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Give thanks for the members of your family, and the influences they have had on you.
Philemon 11 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
It is often suggested that the three people the letter is addressed to (vs 1,2) were probably a family unit, Archippus possibly being the son of Philemon and Apphia. Paul clearly had a great affection for these people; his thankfulness and love for them as individuals is seen in his desire to visit (v 22). Of course he is thankful for the reports of their faith and their care for other believers (vs 4,7) but the letter implies personal feelings for them as friends as well as being his family in Christ.
Their conversion came about directly from Paul’s ministry (v 19). Once the head of the house became a believer, the norm was that the whole family became believers too, as seen in the baptism of the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:33).
While Philemon would have been the initial convert, there’s no sense of tokenism about the rest of the supposed family. A church is meeting in their home, so Apphia would have been a hospitable hostess. Archippus is mentioned here as a fellow-soldier (v 2), and in Colossians is exhorted to finish the work given him by God (4:17).
Conversion into God’s family often leads us into new and unexpected ministry partnerships with people. It brings a depth of relationship that we sometimes don’t experience within our own families.
Pray for those closest to you within your church family. Thank God for their partnership with you in the faith (v 6).
The letter from Paul to Philemon presents a revolutionary model for human relationships. Onesimus was a slave belonging to Philemon, but he had run away. By God’s grace, he had come to faith and had become very close to Paul. He was now part of God’s family. The question, however, was how Philemon would react. The penalty for a runaway slave was severe, and could even be death. So how should Paul approach this delicate issue?
He begins not with an appeal to apostolic authority, but with a declaration of brotherly friendship (v 1), and he quickly moves to explain how he has been praying. ‘I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ’ (v 6). Everything argued against Philemon welcoming Onesimus back: surely justice must be done? So Paul starts his letter by highlighting what really matters. He asks God to make the gospel partnership he has with Philemon productive in this most difficult situation. It is fundamental to the gospel that we are in fellowship with other believers. Paul anticipates willingness on Philemon’s part to work together as brothers. It’s clear that Philemon was someone who would be an answer to this prayer, since he had a reputation as someone who supported fellow believers (v 7).
There are frequently moments in Christian community when we face relational challenges of substantial proportions. We need to approach them in the spirit of brotherly friendship (v 2), through focused prayer (v 6), and on the foundation of our fellowship in Christ (v 6). Paul is about to propose a radical solution to the problem facing Onesimus. The gospel foundations will prove to be strong enough. Is our partnership with fellow believers the same?
When we read ‘house’, we mustn’t think of a house like we live in today. The homes of rich people in the
For more information on Roman houses, see:
For house churches in
It is significant that Paul, in writing to Philemon about a personal matter,
Philemon lived in a culture that thought collectively, ra
When we think of how complicated church life has become today, we are attracted by the simplicity of the house church. There were no paid pastors or ministers, no buildings to maintain, no denominational commitments, no budgets to argue about.
On the other hand, the churches in the New Testament were not without their problems. Read 1 Corinthians for a window into what can go wrong.
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