On what ground does Paul exhort Philemon to act, and what is it that Paul want Philemon to do? Are there any social implications of the gospel if so what are they?
What are the events in this passage of scripture that Paul mentions and how does he tell the story.
Which events fall into different orders in their poetic sequence. What is the first event Paul mentions (poetic sequency). what is the earliest event Paul mentions. and what do these difference suggest about Paul's rhetoric.
What is the pastorial work he displays to the readers.
Among the letters written by Paul, as we have them today, the letter to Philemon is the more personal one. That does not mean private for Paul addresses also the members of Philemon's community. The actual circumstances that led to the writing of the letter are not well expressed. Nevertheless, the conjecture of some motivations could be made after taking a look at the structure of the letter.
1-7: Opening formula and greetings; Thanksgiving to God for the well known universal faith and love of Philemon.
8-22: The body of the letter
a) Exposition of what he wants: Paul did not use his authority to make demands but pleaded with charity to Philemon to do what is right.
b) Exhortation: Philemon should show that his Christian love is really universal by accepting Onesimus.
23-25: Closing greetings and benediction.
The circumstances that brought about the writing of the letter may be that Onesimus ran away from his master maybe after stealing from him or something else (v.18). He met Paul who preached the Gospel to him, he was converted and stayed with him. Maybe he was the same Paul mentioned in Col 4:9. According to law, one cannot keep a fugitive slave without being considered his accomplice. So Paul after sometime decided to send him back to his master together with this letter.
Though not all scholars agree on the fact of the runaway slave of Philemon. For someone Paul is merely asking for Onesimus to come and bring him gifts or food (Winter, Paul's letter, 3; Glaze R.E., Onesimus; Wansink C.S., Chained in Christ, 147-199). Someone else maintains that Onesimus is a blood brother of Philemon and Paul was trying to settle a rift between them (Callahan A.D., Paul's Epistle to Philemon, 370).
Paul began by ...
This solution addresses this private letter of Paul to Philemon and also to the members of his community. Since the actual circumstance that led to the writing of the letter is not well expressed, we observed the structure of the letter in order to make a conjecture of some motivations.
A slave, Onesimus, ran away from his master; while living as a fugitive he met Paul who changed his life. Scholars have diverse opinions regarding the actual state of Onesimus. This solution used the circumstances expressed in the letter and exhortation it contains to demonstrate what motivated the letter, its social implications and the teachings our modern day society can derive from it.