Philemon 4-7 (ESV) - 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.
Question to consider: Is there a time in which you have been particularly refreshed by a brother or sister in Christ?
Even though Paul had never met Philemon, he had heard about him. At the end of this letter, Paul mentioned Epaphras who was the one who established the church at Colossae which met at Philemon’s house. It is apparent that Epaphras visited Paul in prison and gave him updates on what was going on in Colossae. So Paul knew how integral Philemon was in the life of this church and thanked God for him.
Paul was chained to a Roman soldier as he waited for a trial. The Lord had told Paul he would make it to the trial in Rome, but He never promised that the trial would go Paul’s way. This definitely could have been cause for tremendous anxiety and helplessness. After all, there were many “wolves” who tried to infiltrate the churches to deceive people and take advantage of them, and Paul couldn’t do anything about it other than write letters.
Paul definitely would have appreciated the food and supplies brought by faithful brothers and sisters like Epaphras, for Rome didn’t exactly pamper their prisoners. As far as they were concerned, if a prisoner died while waiting for trial, it was the will of the gods and saved them the effort. As we can see from Paul’s statement however, the thing that brought him much joy and comfort while in chains was hearing about people like Philemon who refreshed the church rather than trying to take from them.
Before we get into the meat of this letter, I think it is a good idea to reflect on the impact of Philemon on his brothers and sisters in Christ. Like Paul, “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.” The phrase “sharing of your faith” today seems to be used in reference to telling people about our “faith stories.” While it is good to tell people about our relationship with Christ, Paul is instead referring to the sharing of ourselves in service and love for one another. Rather than looking at how our churches can serve us and our needs, we should think about how we can use our gifts and talents to bring comfort and joy and refreshment to one another.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for continuing to grow us in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus through Your word and through our brothers and sisters in Christ who bring us much joy and comfort. Please show us how we can multiply Your good gifts to those around us in Christ Jesus. Amen.