JohnSWilson3 Blog

“…you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”
July 31, 2010, 2:35 pm
Filed under: O Letter to Philemon

After Paul writes his letter to the church in Colosse, he is led by Christ to write a letter “to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home.” While it seems initially Paul is writing to the church that meets in Philemon’s and Apphia’s home, Paul later references “brother” focusing on Philemon personally.

This is the only letter in the New Testament that is specifically written to a household, and specifically to Philemon the head of a household where the church in Colosse meets. It is possible that the church in Colosse, like that in Jerusalem, met house-to-house, so Philemon’s home could be one of several homes where the church gathers together. As I read these opening words it appears that Philemon and Apphia are married and perhaps have a role similar to Aquila and Priscilla who worked with Paul in Ephesus and Corinth. They offered up their home as a place the church could gather in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, share their meals together, and mutually edify one another. It seems that Archippus, one of Paul’s trained church planters lives in Philemon’s household. It is possible that Paul, Aquila and Priscilla, met Philemon and his wife while in Ephesus. They received Christ Jesus as Lord through seeing the church gather in Priscilla and Aquila’s household. Perhaps Philemon and Apphia sensed God calling them also to do the same in Colosse, to open their home to a church. Since Epaphras and Archippus were working with Paul and called by the Lord to plant churches this opened “a door for the Word…(to) proclaim the mystery of Christ” in that region.

This church in Colosse was growing organically in Christ and Paul heard many times of their “faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,” specifically in relation to Philemon, whom Paul must have felt some kinship towards. When we learn Christ together in community, in face-to-face relationships, we will learn to live by the life of Christ and it will be manifested in our love for one another. We will refresh “the hearts of the saints.” How we need to mutually refresh the hearts of one another when we gather together! Paul makes a great point as he shares these words. As we live in this organic way, allowing Christ to be head of our gatherings and living by His life, this life of mutual love, this manifestation of the “fellowship of the faith,” we will grow “in full knowledge of every good thing in us for Christ.” Is this mine/your experience? May God move us forward in Christ Jesus and experience all that He has purposed for our lives, the fullness of Christ!

Paul’s main point in this letter is really nothing more than an application of this line of thought. This church, specifically how it relates to Philemon, being the head of his household, must face a societal issue. Will he “welcome” his run away slave, Onesimus, as he would welcome Paul? Will Philemon accept Onesimus “as Christ accepted (him), in order to bring praise to God”? Will the church that meets in his house welcome Onesimus, the run away slave? How the body of Christ has divided themselves because being deceived by the human traditions of society! The whole issue surrounds not Onesimus the run away slave but Onesimus but the “son” in the Lord of Paul. The “son” whom Paul helped to receive Christ Jesus as Lord. The one who is now “useful both to you and me.” Onesimus “who is my very heart,” the one whom Paul felt was taking Philemon’s “place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.” Onesimus the one who according to Christ was “no longer…a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” who was “very dear to (Paul) but even dearer to you, as a man and as a brother in the Lord.”

Will Philemon, Apphia and their household allow “the peace of Christ” to rule in their hearts by receiving Onesimus as an equal, as “members of one body”? Will they themselves “as members of one body”? “There is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Paul asks Philemon, who was helped himself in receiving Christ Jesus as Lord by Paul, to reflect on the fact “that you owe me your very self.” How quick we are to judge others according to the flesh! Paul perhaps is reflecting on his second letter to the church in Corinth: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Onesimus is one that Christ died for! He is a new creation, just like any of us, no matter what place we hold in society, “the old has gone, the new has come!” To think differently is to be thinking in the flesh which had died with Christ on the cross. What Paul wrote, in his letter to the church in Colosse, was also directed specifically toward Philemon, “as members of one body.” “God made (us) alive with Christ” and because we “have been raised with Christ” we are to “set (our) hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set (our) minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Onesimus died and his “life is now hidden with Christ in God” just like Philemon, we are all equal at the cross!

No church will ever move forward in Christ unless they are living by the life of Christ both in the good times and in the unpleasant times. In fact it is during the testing of our faith, deciding to trust Christ and love each other unconditionally, no matter the circumstances, will the church move forward and see the fullness of Christ in our gatherings. Philemon and this church in Colosse have an opportunity to be further “built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” as they live by His life of grace and truth. There decision will show whether they are going to live by Christ’s life, in whom they “have been given fullness in Christ, who is head over every power and authority,” or fall into denial about their being dead to the flesh.

But Paul desires to hear that Philemon will accept Onesimus as a brother in the Lord that he would “refresh (his) heart in Christ.” Paul seems to be, even though he wrote the letter the way he did, “confident of your obedience…knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” We must “let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly,” learn to listen to Christ speak to us inwardly and through one another and follow His directions. Living by the Spirit is listening and obeying His teaching and admonishment through “one another with all wisdom” being grateful that God would speak to us! When we live by Christ’s life, clothing ourselves with Him, we will follow what He says, we will bear the fruit of His life: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” That’s living by the Holy Spirit! It is about living by His grace and truth. May “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

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