Today I start a study of the book of Philemon. This is a letter from Paul, while he was in prison, to Philemon, Apphia (Philemon’s Wife), Archippus, and to the church who meets in Philemon’s house.
One of the primary subjects of the letter is in regard to Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had escaped from Philemon in Colosse to Rome where he became a believer and associated with Paul. As a slave he was the legal property of Philemon. In addition, Onesimus had stolen some of Philemon’s goods. With this letter Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, emphasizing that Christian conduct should permeate their relationship. Paul especially pleads for forgiveness for Onesimus, asking that he be accepted as a Christian brother. The appeal is written very tactfully and is organized in such a way as to build rapport, persuade the mind, and move the emotions.
4 I give thanks to my God for you always when I mention you in my prayers, 5 Because I continue to hear of your love and of your loyal faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and [which you show] toward all the saints (God’s consecrated people). 6 [And I pray] that the participation in and sharing of your faith may produce and promote full recognition and appreciation and understanding and precise knowledge of every good [thing] that is ours in [our identification with] Christ Jesus [and unto His glory]. Philemon 1:4-6 [AMP]
I just love the heart of Paul in calling out his admiration and gratitude for Philemon in these first several verses. Paul does this in some of his other letters, but you get the sense that there is an enduring personal relationship between Paul and Philemon. When I think about all of the churches Paul influenced and the leadership he put in place at each one, the amount prayer had to have been staggering if he was continually praying for all of them in the way that he mentions here. That personal relationship must have meant a lot to Paul for him to thank God for Philemon each time he thought to pray for him.
These next 2 verses (5 & 6) have some interesting points. Love of Christ, Loyal Faith towards Christ -> sharing these attributes with all of the saints around him (Philemon) produce a recognition, appreciation, and knowledge of everything we good that we have in and through Christ Jesus. I like how the Amplified says “in our identification with Christ” and “unto His glory”.
There is no doubt what the focus is of Paul in this passage. Love, loyal faith, and recognition of ‘good’ is nothing if we don’t direct and appropriate them entirely in the context of Jesus and to glorify Him. Just in this opening set of statements from Paul, it helps me see that I must live every moment of my life with the context of my identity in Jesus and Jesus being the sole recipient of any glory. Paul mentions Philemon but the kudos he (Paul) gives is because Philemon is centered correctly on Jesus in recognition of good and works of love and loyal faith being birthed from a desire to please Jesus and be more like Him. I am still sitting here absorbing this…