Philemon ~ Verses 1-8 an Interpretation
1 Paul, a bond servant for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, Greet you Philemon, our dear friend and co-laborer, 2 Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church meeting in your home. 3 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the LORD Jesus Christ. 4 I thank God when I always mention you in my prayers, 5 because I heard of your great love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints. 6 I pray your continued participation in the faith is increasingly more effective knowing every good thing in us glorifies Christ. 7 I have much happiness and reassurance from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been restored through you, my brother. 8 For this reason, I could demand you do the right thing because of my leadership position for Christ, 9 instead I appeal to you from the deepest part of my heart.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon, he expressed himself quite informally. He was making a personal appeal on the behalf of a recent convert, Onesimus, who was a runaway slave of Philemon’s. It is believed Onesimus stole some money or something of considerable value to Philemon. Paul used puns or plays on words in a couple of circumstances. He used one for Onesimus and one for Philemon. These come later in the letter and will be mentioned then. Paul had a very active and demanding prayer life. He was a very devout believer in the power of prayer and spent a good deal of time in prayer; especially when he was imprisoned during his many years of ministry and spreading the Good News. In these first eight verses, Paul is laying the groundwork for his appeal and his underlying doctrinal beliefs. He is setting the stage for the way Christians should act, believe and live their lives using love as his primary foundation. Because of his strong prayer life, his deep love for Christ and attitude about slavery are three reasons Paul utilizes the words he does.
In the first eight verses, Paul says on five different occasions similar statements he had mentioned in other writings to Christians or churches. In verse one, Paul mentions he is a prisoner of Jesus. He said essentially the same thing in Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 4:1 and 2 Timothy 1:8. Archippus, in verse 2, is mentioned in Colossians 4:17. The phrase “the church which meets in your home” is stated in Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19 and Colossians 4:15. In 1 Thessalonians 1:2 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul re-states thanking God and mentioning someone in prayer. In verse three Paul uses a common salutation, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” which he used in Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:2.
Paul mentions prayer and love twice in the first eight verses. Because he is appealing to the heart of Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, he is stating what he would like to see in Philemon’s actions after the reading of the letter. Paul believes through prayer and love, Philemon would know and want to do the right thing regarding Onesimus. Onesimus is a fellow believer and Philemon should carefully consider his options in regard to action taken in relation to Onesimus. As a Christian, Philemon would be obliged to love him while as a master he could treat Onesimus harshly, even killing him if Philemon wanted. Paul probably knew the dilemma Philemon would face. This problem was probably the reason Paul was appealing to his fellow brother in Christ instead of ordering him to forgive and forget.
Most of the first eight verses reference others verses in Scripture. There are three references made to the Old Testament and the rest are references to the New Testament. The Old Testament citations are found in verses five and six, which I will address in sequence. The most mentions occur on the word love found in verse five. Starting with verse one, Paul is connected to Acts 13:9. Prisoner is tied to 2 Timothy 1:8 and Hebrews 13:3. Romans 1:1 references being a prisoner or slave to Jesus. Timothy is found in Acts 16:1 and 1 Timothy 1:2. Archippus, in verse two, is revealed in Colossians 4:17. A reference to soldier, found in verse two, is cited in Philippians 2:25. In verse two, Paul calls Archippus a fellow soldier. The apostle uses this term to express how he feels we should deal with the evils of the world and the flesh, including sin and satan. Paul’s use of this analogy conveys the idea of a battle ready soldier in the army as he mentioned in Ephesians 6. We have all the weapons we need to fight our spiritual battles. A soldier brings to mind someone well-trained and disciplined. Another good example is an athlete training for the Olympic Games. We have to be disciplined and committed to serve Jesus, fight our own spiritual battles and love, help and lead others to Jesus Christ. Christians have never been told serving Jesus would be easy. In fact, we are told we will be persecuted. But through all of our trials, God is with us, guiding, directing and planning our lives. For if we have fought the good fight of faith and run the race of life growing in Christ, our God of immeasurable grace will say, “In Him I am well pleased.” Having a church in your home is stated in Acts 12:12 and Romans 16:5.
The word love, as used in verse five, is a key verse. It is the verse which begins the road to teaching Christians about love and its aspects. It has more references to other verses than any of the other seven verses. It is the first verse to cite the Old Testament. It is mentioned ten times beginning with Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Galatians 5:6, Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 6:23, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:8, 1 Timothy 1:14 and 1 John 4:20. Paul’s use of love in verse five could have many different meanings. He is not thinking about the types of love Christians have, but how they should love. Because of the way the apostle connected love to specific verses, we get the feeling of the importance of loving with all your heart, mind and soul; especially toward God and Jesus, but equally with everyone we come in contact with, whether Christian or not. Ultimately this is the higher state of grace and higher standard others would like to think we need to achieve. But when you love someone with all your heart, mind and soul, what is a higher standard? The goal of this type of love was shown by Jesus on the cross at Calvary. When we are ready to die for someone else without hesitation or fear, we will have begun to show a tiny picture of the love God had for us before He created the world.
In verse six, participation in the faith is compared in Galatians 5:6. Participation in the faith and a soldier, a thought seldom taken together, yet they are similar in meaning. It is difficult to tell others the grace of faith; rather we must show how faith gives us peace, joy and comfort. We can tell others all day long what faith is, but they will never understand. Believers and non-believers can only see the results of faith, the smile on our face, the sparkle in our eye and the contentment of our heart. On the other hand, a soldier carries a similar message, perhaps a bit more stern. It is the willingness to serve, obey and follow which are the primary attributes of a trained soldier and if you believe television advertising, a U.S. Marine.
Knowing every good thing is noted in Genesis 1:31, Genesis 18:18 and 3 John 1:11 as used in verse 6 convey the meaning that the good things of a person’s life come to them through Christ Jesus. Every good thing that is communicated or done in faith, for any good purpose, is done by the grace of Jesus. We should do this to all saints as we would do to Jesus for His glory. We should strive diligently to treat others like we would want to be treated. When we do this, we become happier, more peaceful, loving and kind. Just think your wonderful attitude of gratitude may cause someone to ask you, “Why are you like that?” What better opportunity to show and tell them the Good News? Do not fear the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. All you have to do is start speaking. You can do that, can’t you?
The predominant theme included within the first eight verses of Philemon is love. Paul begins to show Philemon and the church meeting in his home the importance of love and how it should be practiced, shown and lived. It is the foundation upon which a believer’s faith should be built. If God loved us so much that He would give His son as a sacrifice for our sins, should we not share our love and compassion for others through our savior Jesus Christ? The answer, of course, is yes. If a believer can strengthen their faith through love for Christ, then the valleys of our lives are made better knowing God is in control of our situation.
The first eight verses of the letter to Philemon should remind all saints the value of a strong and committed prayer life and how we should practice love in our life. As we dive deeper into God’s Word, it becomes increasingly clear God has a plan for our life. We should eagerly accept His guidance and follow faithfully His direction. If we do not, we become a day as dark as night. We become a rudderless ship sailing a vast ocean in ever shrinking circles. It is when God is guiding us our lives take on new meaning and direction. Would you take a vacation without a map or way to get to your destination? God is our map to Heaven and eternity. Let Him lead you there through His son Jesus Christ.
December 18, 2011