THE LOVE AND FAITH OF PHILEMON
Philemon 4-7 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
In the first verse of this letter, we found Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ - one that sacrificed his own earthly desires, and willingly replaced it with a labor of love by preaching and teaching the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Assuredly this is a Christian characteristic that all children of God should emulate in their lives on earth. In the lesson text we find additional characteristics that we should also take as our own, and let them rule the manner of life we lead in our earthly sojourn. We should adopt into our own lives the characteristics of faith and love that were demonstrated by Philemon.
Paul often demonstrated his love and appreciation for fellow-laborers, and fellow-soldiers in Christ by openly commending them to others of like faith, often making mention of them in his prayers to God. By Paul's example in this passage we know that our prayers are not to be offered to God in a selfish manner - we are to also pray for others. We are to intercede on their behalf, praying for both their spiritual and physical health and welfare. In our prayers we are always to unselfishly remember, mention, and thank God for others that we know and love, knowing that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16b). Like Paul, we should always offer prayers for others, meaning that we should frequently pray in this interceding manner.
Whether Paul knew Philemon personally, or was instrumental in his conversion, we are not told. Perhaps he knew him only through others, such as his servant, Onesimus. However, this we know: Paul heard of the love and faith that Philemon had, and demonstrated, toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints. The verses, in the lesson text that follow this phrase, indicate that it was the faith that Philemon had in Jesus that resulted in the love he communicated, or demonstrated, toward the saints (fellow Christians).
In order for it to become effectual, faith in God through His Son, Jesus Christ, must be communicated to others. This was one of the Christian characteristics Philemon had, and one, which all Christians should adopt as their own. And how is faith communicated? It is accomplished by, and only by, acts of love toward all saints. And from other inspired scriptures, we know that such deeds of loving kindness are not restricted to fellow Christians, but must be demonstrated toward all that our Lord Jesus tells us are our neighbors - and even to our enemies. Indeed, the faith that fills the heart of every Christian must be communicated through acts of love toward others, in order to be acceptable to our heavenly Father.
At this point another question may be asked. How can one acknowledge every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus? First of all we know that it isn't something one does to gain recognition for themselves. We are not to brag about our good works to bring self-glorification. As Philemon did, so we should also do. We are to go about doing good deeds for others, and in doing so, others will benefit by seeing our faith in action. In His "Sermon on the Mount" this is exactly what Jesus told us should, and would, take place. He told each Christian to let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
The message carried to Paul about the love Philemon demonstrated toward his fellow Christians, gave him great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee. Here, the word translated "bowels" means heart - the inner being of an individual. The love Philemon demonstrated was the result of his deep compassion - his tender, loving concern for the physical, as well as the spiritual needs, of others. This is faith in action, and completely supports the teaching of James, who wrote that faith without works is dead (See James 2:14-26). Emulate Philemon by thy love and faith, which are inseparable in the sight of God.