EFFECTIVE FAITH SHOWS ITSELF IN PRACTICAL LOVE
The Apostle Paul is petitioning Philemon to receive back into good graces Onesimus, the slave he had led to the Lord but the slave who had robbed his master and run away to Rome. Paul has been urging Onesimus to make things right with his master; but at issue would be whether Philemon would be willing to forgive and extend love to Onesimus and whether he would be able to trust him again. This is a practical test of genuine Christian love. Paul does not want Onesimus to be punished; in fact he would like him to be freed up to be returned to him for service in the gospel. But Paul does not presume upon the willingness of Philemon.
C.S. Lewis once said “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive.”
Martin Lloyd Jones once said “I say to the glory of God and in utter humility that whenever I see myself before God and realize even something of what my blessed Lord has done for me, I am ready to forgive anybody and anything”
Rupprecht: The traditional interpretation has been that Paul sent him back with Tychicus at the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Colossians.
Paul wrote the letter to Philemon in approximately 57-60A.D. probably during his first imprisonment in Rome. This letter was written at about the same time that he wrote his letters to the church at Ephesus (Ephesians) and to the church at Colossae (Colossians).
Much along the lines of the Book of James – 9 Tests of Genuine Faith
– Faith without Perseverance is dead
– Faith without Obedience is dead
– Faith without Impartial Love is dead
– Faith without Good Works is dead
– Faith without Practical Wisdom is dead
– Faith without Intimacy is dead
– Faith without Submission to the Will of God is dead
– Faith without the Fear of God is dead
– Faith without Fervent Effectual Prayer is dead
Here in Philemon we see how faith must work together with love in very practical ways to bless the saints
(:1-3) GREETING: FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHRIST INVOLVE WORKING RELATIONSHIPS AS PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL
1. Main Author – Enslaved to the Will of His Master – Belonging to His Master
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus,”
Also physically in prison at the time because of his faithful labors for Christ; obligated to serve under the circumstances ordained for him by his master; he will be asking Philemon to fulfill his obligations as well
Hendriksen: all the details of the imprisonment as well as its outcome, whether it be the death-sentence or acquittal, are in the hands that were pierced for this prisoner, those very hands that now control the entire universe in the interest of the church. Paul’s imprisonment is therefore a very honorable one. The mention of himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus is also very tactful, probably implying, “In comparison with the sacrifice that I am making is not the favor which I am asking you to grant a rather easy matter?”
2. Companion / Co-Laborer (not really co-author)
“and Timothy our brother”
Spiritual brotherhood is closer relationship than flesh and blood
Not just Paul’s brother, but “our” brother
B. Recipients: Beloved family members in Christ and fellow workers in the gospel ministry
1. Main Recipient
“to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker”
All brothers in the Lord should also be fellow workers
No room in the family of God for those who don’t enter into the yoke of partnership in the gospel ministry; involves commitment and hard work
“and to Apphia our sister”
probably the wife of Philemon and as such would have had some oversight responsibility over the slaves as they worked in the household
b. Archippus (Perhaps the son of Philemon or prominent preacher)
“and to Archippus our fellow soldier”
Phil. 2:25 – reference to Epaphroditus using same term
3. Overall Local Church
“and to the church in your house”
Philemon fairly wealthy; hospitable; hosting the church = the people
[Some people would advocate today that the house church format is still optimal – whole house church movement]
body of “called out” ones
Oesterley: Up to the third century we have no certain evidence of the existence of church buildings for the purposes of worship; all references point to private houses for this. In Rome several of the oldest churches appear to have been built on the sites of houses used for Christian worship.
C. Salutation / Benediction
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
The resources of God that are most precious to us can be summed up as Grace and Peace
The Father and the Son work in tandem to provide those benefits to the saints
Oesterley: In the N.T. the word peace expresses the spiritual state, which is the result of a right relationship between God and man. According to Jewish belief, the establishment of peace, in this sense, was one of the main functions of the Messiah (cf. Luke ii. 14), it was herein that His mediatorial work was to be accomplished.
MacArthur: Grace, the means of salvation; peace, the result of salvation.
(:4-7) EFFECTIVE FAITH SHOWS ITSELF IN PRACTICAL LOVE
THANKSGIVING AND PRAYER FOR THE EFFECTIVE APPLICATION OF LOVE AND FAITH IN THE LIFE OF PHILEMON
(:4) INTRODUCTION: Ongoing Thanksgiving for Philemon
“I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers”
Switch in pronoun number in this section from plural to singular “you”
Paul took the time to pray for specific individuals and their needs;
The tone of Paul’s prayers was one of thanksgiving
Always tried to accentuate the positive; not looking for things to criticize or to harp on someone’s weaknesses
“always” – goes with the giving of thanks — consistent pattern in the letters of Paul (cf. Eph 1:16, Phil 1:3, Col. 1:3,4)
I. (:5) THE DISTINGUISHING BRAND OF GENUINE CHRISTIANITY SHOULD BE THE SYNERGY OF ACTIVE FAITH AND PRACTICAL LOVE
Exemplary Report: Commending Philemon for Consistent Pattern of Love and Faith
A. The Report of Practical Love
“because I hear of your love,” “toward all the saints”
Who did Paul hear of this good report from? Possibly Epaphras (Col. 1:7,8; 4:12)
Chiastic Arrangement: A-love / B-faith / B-Lord Jesus / A-all the saints
Oesterley: The first and prominent thought is Philemon’s love. This suggests the mention of his faith, as the source from which it springs.
No partiality of prejudice
Concept of separation for God’s service (Lev. 19:2)
No false spirituality
Unusual emphasis here – Why?
B. The Report of Active Faith
“and of the faith which you have” “toward the Lord Jesus”
Object of our faith is what is important
Maclaren: The preposition here used to define the relation of faith to its object is noteworthy. Faith is “toward” Him. The idea is that of a movement of yearning after an unattained good.
II. (:6) THE DYNAMIC BASIS FOR PRACTICAL LOVE IS EFFECTIVE FAITH THAT MATURES IN THE COMPREHENSION OF OUR UNION WITH JESUS CHRIST
A. Foundation for Love = the common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ
“and I pray that the fellowship of your faith”
– could be the sharing of faith in terms of evangelism
– could also be the sharing of faith in obeying God in other practical areas such as showing love to the brethren which is the emphasis of this book
Guzik: It is possible that Paul means the sharing of material things, prompted by faith. The ancient Greek word for sharing is koinonia, and sometimes Paul used koinonia, which means “fellowship, sharing,” to describe giving (2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13; Romans 15:6).
B. Functioning of Faith = the maturing and exercise of that faith
“may become effective”
C. Fruit of Spiritual Knowledge = comprehending and applying the truth of our precious union with Jesus Christ
“through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you”
D. Focus of Our Faith and Love = ministering to others so that Christ would be exalted
“for Christ’s sake.”
Matthew Henry: The apostle joins prayer with his praises, that the fruits of Philemon’s faith and love might be more and more conspicuous, so as that the communication of them might constrain others to the acknowledgment of all the good things that were in him and in his house towards Christ Jesus; that their light might so shine before men that they, seeing their good works, might be stirred up to imitate them, and to glorify their Father who is in heaven. Good works must be done, not of vain-glory to be seen, yet such as may be seen to God’s glory and the good of men.
Rupprecht: With equal certainty one might suggest that:
1) Paul prays that Philemon’s participation in the faith will be made effective because of his full understanding of God’s goodness to both of them; or
2) he prays that Philemon will be active in the faith so that he will develop a full understanding of God’s goodness to both of them.
The former interpretation is more attractive than the latter one because of Paul’s repeated suggestion that knowledge precedes good works (cf. Col. 1:9, 10).
Wiersbe: He also prayed that his friend would have a deeper understanding of all that he had in Jesus Christ. After all, the better we know Christ and experience His blessings, the more we want to share these blessings with others.
III. (:7) THE DEFINING BAROMETER OF EFFECTIVE FAITH SHOULD BE THE PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF LOVE TOWARDS THE SAINTS
Overall Joy and Encouragement – Testimony of Practical Expression of Love by Philemon towards the Saints
A.. The Encouragement of Love to the Apostle Paul
“For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love,”
B. The Encouragement of Love to the Saints
“because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”
Refreshed in every way: spiritually, financially, physically
Constable: Paul felt much joy and comfort as he heard of Philemon’s love. The Greek word translated “hearts” (splagchna) designates total personality at the deepest level.14 Philemon had already demonstrated the kind of behavior that Paul was going to call on him to manifest again. Paul’s request would test his response. However, Paul was confident of Philemon’s cooperation. He appealed to him from the same authority level, as a “brother” (cf. v. 2 where Paul called Apphia a “sister”).
William Kelly: Undoubtedly there had been evil in Onesimus, and in his desertion of his master. But is it not the word of God to overcome evil with good, instead of being overcome by it? Is it not so that grace has wrought for us and in us? Nothing different is looked for now, but rather accordance with that course of grace which had characterized Philemon.