Thursday, December 07, 2023

2023.12.07 Hopewell @Home ▫ Philemon vv1–7

Read Philemon 1–7

Questions from the Scripture text: Who wrote this letter (Philemon 1a)? What is his current condition? Whose prisoner is he? Who else is with him? What other title do they have? Whom are they writing? What two titles do they give him? What other two individuals does he address (Philemon 2)? What does he call Archippus? What does he call their whole household? With what two things does he greet them in Philemon 3? From what two Persons? What does the apostle do for Philemon (Philemon 4b)? How does he think of him (verse 4a)? For what two things about Philemon is he thankful (Philemon 5)? Toward whom is this love first directed? And to whom else—how many of them? What does he pray about Philemon sharing of his faith (Philemon 6a)? How does he pray that this effectiveness would happen (verse 6b)? What two things do Paul and Timothy have from Philemon (Philemon 7)? How much joy? Comfort in what? What has Philemon done that the Lord has used to give this joy and comfort?

What does it look like to labor for the Lord? Philemon 1–7 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers are displays of the good that is in Christ for redeemed sinners. 

Prisoners and Employees of Christ. Christians know themselves to be made in God’s image, and renewed into God’s image in Christ. It doesn’t trouble them at all to be slaves of Christ (cf. Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1) or, as the apostle says here (Philemon 1), prisoners of Christ. Belonging to Christ exalts, rather than denying, their imaging God. And they view men the same way, as created in God’s image. Indeed, they view believers all the more as in God’s image, having been into the glory of His image in Christ. They are never prisoners first or slaves first, but men first, and especially saints first. This is something that Paul has in common with Philemon. Philemon is a brother, beloved, and coworker (verse 1).

Lover of Christ and Christians. Philemon combines his first-great-commandment love for Jesus with second-great-commandment love for the saints (Philemon 5). Not just some saints, who are easier to like, more closely connected, or of the right status/class. ALL the saints! 

This is how Christ has transformed the law. Not a jot or tittle has been removed from it, but knowing Him as God directs the whole of Deuteronomy 6:4–5 toward Him. This is the foundation of what Jesus calls the New Commandment (cf. John 13:31–35). Just as loving our neighbor as ourself is a necessary consequence of our neighbor’s being made in the image of God, so also loving our brother as Christ loved the church is a necessary consequence of our brother’s being united to Christ.

Where did this good in Philemon come from? Christ Jesus Himself (end of Philemon 6). This is wonderful news for us, who would love to be described the way that Paul describes Philemon. We have access to the same resource, Christ Himself. Don’t you, dear reader, wish to refresh the hearts of the saints to such an extent that Christ’s eminent prisoners and laborers also have great joy and comfort just by hearing about this love (Philemon 7)? If that is your desire, then you may praise God that you know exactly where to obtain this: in Jesus Christ Himself. Indeed, attendance upon the means of grace is just as much personally motivated as an attendance upon Him Himself as it is motivated by obedience because He commands it.

Lover of Unbelieving Neighbor. Philemon shares his faith (Philemon 5a). “Sharing” here is a fellowship Word, not meaning exactly the same thing that we often mean when we talk about “sharing the faith”—primarily because the first audience with whom he shares it is actually the other believers in his own home and in the church at Colossae. But Paul here prays that the sharing of his faith would “become effectual.” We see in the passage that it is already quite effectual among the saints. So, we actually ought to conclude that Philemon has been laboring to see others brought into the fellowship of faith. In that way, his “sharing the faith” is quite similar to the way we use that language as a reference to evangelism.

Paul has been praying that the good that is in Philemon from Christ would be known in such a way that God would use to make the sharing of his faith even more effective (Philemon 5). Though unbelievers cannot have the good in them that Philemon had in him from Christ, Philemon’s Christ offers Himself freely to all. Evangelizing is telling good news about Jesus (not ourselves), and what He uses to give faith is His Word preached (not personal testimony, cf. Romans 10:8–17). But the good that He has produced in the evangelist is one of the things that Jesus uses to commend evangelism in those to whom He is making it effective. And even with our sharing the faith in the church, one of the things that God uses to make it effective to others is their observation of the good that is in us from Christ (cf. Hebrews 13:7).

Now, Paul is writing to Philemon in hope of being employed as part of the answer to his own prayer. He has an opportunity for Philemon to give sacrificially for the work of the gospel. And the Spirit has inspired his letter about it as Holy Scripture, so that we might receive the very words of Christ Jesus right along with Philemon. The Lord make us lovers of Himself, and of brother, and of neighbor. And the Lord produce good in us, which good He will use to make the sharing of our faith effective.

How do you experience/express joy at being Christ’s prisoner and slave? What neighbors do you need to value better as being created in God’s image? What is your plan for doing that? What fellow believers do you need to value better as being united to Christ? What is your plan for doing that? With what neighbors are you sharing the faith? With what brethren are you sharing the faith? How has the desire to see that sharing be effective driven you to bear more good fruit in/from Christ?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for taking us as Your very own. Forgive us for when we have been so proud that we did not like to think of ourselves as being Your prisoner, Your laborer, or Your soldier. Forgive us for how little we share the faith with our neighbors. Forgive us for how little we share the faith, even with our brothers. Forgive us for when we have missed opportunities to refresh the hearts of the saints. Forgive us for when we have missed opportunities to thank You and praise You, by not observing every good thing that is in other brethren in Christ Jesus. For His sake, forgive us and sanctify us, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH409 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” 

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