A Christian householder who hospitably entertained the saints (Philemon 1:7) and befriended them with loving sympathy at Colossae, for Onesimus and Archippus were Colossians (Colossians 4:9; Colossians 4:17; Philemon 1:1-2; Philemon 1:10); to whom Paul wrote the epistle. He calls Philemon "brother," and says "thou owest unto me even thine own self," namely, as being the instrument of thy conversion (Philemon 1:19); probably during Paul's long stay at the neighboring Ephesus (Acts 19:10), when "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus." Colossians 2:1 shows Paul had not in person visited Colosse, though he must have passed near it in going through Phrygia on his second missionary tour (Acts 16:6).
The character which Paul gives Philemon for "love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and all saints," so that "the bowels of the saints were refreshed by him," and Paul had "confidence in his obedience that he would do even more than Paul said" is not mere politic flattery to induce him to receive his slave Cnesimus kindly, but is the sincere tribute of the apostle's esteem. Such Christian masters, treating their slaves as "above servants" (Philemon 1:16), "brothers beloved both in the flesh and in the Lord," mitigated the evil of slavery and paved the way for its abolition. In the absence of a regular church building, Philemon opened his house for Christian worship and communion (Philemon 1:2; compare Romans 16:5). He "feared God with all his house," like Abraham (Genesis 18:19), Joshua (Joshua 24:15), and Cornelius (Acts 10:2,). The attractive power of such a religion proved its divine origination, and speedily, in spite of persecutions, won the world.