1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (Philemon 1-7; NKJV)
In Paul’s letter to Philemon that was intended for the church with him, there are two central points: the need to forgive and how to forgive. This teaching is profitable to us as well. We live in a selfish, me-first society with grace and true forgiveness being overtaken with ambition and competition. This influences us and impacts our Christians families, but this letter equips us to better forgive and in modeling that behavior we have opportunity to teach Jesus.
Remember, Paul is writing Philemon because he wants him to forgive and accept Onesimus. Paul lays the groundwork for his request of Philemon by acknowledging Philemon’s Christian character. Paul is thankful for Philemon because of his faith and love towards Jesus and all the saints.
This is Philemon’s reputation because he is doing what Christians should do in having and demonstrating love and faith toward brethren. Further, this is a shared faith between Paul and Philemon which gives us more insight into Philemon’s work. He is an extension of Paul in some regards and the work Philemon is doing brings Paul joy and comfort because Paul knows the hearts of God’s people have been refreshed.
We often think that sharing our faith is about teaching the lost, but we see in the point of this letter that we share our faith with brethren through forgiveness. Paul is praying that Philemon’s faith will be more effective and to say it another way that Philemon’s faith will be put into action through forgiveness.
I envision this first section of the letter as being very encouraging to Philemon and those around him. It is good to be part of a work bigger than ourselves and to be recognized and valued for our part in it. Paul isn’t writing these things to inflate Philemon’s ego but rather to call to mind the intimate and collaborative work Paul and Philemon are doing for the sake of the gospel and God’s people and to bolster Philemon’s spirit.
Encouragement and recognition are a powerful influences. This is true with our children, spouses, friends, and especially our brethren. Taking the time to recognize the work already done and the heart demonstrated will encourage and provide opportunity for even more work to be done no matter how hard the task is. This letter is about the need to forgive and how to forgive and Paul recognizes this is tough stuff. Paul doesn’t just jump into that rather he center’s Philemon’s heart and mind on the work and the relationship to bolster Philemon for the work that needs to be done.
Forgiveness is hard spiritual, mental, and emotional work. Just like any other hard labor, if we do not exercise the muscles necessary to do the work before we need them, we will tire quickly, get hurt or be unable to complete the task. In looking at this first section of the letter, we can see that continual practice of love and faith for Jesus and the saints will prepare us for more and more difficult challenges and opportunity for even greater positive influence for the sake of Christians.
Practice love and faith. Be encouraged in that work. Encourage others in their love and faith. Together we will be quipped to put our faith into action through forgiveness just like Paul and Philemon.