Philemon 1-7

PersonalTestamonyPaul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Observation

  • The letter is from both Paul and Timothy
  • Paul was a prisoner when he wrote the letter
  • The letter is to Philemon, Apphia and Archipus and the church that met at their home.
  • Paul remembered them in his prayers.
  • Paul thanked god for them
  • They loved Paul and Paul knew it.
  • They had faith in Jesus.
  • Paul prayed the sharing of their faith would be effective for knowledge of the good thing in them and Paul.
  • Paul prayed the sharing of their faith was effective for the sake of Christ.
  • Paul was comforted by their love.
  • Their love has refreshed the saints.

Interpretation

This simple letter is only one chapter long. Paul appears to have written it for a single purpose. The purpose is to ensure Philemon accepts back, without punishment, a runaway slave. So it would be easy to wonder why this is in the bible at all. Paul is writing to a single purpose but it is clear the letter is for the whole church. In fact, Paul addresses the entire church meeting in Philemon’s house. Christianity is about what Christ has done for us. When we realize what Christ has done, it invokes a response. This letter reminds us of our debt and how we should respond to the grace and mercy given to us.

At the time Paul writes this letter he is in prison. He refers to himself as a prisoner for Christ. He mentions his chains as badges of the office of an Apostle. Paul mentions his office and suffering not because Philemon needed reminding. He mentions these because he is about to plead for a runaway slave. The theme of the letter is forgiveness.

Because of how Paul addresses Philemon and the fact there is a church meeting in his house, it is probable Philemon was a pastor. Paul calls him a fellow worker. This is not a title Paul usually gives to private individuals.

Paul also addresses Archippus, a fellow soldier. Archippus could be the same Archippius mentioned at the end of Colossians. If so, he is a minister as well. The term soldier belongs to all Christians. But, it is teachers who are the standard bearers. It is teachers who Satan gives greater annoyance.

Paul gave thanks and prayers for Philemon. No one, no matter how good, is ever so perfect that they do not need prayer. Pray that God may grant you pastors and teacher grace and perseverance. Also, pray they will make progress every day towards perfection.

In verse 5 Paul commends Philemon on the reports he hears about him. This commendation is in two parts, faith in Christ and love toward the saints. This is Paul’s introduction into his request for Philemon. Paul could have commanded Philemon to do the right thing. But Paul much preferred that Philemon act out of love. Love for Christ and mankind regulate all our actions. Paul does not limit love to the saints as if there should not also be love towards others. God engraved His image in us and all mankind. So we are to love all mankind. This is the doctrine of love. But those who are united to us in Christ are a closer bond.

Verse 6 is easier to understand if broken into parts. The first part is sharing your faith. (I pray that the sharing of your faith) The second part is the effectiveness of the sharing of the faith. (may become effective) The third part is why we share the faith. (for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.)

The first part is about communication of the faith. What does it mean to communicate the faith? Christianity is an objective truth. It is not a subjective experience. Christianity is about what Christ has done in space and time. What Christ did, he did whether you believe it or not. What Christ did, he did whether or not anyone believes it. So, communicating the faith is not telling someone what you believe. It is not giving your personal testimony. The Christian faith is not your changed life. Communicating the faith is communicating what Christ has actually done in history.

The second part is the effectiveness of the communication. Paul said so the sharing of your faith may be effective. The exercise of the faith is good works. The Christian faith does not remain inactive. While Christ’s redemptive work is complete. He continues to work in us to remold, remake, renew us to be like Him. What are good works? We tend to limit the idea of good works to being kind, feeding the hungry, helping those in need of help. That is, we think of good works as doing nice things. Yes, but any pagan can and does do those things. The good works Paul is talking about is much broader. Good works are living our entire life in Christ. Loving others as Christ would love. Rebuking those who need correction. Loving others enough to let them know there is a hell. Loving them enough to care that they are going there. Good works are social works and spiritual works combined. Good works permeate your entire life not just a part of it.

Why share the faith? We share the faith for Christ. We are his servants. We live for Christ. We love others because He loves them. We are Christ’s instruments. Christ to uses us to express His love to others. Every good thing that is in us is in us for the sake of Christ. We are not our own. We belong to Christ.

Paul says the love Philemon showed others has refreshed him. When we love as Christ loves the renewal and refreshing of others refresh and renews us. We rejoice with them because we love them. That is sanctification.

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