Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 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. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
(Philemon 1:1-7 ESV)
Several years ago, a friend of mine bet my youth group that if any of them could recite Philemon from memory without making a mistake, he would cut off his ponytail (which was about 12” long) and give it to them. One of the boys in the group took the challenge and did it on the first try.
The letter begins with as a wonderful testimony of the love between brothers and ends with a tender admonition from a disciple maker who begs his dear friend to do the same.
First, let’s look at a brother remembering a dear friend.
I don’t know if I’d be so eager to write some of these things if I had such a “cloud of witnesses” watching on both ends. Paul isn’t alone. His protégé Timothy is with him. If I were Tim, I think I’d be kind of jealous, though Paul says some of the same things about him. He tells Timothy, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.” So maybe it wasn’t so bad.
He calls Philemon his “beloved fellow worker.” Again, if I were Apphia and Archippus, I’d be upset. All they get is “our sister” and “our fellow soldier.” To the whole assembly, he offers “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” More than anything else that Paul says in all his letters, this one greeting is the most frequently offered. Isn’t it funny that the things we all need most from God are something we didn’t earn and something we can’t produce?
We need to remember, in all our relationships, to offer a gift our friends don’t deserve: we need to offer them Jesus. We also need to offer them something they can’t produce in themselves: peace. But this is a special kind of peace, because the word in Hebrew life and culture means “wholeness.” I can’t think of anything I’d rather offer a friend than wholeness – shalom.
When Paul finally gets down to what he wants to say, we discover he is complimenting Philemon for doing exactly that. He’s offering them shalom. Paul says, “I hear of your love and faith in Christ.” That is, word has come back to Paul that Philemon offers this kind of love. How did he hear of it? Because people Philemon touched were talking about it. The important thing about Philemon sharing his faith is not that it has changed anyone’s mind, but rather that it has changed Philemon. You may say that you don’t know Scripture well enough to tell people what they need to know about the Gospel. But if you know Jesus, even if you don’t know a single verse of Scripture, have all you need, because “every good thing that is in you” is for the sake of Christ. Or put more simply, every good thing that is in you is Christ in you.
All that you share of Christ with another comes back. Call it a boomerang if you like. But Paul shared Christ in an effective way with Philemon, who in turn shared it with others. Now Paul has heard about Philemon’s faith from people who came to know Christ because Philemon shared his faith with them. And that encouraged and comforted Paul no end!
Dear friend in Christ! I’m going to say something selfish. I’m jealous to hear back from people I’ve never met about the way their lives have been changed because you shared Christ with them. When I hear those things, it comforts and blesses me deeply. And I derive much joy and comfort from your love – not because I learn that you have loved me; that is small potatoes in comparison with what it feels like when I learn that you have loved Christ enough to export your faith.