it is talking about peace with God, and the only way to get that before Paul was by righteousness (Ps. 72:3; Isa. 32:17). Righteousness always has to come before peace with God (Heb. 7:1,2). And I’m talking 100% righteousness.
And the only way to get 100% righteousness in the dispensation of grace is by grace (Romans 5:17).