And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, we don’t know what Philemon’s house looked like. It was likely spacious enough to accommodate a fairly large gathering, though. This was normal practice in the early church, and many modern-day churches have adopted this early pattern to a greater or lesser degree. The hope, in doing so, is that neighbors will be reached with the gospel, and closer relationships will develop among believers.
It’s interesting how we tend to go in cycles, isn’t it? The megachurch movement swept across America and other countries, as well, during the last thirty years of so of the 20th century. Then, realizing that a lack of personal relationships was one of the results of having thousands of people attending a church, we began this move back to “house churches,” under the direction of pastors and lay leaders.
In Philemon’s day, there was no option outside of the church house. He was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, a man of some wealth and recognition in his community. Opening his home to believers around him was a natural thing for him to do.
Apphia, meaning that which is fruitful, is widely believed to have been Philemon’s wife or sister, a “beloved” member of his household and also beloved by Paul.
Archippus was either the son or brother of Apphia, a member of the household of Philemon. He was a fellow soldier, an associate in labors and conflicts for the cause of Christ. Tradition holds that Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus were all stoned to death during the reign of Nero. I could find no absolute truth to that, but it certainly could be true that they were martyred.
Paul’s greetings to those who read his epistles often included the phrase grace and peace be unto you. These believers were living through dangerous, difficult times. No one understood that any better than Paul himself.