4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
(Philemon vv. 4-7 NIV)
Last time we began our journey through the letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon, a brother in Christ located in Colossae.
What a blessing to see Paul address Philemon as a dear friend and co-worker for Christ. Paul did not use his authority as an apostle to introduce himself; he wrote as one close friend to another.
After his introduction in verses 1-3, Paul now turns to a short section of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for Philemon. In verse 4, Paul says that whenever he prays for Philemon, he always starts by thanking God for him.
Do you have a friend like Philemon, where you begin your prayer by thanking God for the way that person lives his or her life for the Lord? What characteristics about that friend bring you joy when you remember them and pray for them?
Paul noticed something in Philemon’s life that led him to praise the Lord. Verse 5 holds the answer – Philemon’s love for God’s people and his love for Jesus. Hmmm… sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ “greatest commandment” and the “second greatest commandment” to love the Lord and to love other people, doesn’t it (Matthew 22:34-40)?
Remember that Paul was locked up in Rome – he did not see these godly attributes in Philemon’s life first-hand; he heard about Philemon’s character and love for the Lord and God’s people through the witness of others.
When Paul prayed for Philemon, Paul said he thanked God for Philemon. So what was Paul’s prayer for Philemon? Verse 6 says that Paul prayed that Philemon’s partnership in the faith would be beneficial to help Philemon grow spiritually.
In verse 7, Paul closes out his thankfulness by saying that Philemon’s love for God’s people refreshed the people Philemon was ministering to and brought great joy and encouragement to Paul.
If you’re a bit cynical, Paul’s comments here might sound like a lot of rainbows, butterflies, and pixie dust. Is Paul inflating Philemon’s ego, only to deflate it with the issue of Onesimus? Or is Paul using exaggerated, effusive speech and being insincere about his comments toward Philemon in order to get something from him?
No, it seems that Paul is quite sincere in his words. So why does Paul use such kind words with Philemon? I believe one of the reasons is that Paul sees and hears of godly character traits in Philemon’s life, and it thrills Paul’s heart to hear of such a great example for so many.
Another reason I believe Paul uses these kind words is that Paul knows that Philemon is a kind and generous person that also knows how to forgive. If Philemon knows how to love the Lord and to love God’s people, he also knows how to forgive himself and others. And Philemon’s understanding of forgiveness is not just head knowledge – it’s heart practice lived out in real life before many who have witnessed this godly man’s actions as well as his words.
Lord, help us to live our lives in such a way that others give You glory for Your work in and through us.
Lord, we often fall short in the area of love for You and for others. This shortfall includes forgiveness, for if we won’t forgive others, we have not loved completely. You loved us so much that You forgave us of all our sins, and gave Your life as a ransom for ours.
Help us love unconditionally, following Your example as You loved us and continue to love us.
Lord, help us to remember that love is a verb (an action to be lived out), not a noun (a feeling or a thing). Thank You for your example of loving well.