After revealing the author and recipients of this letter and then giving his typical greeting, Paul in Philemon 1:4 begins his main message to Philemon. And interestingly enough – he begins by revealing how he prays for this man.
I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
Paul Thanks God for Philemon
The first thing that Paul wants Philemon to know is that he thanks God his God. This is that God the Father that he mentioned in Philemon 1:3 who gives grace and peace. He’s the one common Father of all believers – Philemon, Paul, and everyone else. And it’s to this God that Paul gives thanks.
Paul Prayed for Philemon
But what is it that’s encouraging Paul to give thanks to his God in this context? Paul gives thanks to his God when he makes mention of Philemon in his prayers.
As Paul prayed, he would apparently often/all the time/”always” think of this beloved fellow-worker of his. And as he thought of Philemon he couldn’t help but gives thanks to God for him.
Why Give Thanks?
And Paul continues in Philemon 1:5 to explain what it is that makes him thank his God for this brother.
Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
This hearing that Paul mentions is what prompts him to make mention always of Philemon – which in turn causes the apostle to give thanks to his God for this beloved fellow-worker.
What Had Paul Heard?
Paul has heard of Philemon’s love and faith. And he says that Philemon has these two things toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints.
Philemon Loved Jesus and Believers
It’s easy to see how Philemon would have love for both Jesus and his fellow sanctified ones (“saints”). Just the fact that Philemon hosted a local assembly of believers in his home is enough to strongly indicate his love for Christ and his followers.
In addition, Philemon – through his labors with Paul and Timothy – had become one whom they considered to be a beloved fellow-worker. One who has no love for Jesus Christ or his people would not be thought of in this way by someone as spiritually mature as the apostle Paul.
Philemon Trusted Jesus Christ
So, it’s easy to see how Philemon could be said to have love for Christ and other believers. It’s also easy to see how Philemon had faith toward (προς) Jesus. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we’re saved by grace through faith. This is the starting point for the Christian – faith in Jesus Christ to save him from his sin.
Philemon Had Faith… Toward Saints???
But how can it be said that Philemon has faith toward (εις) all the saints?
First of all, notice the different preposition in Greek as it relates to Jesus (προς) and to the saints (εις). Philemon has love and faith pros Jesus Christ and eis all the saints. He uses different prepositions to apply those two realities to both Jesus and believers.
Then what we have is the possibility that eis means something more like among rather than toward. Philemon has/demonstrates/acts out love and faith as he lives among his fellow-believers.
Back to Why Paul Prays for Philemon
And so, in Philemon 1:6, Paul goes back to an idea he started in verse 4. There he was thanking God as he made mention of Philemon.
Then he took a short detour in verse 5 and seemed to want to express what caused him to make mention of Philemon – that he was hearing of this man’s faith and love.
But now, Paul wants to get back to speaking of why he makes constant mention of Philemon. He does this so…
That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
This is why Paul makes constant mention of Philemon to the Lord. So that the communication or of his faith may become effectual.
What does that mean?
Philemon Shared Because of His Faith
Another way that communication is translated is fellowship. And it’s a fellowship of Philemon’s faith. It’s what he shares in common with other believers through or because of his faith.
What does Philemon share in common with other believers as a result of his trusting Jesus Christ? Well, we’ve seen that Philemon shares his physical home in common with other believers – the church that was meeting in his house. He did this solely because of his faith in Christ.
Philemon’s Sharing Needs to Become Effectual?
And that was a good sign – that he was sharing even his own home in common with other believers because of his faith in Christ. But why does Paul need to pray that this sharing would become effectual?
The word effectual is a Greek word from which we get the term energetic. So, Paul is wanting Philemon’s sharing to become more and more energetic or operative or lively. Why does he want that?
Paul Wants Philemon to Share His Former Servant
Well, we’re going to see later on in this book that Paul is wanting Philemon to share a former slave of his named Philemon. And so, Paul starts off his letter to this man that seeks something of his by admitting that he does pray for Philemon to grow in his sharing of his things.
What Helps Us Share?
And Paul says that this sharing will become more operative by the acknowledging every good thing that is in “you [all]” in Christ Jesus.
Isn’t it often easier to share when you know how many good things you really have from Christ? How much more easily we can part with the trinkets of this life by lending them to others when we know how much treasure we truly have in this life and in the life to come.
In Christ, the believer has everything he needs and more. So, Paul is praying that God would help Philemon to see how much good he and his family and church have (you is plural, after all) because of Christ. And he then seems to hope that this will cause Philemon to hold everything in this life – including his servant Onesimus – with a loose hand, willing to share with others.