“I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, my brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” – Philemon 4–7.
Let’s consider some of the key terms in this passage.
Prayer comes more easily at some times than at others. We struggle to pray when it seems impossible that God may say yes. Yet when something positive encourages us, its easy to thank God. The apostle Paul begins then with thanksgiving to God for all of the good things that he had heard about Philemon. In fact, he says: “I thank God for you all the time.” Though Paul is about to address a difficult subject, he begins with the good that he sees in his friend Philemon.
Paul Prays Because of What He Has Heard
Philemon was a man of faith. He believed that God’s Son as the Saviour of all who have faith. Paul and Philemon were united in their faith. Both believed that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh, and not an imposter – Matthew 1:21–24. Like Philemon and Paul, Each of us must have faith in Jesus or we do not belong to Him.
Paul Loved All the Saints
Saints are those who have been set apart by God. Saints are ‘holy ones’. Holiness calls for a new and godly way of living. And while it is not sinless, Christian conduct seeks to be holy by striving to be like Jesus in word, thought and action. Christians do their best to follow Jesus. This is what we see in I Corinthians 1:2 and again in I Corinthians 6:9-11.
Love in our text is from the Greek word agape. Agape seeks what is best for others and reminds us of what Jesus said about the greatest commandments – Matthew 22:34. Christians are called to believe in Jesus and to love our fellow Christians.
Philemon’s love for the saints was a source of joy and encouragement to the apostle Paul. Which raises the question: do you and I live in such a way as to bring joy and encouragement to others?
Philemon’s love for the saints had “refreshed” their hearts. In the Old Testament, refreshment often had to do with food, water and shelter. But it also describes spiritual and emotional refreshment as it does here. Now it’s interesting that the apostle Paul does not use the word ‘kardia’ for ‘heart’, but the word ‘splanchna’. This word literally means bowels. Therefore, the KJV has “because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” Philemon’s love had moved people at the very ‘seat of their emotions’. Therefore Paul began with this heartfelt compliment and highlighted the fact that the brethren were looking to the example that Philemon had already set. This was likely to continue.
Let me share a more current story of love and encouragement.
The former televangelist, Jim Bakker, in his autobiography “I Was Wrong,” tells the story of his descent into ignominy, impoverishment and imprisonment. He lost his freedom, his sanity, his dignity, his confidence in his faith, and eventually even his wife. Inmate 07407-058, a one-time confidant to presidents, had hit rock bottom.
At his very lowest point, a prison official came to him and said, ‘Billy Graham is here to see you!’ He thought, ‘Billy Graham has come here … to this place … to see me?’ When he walked into the room Billy Graham turned towards him and opened his arms wide.
He said at that moment he felt total acceptance and love. ‘I will never forget that the man who had just been voted one of the most influential men in the world and who has ministered to millions of people took time out of his busy schedule to come minister to one prisoner.’ He describes how in the midst of his depression, flu, filth and hopelessness, Billy Graham’s visit refreshed his heart and boosted his spirit. ‘I felt as though Jesus Himself had come to visit me.’
Paul tells Philemon that he had ‘refreshed the hearts of the saints’ (Philemon 7). Later on in the letter, Paul asks him to ‘refresh my heart in Christ’ (v.20) In other words, keep doing what you have been doing. Refreshing the ‘hearts of the saints’ is not a one time thing.
The book of Philemon reminds us that knowing the right thing to do ought to lead us to doing that very thing. We grow by doing what is right and by sharing our faith. Sharing our faith keeps us anchored in God’s word as we seek to ‘speak the truth in love’.
TIME TO FISH
Now, my dad once told me the story about a fisherman from Minnesota. You see, this fisherman was very well prepared. He knew how to fish. He had everything that he needed. He had poles, nets, bait, and a really nice boat. The problem was, that for all his preparation he never caught anything. He had not ever caught anything because he had never gone fishing! He knew how to fish and was fully equipped. But his boat never left the dock and his fishing lines never got wet.
Suppose for a moment that we shift the conversation to it’s spiritual parallel. Jesus said that his disciples would one day “fish for people”. Most of us have some preparation to do just that. We have studied the Bible, sometimes in it’s original languages. We understand God’s message and his desire to save the world. The problem is…that we have just never gone “fishing”. The solution is all very simple. Let’s go to where the people are and love them enough to share God’s truth with them. This is what will save the souls of men and women.