These were the team Tychicus and Onesimus had only recently left in order to courier Paul’s missives to the region of Phrygia, four stalwart co-campaigners, weathered and seasoned in the work of the Lord.
Tradition holds Philemon not only reinstated Onesimus, he sent him back to Paul with both blessing and provision.
Now listen, before you start grumbling about the woodenness of this translation, what I want you to see is what I finally—after having read this letter many, many times, studied it, went through commentary after commentary, for a good forty years—finally saw tonight.
Many, including myself, have complained the tone of Paul’s letter, even the wording, seems manipulative. How could Philemon make an honest decision, sprung from God at work in his heart, with Paul first complimenting him (ego strokes), then talking about Onesimus in such affectionate terms (pressure) and finally referring to himself as a mere elder asking permission (which seems to pluck the strings of guilt and shame)?
Paul wanted Philemon to mature in his faith, so rather than tell him what to do, Paul entreated him as a fellow elder.
did Onesimus lead the way, full of hope, confident both in Paul and Timothy’s letter, and in the Spirit at work in Philemon? Was it Onesimus who handed Philemon this personal note, and told him, “This is from our brother Paul,”?
I give thanks to my God every time I pray for you, when you are brought to mind, because I hear of your love and your faith to the Lord Jesus, and to all the believers. And when I pray, I ask that the fellowship of your faith (with Jesus, and with the saints) would be powerful and effectual in discerning every good thing in us from Jesus, and every good thing to Jesus as well (for he is in us, and we are in him).
So, Paul wrote a short, personal note to Philemon as a cover letter to accompany the open epistle for the Colossian churches, and to discuss their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus.