Onesimus is a slave. He lives and works for his master, Philemon, in a city called Colossai. Philemon, the master of the house, and his wife Apphia, are Christians, as are many members of their household, but Onesimus has never understood their faith. Philemon and Apphia have made their home into a church, and every Sunday the house is filled with people worshipping the Lord. Onesimus does not attend. He goes about his work as usual. But he is tired of being a slave, working so hard every day to simply earn room and board. These people have so much, and he has nothing. It’s not fair. So one day he decides he is going to take what he believes he is owed and run away. He escapes in the middle of the night, running off with a good amount of money and material goods from his master and mistress. He makes his way to Rome as stealthily as he can, generally traveling by night so that there will be less chance of getting caught. When he gets to Rome, he feels that he has gone far enough for now, and he can hide in the bustle of the great city. For a while, he enjoys spending his master’s money and indulging himself. But he realizes that the money will eventually run out. He is walking through the city one day, trying to figure out a plan for his future, when he comes across a gathering in front of a house. Curious, he moves closer so he can hear what is being said. A man is speaking passionately to a crowd of people. Onesimus finds a spot where he can hear without being conspicuous and listens. After a while, he realizes that the man is talking about this Jesus that Onesimus’ master and mistress worship. He starts to leave, but then something turns him back. He stays and listens, and by the end of the day he is no longer an outsider who can’t understand why anyone would worship a dead guy. He has become a believer.
Philemon, Matthew Henry’s Commentary