Philemon 1:4-7, I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.
As we mentioned in the first section and the introduction to this personal letter, Paul’s wisdom and sensibility becomes very evident as you read and begin to digest what he is preparing to ask of Philemon. We need to remember that this was within the very infant church and as such there were only starting indications of situations that would need to be addressed by those in authority.
The love of Christ and the faith in Him and what He had given to the foundling church was just starting to manifest itself, but like all new things and especially spiritual things, the enemy will do all he can to try and thwart any advancement. He will use obstacles such as disagreements and dissension to try and break down the ongoing morale. However, the Apostles and in this case, the Apostle Paul was employing the tactics inspired and motivated by the Holy Spirit in what could have been, and for the time most certainly was, a very delicate situation.
However, Paul continues with his letter, though it is a personal one, with a very tried and true exhortation that he uses in almost all of his letters. Take heed however, this does not mean he was advancing without the most sincerest of hearts. Paul starts by letting Philemon know most specifically by the way he phrases the thanksgiving that he thanks God for him continually.
Paul’s personality and strong belief comes through when he tells Philemon that it is to MY God, that he mentions Philemon in his prayers. Paul is indicating just how personal the relationship is with the Creator of all there is. This tends to lend impact to what Paul follows up with; the fact that he, Paul, is going to God Almighty, His God, and thus Philemon’s also, to make mention of him specifically.
Paul then goes on to give Philemon the motivation of why he is in the Apostles prayers continually; Philemon’s love and faith. These were two of the qualities found in Philemon that Paul especially felt joy in. His love for others, especially the saints, and his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to diverge here for just a moment. As I’ve studied, I have found it brought up several times that Paul addressed his reasons a little differently than he had in previous more public letters. In most of those, he usually commends others for their FAITH first, and then following with their LOVE. Many scholars have taken note of this and have come to believe that because this is a more personal letter and one that is laying the foundation for a specific request, that Paul wanted to remind first and foremost of Philemon’s love for ALL saints and then how that ties in with his faith in Christ Jesus. To me, it demonstrates that bit of wisdom that Paul shows so prevalently.
It is not that Paul is “buttering up” Philemon for I believe due to the tone, he is very, very sincere, but he is getting ready to make a request that will require that very real Christian love. You will notice that he literally “wraps” the commendation of his love in with the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ so that in essence, Philemon cannot separate the two. Besides, if you truly break the sentence apart, you realize it places a lot more emphasis on the word ALL, when he writes “toward all the saints.” As a side note, let me just say that the word “saints” that Paul is using is not for just a few “exceptional” Christians, but is meant to denote every TRUE follower of Christ Jesus.
So, Paul is really directing Philemon’s thoughts back to his effectiveness in sharing love with all saints, but the Apostles ties it so wisely to the faith Philemon has in Christ Jesus. You must remember, and it is sometimes easy to forget when you are just reading or even superficially studying the Word that this Word was put down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Did the writers realize they were doing this very thing as they wrote? Maybe in some cases they felt an unction, an anointing but in most cases they were led to write for what to us might seem the most mundane of reasons. As in Paul’s case, to plead personally to a friend for a favor and in the case of others, to record events and speech so that they and others would be able to remember it. This is NO way, diminishes the importance or the very FACT that it is the Holy Spirit behind it all!
Now these two verses, actually only one sentence, expresses Paul’s thankfulness towards his friend and why as a brother in Christ he IS thankful for Him to God almighty, that being, his Christian love and faith in Christ.
Paul goes on in verse six as to the motive now for his prayers and that is he prays for Philemon to continue to be active in the SHARING of his faith. Paul uses the Greek word, koinōnia, which literally means “fellowship and sharing” to describe the Christian way of giving.
In other words, Paul is thankful for Philemon’s character, but now he is making intercession rather than thanksgiving on behalf of Philemon in the sense that he will continue on in his dedication to love the saints, in which Paul will state that Onesimus is now one, and in his continued faith through the action of sharing in love. It goes right along with what James stated in his epistle:
Someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. – James 2:18.
Paul prays for Philemon, desiring that the actual active sharing of his faith would become effective and more productive as he, Philemon, understands, comprehends and acknowledges the blessings (every good thing) that comes from the work God does through him as a vessel.
Our faith in the Lord leads us to ACT in love as I have often taught for years, based on the Scriptures. It isn’t based on feelings or even what we see or expect in the moment. It is based on God’s ability to use what we do IN FAITH and LOVE towards others, making our sometimes sacrifice a blessing towards another. It is very obvious that as you read this short letter, you can see Paul setting the stage for Philemon to again put that faith and love into action towards another brother, even though it is returning slave who ran away. There is an awful lot of Christ-like character in just these few words that Paul has already put to pen.
The foundation of sharing in a Christian’s life can and most often is in supply material needs to others, but it is also the very basis for witnessing, testifying and evangelizing. Those things that God has poured into us, most often times to overflowing, are the catalyst in sharing a life that has been not only touched by God, but changed by Him as well. I am sure this is what was on the Apostle’s mind when he spoke of praying for a more effective demonstration of Philemon’s faith. His character was already worthy of thanks to the Lord; now Paul is interceding on Philemon’s behalf that it would become even greater in service.
Now the Apostle and friend wraps his greeting up with even more by letting Philemon know that word of his deeds have reached many places and because it and his service to Christ ties itself to Paul, most likely because Paul led him to the Lord, it has been effective in giving the Apostle GREAT “joy and consolation” in the fact that Philemon is known for his love not just to Christ Jesus, but to saints everywhere.
You have to understand the times and the places that many of these people including the Apostle have lived and communed. It may seem on the surface that Paul is being subtle in his flattery, but when you KNOW the character of Paul and the fact that he tries to tie his character so closely to Jesus, you have to realize that Paul is not playing tricks with words, but truly, yet thoughtfully AND sincerely, laying out his heart to his friend, it is not flattery therefore, but rather encouragement in the Lord. This is a great lesson for us as brothers and sisters and disciples of Christ Jesus for the world WE are living in today! It is never wrong to give encouragement where it is deserved but also needed!
Paul is letting his friend know that his deeds are known to many, many of the saints, because he has “refreshed the hearts” of many saints. In the early church, with all the beginnings of turmoil and disciples and Christians trying to find their way in an ever-changing world, words such as the encouragement that Paul relayed to Philemon were not only often needed, but most welcome. It is one brother encouraging and commending another brother in the Lord that their deeds are seen and known. Many times, the things we do in service to Christ Jesus is with the understanding of what Jesus taught directly to His disciples:
“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” – Matthew 6:3-4.
Our Heavenly Father knows the deeds that are done by each and every one of us as was the case with Philemon and Paul was reminding him that yes, the Father does see in secret, but because many hearts were being fed and filled with God’s joy, the word of his Christian love was also becoming known, thus, his faith in Christ Jesus which leads him to love like that! That’s a lot to see in these four few verses. They are easy to skim over and in the overall context think how generous Paul is, and yet, we would miss so much depth and teaching that arises from them.
Maybe, you can begin to see why even a short letter like this can make someone very excited to be studying it. Think about it, consider the implications of what Paul was saying to ALL of us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then let’s determine in our hearts to go and actually LIVE it!