Who Are We? – Philemon

Who Are We? – Philemon

Paul is making a request in the midst of relationship, in the midst of a context – past, present and future. He’s already written about this, but now he goes into it deeper, and I feel it deeper…

I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus –

Paul identifies himself as “old.” Depending which imprisonment theory you go with (Rome or Ephesus), Paul is either old in age or older in seniority. But I don’t think that was what Paul meant…

He felt old. He felt limited. He felt vulnerable, and needy.

I’m getting older, and I identify with him.  As you age, you are so much more aware of your limitations – the limitations of your knowledge, skill, physical strength, what your body can and can’t do.

He was feeling his age as well as his limitations, as a prisoner. I have to confess, in this world of Covid, at times I’ve felt as a “prisoner” even though I believe in the cause!

We’re all getting older. For some, that’s exciting. But for many of us, we know our days of greatest impact may be behind us. We tend to look forward through the eyes of our children, physically and spiritually.

What can they achieve? We find purpose and meaning through them, carrying on the message of Jesus through their lives.

And we find joy.

Love’s Sake – Philemon

Requests carry risk.

though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to what is required,
yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…

Requests get our desires out into the open, maybe even exposing a need.

Paul had the “authority” over Philemon. He was the leader of the church, the father of the community of faith. He had paid the price for them to hear the gospel. So in this community of faith where he could have made demands based on his position of authority, he chose to go a different direction – the direction of love.

Paul never lacked boldness, but in this situation, he chose love.


Could it be because he is making a request for Philemon to not use his authority, but to choose love?

Philemon has the authority legally, as Onesimus’ owner, to press charges on his run-away slave. He has all legal rights, while his slave has none. 

Paul is appealing to him not about power, but about love, compassion, mercy.

All of us have a certain amount of power in our relationships. If nothing else, we have the power to leave the relationship. We also have power to hurt the other person, or the power to encourage the other person.

Paul is making the point clear – Philemon can use his boldness, his power, his position to hurt Onemimus. Or…he can use it for “love’s sake” and express not just love for his brother in faith, but his love for a man who has been a father in faith.

Paul modeled the choice before he made the request, not using his authority but deferring to love.

How can I use my boldness, power, position in relationships to encourage others, to show love, mercy and forgiveness…

For “love’s sake?”


The Request – Philemon

Now we get to the meat of the letter, the real reason Paul is writing Philemon. 

Evidently, Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus, who went missing probably with some of Philemon’s money or property. He ended up with Paul who told him about Jesus and led him into faith. He’s now appealing to Philemon to restore the relationship.

I give the summary not as a “spoiler alert” but it’s hard to look at the request in the midst of the whole. Requests God makes of us are in the midst of a whole. First, there is what comes before the request, the request, and what comes after the request.

Paul, throughout his intro, has laid a foundation of two important principles, setting the stage for the request – Philemon’s relationship with Paul, Philemon’s relationship with God, and Philemon’s relationship to others.

Love and respect define Paul’s relationship with Philemon. Remember all the endearing words Paul used? Beloved, my fellow-worker, my brother, love, joy, comfort – each identifying the connection they have. Paul let Philemon know he remembers him in prayer and heard of his good works. He wanted God’s best for him.  He also made the contrast that while Philemon is experiencing freedom, enjoying success in ministry, Paul is a prisoner. 

And then there is Philemon’s relationship with God, the grace and peace he has received in his life. Like Paul, he had received forgiveness of sin and the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. Paul talked of Philemon’s love and faith in his Lord and master, Jesus. His life had been dramatically changed since he heard the gospel message.

Philemon lived his relationship for all to see – those in the community as well as those in the church. Paul addressed the church in his house and talked of Philemon’s “love and faith” towards the “saints.” But even more so, Paul prayed for Philemon’s “effective” witness to others. Philemon had put a stake in the ground as a Christ-follower.

Requests are not made in a vacuum.

A request comes from someone. The relationship with that person is critical to how I receive the request. If it’s from someone I love and respect, I lean into it, want to hear it, desire to respond.

My response is connected to my relationship with God. If that is good and we’re in fellowship, it goes one way. If I am not and am rebelling, wanting my own way, it will probably go the other.

And if there is any doubt, I also need to take into account how others will see my response. I have an opportunity to show to others love and faith and be a witness of the grace and mercy God has given me.

What request is God currently making of me? How is it grounded in others, my relationship with Him? Will it build faith in others, or tear down?

Great questions to ask myself. Decisions are not just mine. They don’t occur in a vacuum. They occur in relationships.

Comfort and Joy – Philemon

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?

No Safety Bubble – Philemon

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. 

What did Paul pray for Philemon? That the “sharing of your faith may become effective.”

First, note that Philemon shared his faith! He wasn’t just sitting back in his nice house, letting people come to him. He wasn’t just talking about love and peace and things people wanted to hear, the “soft side” of the gospel. He was out there, sharing the “good news” of Jesus Christ that had totally changed his life!

Second, Paul was praying that Philemon’s sharing “may become effective.” It is important we get out there and share our faith. That takes boldness and courage.  But it’s also important that we do it effectively. That takes knowledge of our faith, the truth of the gospel, the facts of history and our Savior. 

It also takes wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how, when, and where to apply those facts. Facts can hurt and they can also heal. Sharing our faith is not standing on a street corner blaring damnation, which may be truth.  But sharing our faith effectively is having the wisdom to know who, when, where, and could be effective in hearts.

Most of all, effective sharing of our faith comes with the power of the Holy Spirit. Only when we are led, filled, empowered by the Holy Spirit will our efforts be effective. I Thessalonians 1:5 reminds us, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and will full conviction.”  

It’s the Holy Spirt who makes our sharing of the gospel “effective” in the lives of others.

And isn’t that what we desire?

Words of Thankfulness – Philemon

 So just how does Paul feel about Philemon? What is their relationship like? This verse lays it out for us…

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,
because I hear of your love and the faith that you have
 towards the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,

First, he thanks God for him…always. Not once in awhile, but always. I have great kids, a great husband, but I’m not sure that I have “always” thanked God for them.

But when Paul thinks about Philemon, his heart is overwhelmed with gratefulness. I wish I could crawl into his mind and remember what he was remembering, but whatever it was, it was beautiful. 

And Paul prays for Philemon. Think about it – what would it be like for Paul to pray for you? Would it be prayers of thanksgiving, or prayers for strength, confession, maybe humility? What would his prayers be for me?

And why did Paul thank God for Philemon? He was hearing, even in prison, how Philemon was loving the people around him. He was hearing about Philemon’s faith as he trusted God. And he was hearing how that love and faith were directed not only to God but to those around them.

What a wonderful way to be remembered? Philemon put feet to his faith, and his reputation went before him. Can’t you see Paul writing at his makeshift desk, smiling, musing, remembering what he had heard about Philemon.

Lord, help me put feet to my faith…

Greetings – Philemon

We have lots of ways of greeting others. “Hi! How are you?” is a common greeting, but have you noticed how few people really seem interested in the answer?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace seem to be a common greeting from Paul. It’s used in Titus, the book right before Philemon (1:4b). It makes you wonder if it’s just common or if Paul really meant every word he wrote. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt…

Grace – grace is what they both had in common. Philemon and Paul had both received saving grace. They were also receiving grace for daily living, although in different circumstances: Philemon was in his nice house, free to live his life, while Paul was in prison. 

Peace – peace is something we all desire. Philemon certainly did not want trouble with the church in his home, although he knew every service was a risk, every newcomer suspect. And Paul certainly didn’t want things to get worse in jail. At least in peace he could continue to do ministry.

But where do grace and peace come from?

Ultimately, God the Father – he is sovereign and all powerful. He is the one in control of the world and everything in it, that he created and set into motion.

But even more, personal peace comes our Lord Jesus Christ. When we were far from God, Jesus bridged the gap. Romans 3:23-24 says, 

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
And are justified by his grace as a gift,
Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Through Jesus, we not only have grace, but peace.

In the midst of an election season, we need both grace and peace. We need to extend grace to others, just as we ourselves have received grace. And we need to find peace, not as the world experiences peace, but as Jesus gives us peace.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you;
Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
(John 14:27)

Grace and peace I want to leave with you today —

Philemon – Philemon

Philemon – Philemon

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker, 

So who is the book written to? 

The first person mentioned is Philemon. He is the main person, the person the letter was delivered to, but just like Paul, there is a context of people who were around him, to whom the letter was also meant to be shared. 

Philemon is first described as “beloved.” How sweet! I’m sad that in our culture we don’t greet each other as “beloved.” In fact, some children can’t remember their parents telling them they love them. We have drained out affectionate words and replaced them with kidding, teasing, “you know what I mean” sarcasm. No, we don’t always know what you mean.

Paul had true, spoken, affection for Philemon. At this point, we’re not sure why, but we know it is there. It’s deeply personal and intimate. Paul is not preaching to a crowd; he is whispering to a friend, a beloved friend.

Philemon is also a “fellow worker.” He’s someone who has stood shoulder to shoulder with Paul, doing the ministry. He’s been bowed under problems with Paul as well as danced with him with joy. They have prayed, wept and worked together.

There are relationships I’ve fostered over lunch or coffee appointments. I love them deeply for what they have shared with me, how transparent they have been about their lives and how they have let me enter their lives.

There are also relationships where we have worked side by side. It usually took longer to develop relationship, because we were focused on the work. But in doing the work, we learned trust. We began to anticipate the other person’s thoughts, desires, weaknesses. The small talk between tasks became bigger talk as we sought solutions together. We owned the work together.

I’m not saying one kind of relationship is better than the other. They are just different. But I have found that when we changed locations, the first kind fell away as we no longer could have our lunch dates. The second group fell away if we were no longer working together. But the memories of the second group seem to stay with me longer, and when there is opportunity, the work, and the relationship, has been easy to pick up.

Example in case: I have a high school friend I’ve hardly seen in the last 40 years. Back in the day, desirous to reach our campus for Christ, we started a prayer group during lunch. Years passed, and we went our own ways. Recently, with careers over and children gone, we have reconnected. Once again, we’re shoulder to shoulder, doing volunteer audio editing on line with her.BIBLE. It’s been as smooth as spreading butter.

Relationships come to us from all different directions, and they are all precious and unique. But there is something about a common cause that brings us together.

Philemon was one of those who shared the cause with Paul, a beloved fellow worker.

And Who Else? Philemon

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker
and Apphia our sister
and Archippus our fellow soldier,
and the church in your house:

Philemon is not the only person this letter is address to, but it is also for Apphia, who is called “our sister.” Common thought is that this is Philemon’s wife, who is a sister in Christ to Paul, just as Philemon is a brother in Christ, all adopted into the family of God. Again, it’s a saluatation of affection and familiarity.

It is also addressed by name to Archippus, sometimes assumed to be Philemon’s son. “Fellow soldier” is probably not meant as a military term as much as acknowledging the strength this young man brings to the spiritual battle, encouraging him to have courage.

And it makes sense that they are all related when you think of the church “in your house.” It’s a house they all share, a ministry they are all involved in, reaching out to their community. 

I try to imagine what they looked like…

Philemon is assumed to be wealthy, at least wealthy enough to host a church in his home and to own slaves. Apphia could be a blend of Mary and Martha, making sure the house is clean and everyone has a place to sit, while listening and learning herself. And they are so pleased that Archippus has been baptized and now sharing his faith with his friends. They all know hosting these meetings could be dangerous, but they stand together as they greet people into their home.   

Just as Paul was not alone in the prison, this family is not alone. They live in a context God uniquely place them…

Just as I live in a place God has uniquely placed me, with relationships to my family and my community.

God does not just speak to my husband, but he speaks to me, and my children, and those around who also trust him.

It’s important for us all to be listening…

God’s Comfort – Philemon

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother.

You may be feeling this is painfully slow, and I can’t promise I will go faster as we go along because it’s however the Lord leads. But this is an important point:

Paul was not alone.

Timothy was with him. Since it is not mentioned that Timothy was also jailed, I assume this means that Timothy came to see him, maybe to bring him writing supplies, maybe to tell him the morning news, maybe to pray with him and be taught. 

And Timothy was considered “our” brother, shared by Paul and Philemon. To me, it assumes some recognition of a relationship. This could have been in person – maybe they had been at the marketplace together when Paul was speaking. Or maybe there was a “house church conference” where Paul spoke. Or maybe it was just through reputation, hearing reports how the gospel was spreading. However it was, Timothy was not just Paul’s brother in Christ, but Philemon’s Brother.

But just the little fact that Timothy was with Paul makes me feel…comforted.

As an introvert, I like being alone, but I also hate feeling alone. I don’t want to be deserted, abandoned. Yes, give me a little space to have my own thoughts, but don’t ignore me.

Paul was not abandoned in prison. In God’s mercy and grace, he sent him Timothy to be with him, even as he’s writing this letter. Maybe Timothy delivered the letter? Timothy had freedoms Paul did not have. Timothy connected Paul with others.

We were not created to be alone. God saw Adam in the garden and knew it was not good for him to be alone. We are made in God’s image, and he is a triune god – 3 in one – fellowship and connection with different parts of what makes up himself. We desperately need connection.

God, in his grace and mercy, gave Paul Timothy.

It makes me wonder, Who is my Timothy?  Who has God brought alongside me to comfort me, to connect me, to just be with me?