Paul had not met Philemon before but knew about him from Epaphras, who planted the church in Colossae (Colossians 1:7) and was now a fellow prisoner (Philemon 1:23). Philemon’s house then became the gathering place for the believers (Philemon 1:2). In writing the letter to the Colossians, couriered by Tychicus and Onesimus, Philemon’s repentant runaway slave, Paul was entrusting Philemon with the spiritual responsibility of delivering God’s Word to the church. Paul describes this as ‘partnership in the faith’.
Not only was Philemon to nurture the other believers but also be nourished himself. Paul prayed that his understanding of the grace of Christ would deepen and its application widen through all of his life – and that would become specific when he later asked Philemon to forgive and be reconciled with the slave who had wronged him. In Philemon 1:17-18, Paul writes, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.” Spiritual partnership is a practical and dynamic relationship.
Philemon was still a learner, so Paul prays for his progress. The Colossian church leader had already proved his ability to refresh the other believers. In these verses, Paul prays that Philemon will understand more about all the good things which are ours in Christ. That would lead to looking beyond those who met for worship and teaching in his house, and sharing the gospel. But first, Philemon needed to be willing to receive back his former runaway slave. That action would become news throughout the city and become a potent illustration of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who receives all who repent and trust in His grace.
No believer in Jesus has ever 'arrived' until they see Him face to face (Psalm 17:15). Until then, they are disciples (the word means 'pupil' or 'learner'), and therefore they have more to learn. Wherever we have got to in our Christian walk, there is further to go. If you are already devoted to your fellow believers, how experienced are you in demonstrating to others the grace of forgiveness and welcoming back the repentant sinner? If you are regularly bringing people to Christ, how good are you in encouraging other believers? True believers do both and live a lifestyle which validates their belief. So, use these verses as a spiritual health check.
© Dr Paul Adams