We end the introduction to Philemon with verse 7, a very tender and personal connection between Paul and Philemon:
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother,
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Paul’s relationship with Philemon personally comforted him and gave him joy. I would imagine there were a lot of things in prison that were not bringing Paul comfort or joy. Maybe it was the drunk in the next cell who kept throwing up? Maybe it was the man cursing the Romans for arresting him?
And I would imagine there were few joys. Maybe when Timothy or others came to visit?. Maybe when he received a letter from one of the other churches? But I can’t imagine there were many.
So what brought Paul the joy and comfort? Knowing Philemon was doing the work that Paul so desperately wanted to do. Whenever he talked with people, they told him how much Philemon had encouraged them, given them hope and truth. Even though Paul could not be with them, it gave him comfort and joy to know their needs were being met.
Sometimes I feel so far away from my family and friends. I long for them, long to be a part of their lives, to see them smile. But I know I can’t, so I pray for others to come into their lives, to be that person for them, so that their needs can be met.
I have to confess, sometimes when I hear of their other friends and the great relationship they are enjoying, I become jealous. I wish I could be there. But then I remember how I prayed and how God was answering my prayer. I still wish I could be there, but it does bring me joy and comfort to know that God is “refreshing” their hearts.
Whose heart do I need to “refresh” today?