Not only did Philemon have servant-slaves, he also hosted a church in his home. Probably he was an elder, perhaps even a bishop. It is likely that the same people who had large homes and money were also church leaders. Matthew the tax collector is another example of this.Why would Paul and those with him lavish such greetings on those who were not doing the work of the ministry with them?
I find it odd that this letter is intended for the Christians at large since it is obviously intended for Philemon and addresses a personal matter. Perhaps Paul intended that Philemon would read it privately but pass on the greetings to the others.
This ministering probably included such unpleasant tasks as cleaning excrement; bringing food, possibly the only food Paul had; massaging him to relieve the pain from being in iron shackles; being the scribe of this letter (and possibly others such a the letter to the Philippians.) Likely, there was a risk for Onesimus that he would himself be imprisoned, perhaps if Paul said something controversial to him that offended the Roman witnesses surely present at every meeting.
Paul implies Philemon would have wanted to minister Paul while he was imprisoned but that, instead, he sent Onesimus for the task. It is as if Paul is thanking Philemon for sending his slave to Paul to help him.
What a sacrifice for Paul to give up Onesimus as his helper. His quality of life, already bad, likely decreased significantly after this.
Paul is asking Philemon to release Onesimus as his servant-slave and to not take legal action against him. Paul has decreed that Onesimus should no longer be a servant-slave and should be forgiven his wrongdoings against Philemon and hopes Philemon will do the same. Paul is also asking Philemon to accept Onesimus as a fellow brother in the Lord, as an equal. He is really making demands on Philemon, using Philemon's loyalty to Paul as leverage. I wonder if Philemon's loyalty to Paul is as great as Paul hopes it is. Apparently, Philemon and Paul have worked together in ministry before, or at least Philemon has provided a place for Paul to stay when he was in town.
Paul gives two reasons why Philemon should accept Onesimus as a free man as Paul has done. The first is because he is a fellow human. Perhaps Paul is teaching that slavery is inhuman and unrighteous and should not be practiced by Christians? The second reason is because Onisemus has become a Christian. If this means that as soon as the slave of a Christian becomes a Christian they should be released, this should be of concern to any Christian slaveowner; they should prevent their slaves from hearing the gospel, but this of course goes against their obligation to share the gospel with everyone, including their slaves. In any case, the slave owners of the southern states of the U.S.A. who claimed to be Christian didn't heed Paul's request to let their newly-converted slaves go free.
Paul wrote this letter himself. Apparently it was a common practice for people to write by speaking aloud with transcribers to write it down.
It seems Onesimus stole something from Philemon, perhaps so he would have the means of escaping. Perhaps also, Paul is referring to Onesimus owing Philemon for the lost labor and that this was owed to him. Paul will pay it all back for Onesimus — well, he isn't really going to pay it back. He probably doesn't have the means to pay it back. Instead, he is suggesting that Philemon actually owes him (Paul) for having heard the gospel from him and become redeemed; that he owes Paul his very life. Paul will therefore draw from that account to pay him back. This kind of thinking is similar to the Catholic notion of the treasury of merit which provides the basis for indulgences.
King James Version