John T. Willis

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paul's Relationship to Philemon and God--Philemon 1-7

A previous blog sketched the major personalities in the Book of Philemon: God through Jesus Christ, Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Now, let us work through the Book of Philemon verse by verse. In this blog, we will treat Philemon 1-7. Here, Paul prepares Philemon to hear his message in this book. This little book demonstrates HOW a Christian should deal with others--in this case, the way Paul deals with Philemon. Verses 1-7 fall into two parts.

I. Paul describes his relationship to Jesus Christ and to Philemon. Verses 1-3.
a. Paul first describes himself as "a prisoner of Christ Jesus." Literally, Paul was a prisoner in Rome under house arrest. See Acts 28:23-31. And thus he could not return to Colossae physically. But Paul was also a prison "spiritually." Paul was at Rome because of his total commitment to God through Jesus Christ. And Paul gladly and voluntarily submitted his heart and life to Jesus Christ. Verse 1a.
b. Paul then describes Timothy as "our brother." "Our" apparently means the spiritual "brother" of Paul, of Philemon, of the church at Colossae, of the church at large. Verse 1b. Christians are true "brothers" in Christ, irrespective of their blood relationship. Verse 1b.
c. Next, Paul describes Philemon as "our dear friend and co-worker." This relationship is very intimate. They are "dear" to one another. And they "work together" in the Lord's service. Verse 1c.
d. Finally, Paul describes (1) Apphia our sister; (2) Archippus our fellow soldier; and (3) the church in Philemon's house [note that "your" here is singular, thus Philemon]. Apparently Apphia was the wife of Philemon, and Archippus was Philemon's son, who probably was the preacher at Colossae. The church here is clearly a "house church," which was common throughout the first century A. D. Verse
e. Paul concludes by expressing his traditional greeting: "Grace to you and peace," which comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. God and Jesus are intimately involved in this entire situation--as always. Verse 3.

II. Paul highly commends Philemon for his Christian character and life. Verses 4-7.
a. In preparation for his message to Philemon, Paul carefully reminds Philemon of how much Paul loves and appreciates him, as he has done for a long time.
b. Paul reminds Philemon that he has been praying for Philemon, and in his prayers, he thanks God for Philemon. Verse 4.
c. The reason Paul is thankful for Philemon is that Philemon constantly shows love for all the saints and shows his faith toward the Lord Jesus. Verse 5. Love and faith are vital aspects of Christian living. Paul knew of Philemon's love and faith from his own experience while he was there, but also he had "heard" this from others.
d. Now Paul prepares Philemon for this little letter. Paul says he prays that the sharing of Philemon's faith may become effective when he perceives all the good that he and Paul may do together for Christ. When Paul says this at first, Philemon has no idea of what Paul has in mind. But Paul plants the "seed" here before he tells what he wants Philemon to do. Verse 6.
e. In further preparation for Philemon's heart, Paul reminds Philemon that Paul had received much joy and encouragement from Philemon's love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through Philemon, Paul's "brother." If Philemon has give Paul joy and encouragement and refreshment for the saints, Philemon will certainly be prepared to do this again in this new set of circumstances. Verse 7.

Note HOW carefully Paul approaches Philemon to emphasize Philemon's Christian character and background and prior actions in behalf of God through Jesus Christ. NOW, and only now, is Paul ready to approach Philemon with a new, challenging situation to act in behalf of God.

What are YOUR insights thus far in the Book of Philemon? We will continue beginning in verse 8 in the next blog. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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