We have already established that Paul wrote this epistle while a prisoner in Rome and most likely during his first imprisonment while under house arrest.
“And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” Acts 28:30-31
Paul sent his beloved brother and faithful servant Tychicus with the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21) and Colossians, (Colossians 4:7) and accompanied Onesimus (Colossians 4:9) to Colossae for his own safety, for Onemisus was a runaway slave and a fugitive under Roman law.
Now let us examine Paul’s thanksgiving, prayer, and appeal for his son in the faith Onesimus. We will continue to employ the historical, cultural and geographic hermeneutic using the NASB as our main text and all other texts will be cited at the end of the verse.
Paul’s prayer and thanksgiving for Philemon’s love and faith
4 I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; 6 and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. 7 For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.
8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—
V.4 “…making mention of you in my prayers,”
The great Bible scholar and translator Joseph Barber Lightfoot commented that, “Here the ‘mention’ involves the idea of intercession on behalf of Philemon…” From his writings we can see that Paul spent a great deal of time in intercessory prayer and that he encouraged others to be an intercessor for all people. He would pray for his disciples, for the Church and remember them in his prayers. I think that intercessory prayer is something that everyone in the Body of Christ can and needs to do more of. Thinking of and remembering others in our prayers is a weapon of power that we can take up in Christ’s name to wage spiritual warfare.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
1 Timothy 1-7 ESV
“Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Colossians 4:12 NASB
V.5 “because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints”
Paul had most likely received this information from Epaphras and not from Onesimus. Epaphras was a fellow worker in the gospel of Christ who spread the Gospel to his fellow Colossian citizens. When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, Epaphras came to him with a favorable account of the Church at Colossae. He remained with Paul in Rome and was, in a sense, his “fellow prisoner” (Philemon 1:23).
“just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.”
“…your love and of the faith…”
Let’s compare Paul’s greeting to the church in Ephesus where he wrote, “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,” Ephesians 1:15. And his greeting to the Colossians, “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;” Colossians 1:4
In a theological and scriptural sense it is faith that proceeds agape love, but in this tender address of intercession Paul places love ahead of faith. “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Corinthians 13:2
V.6 “and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.”
The reason Paul prayed for other Christians is answered here, “your faith may become effective” and it is knowing that every good thing that is in us is for Christ’s sake.
The oldest manuscripts read, “which is in US,” that is, the practical recognition of every grace which is in us Christians, in so far as we realize the Christian character. In short, that thy faith may by acts be proved to be “a faith which worketh by love.” A. R. FAUSSET
For Christ taught, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
V.7 “For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”
“For” the reason for the prayer in verses 4-6. Thanksgiving for the comfort and love that Philemon exhibited towards his brothers and sisters in The Lord. He had opened his house and home to them as was the common practice in the early church.
“The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Corinthians 16:19
“Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.” Colossians 4:15
V.8 “Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper,”
When Paul uses the small Greek conjunction διό (Transliteration dio, Pronunciation dē-o’) translated as therefore, he is intending to sum his previous statement up. He intentionally ties it to what preceded and could be thought of as, “on account of.” i.e. “On account of these proofs of your love, I prefer to ask, where I could command.”
Paul’s authority to command went beyond his Apostolic authority and stemmed from the fact that he had converted Philemon personally (Philemon 1:19). That in at least a spiritual sense, if not a physical sense that Philemon owed him his own life.
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36
V.9 “yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”
“…for love’s sake…”
Not Paul’s love or Philemon’s love, but for agape love’s sake. “The one who does not love (agapao) does not know God, for God is love (agape).” 1 John 4:8
Agape and it’s derivations was seldom used by ancient writers, but was pressed into service by the translators of the Septuagint and the New Testament authors to signify God’s perfect Love. Agape is not a feeling, for God is not a feeling. Agape is not an emotion, for God is not an emotion. Agape in its purest sense is something that corruptible man is not capable of, but by setting it as our goal and motivation it is possible to put agape into action.
The briefest and most accurate definition of agape love that I’ve found comes from Thomas Jay Oord a theologian and scholar who teaches at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho defined agape as, “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.”
In my humble opinion the parable of the Good Samaritan as told by our Lord demonstrates agape love in action. When challenged to define who is a man’s brother in the two Great Commandments;
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Luke 10: 30-37 NLT
“…I rather appeal to you…”
Paul could command, but for love’s sake he would rather appeal to Philemon so that he would do what was right from a clear conscience and not by compulsion. God gave us free will and Paul recognized this essential truth in regards to giving and doing good deeds. Paul wrote, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
“…since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”
Now Paul was nearly sixty years old and with the many beatings and hardships that he suffered for the sake of the gospel would most certainly have brought about premature aging.
“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.”
2 Corinthians 11:24-25
But there is an alternate translation, according to J. B. Lightfoot the Greek word in this context should be translated as Ambassador. He translated it, “being such a one as Paul an Ambassador, and now also a prisoner, of Christ Jesus.” This would suit the passage more correctly and is recommended in Thayer’s Greek lexicon as well.
Paul knew that all he endured for the sake of the gospel was in accordance with God’s will for his life and accounted himself worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. Oh, how I pray, that we in America could come to the understanding that everything is not going to be hunky-dory in this life because we accepted Christ as our Savior. Oh, how so many people are not prepared to accept the least bit of loss or hardship for the Kingdom of God, and when tragedy or hardship comes along they feel as if God has abandoned them, or is punishing them for their sins. Oh, what heavy trips have been laid upon the saints in America with prosperity theology. Well, beloved, I will tell you that the Christian life is a life worth living. The few hardships and persecutions we endure for the gospel are mild in comparison with those endured by His children from the beginning until now and that there is a crown laid up for us in Heaven where rust does not destroy.
May The Lord our God give us the wisdom and the grace to endure a little suffering for His name’s sake and may we always keep our eyes upon Him and His glory; the glory of the one and only begotten Son of God.