Philemon 4-9 Commentary: Philemon’s Relationships

I thank my God always when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the partnership of your faith may become effective as you comprehend all the good that we share in Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. For this reason, though I am more than bold enough in Christ to command you to do the right thing, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.

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Philemon 4-7 Commentary

After addressing several people in vv. 1-3, Paul addresses one person, Philemon (singular “you”), for most of the remainder of the letter (vv. 22 and 25 are exceptions). Apparently, the letter was primarily addressed to Philemon, but was meant to be read aloud to the church in his home.

In this passage, Paul reminds Philemon of the nature of their relationship. We learn that Paul prays for Philemon (v. 4), that he is consistently thankful to God for Philemon (v. 4), that he understands them to have a kind of “partnership” in their faith (v. 6), that they share a kind of “good…in Christ” (v. 6), that Philemon is a source of “joy and encouragement” to Paul (v. 7), and that Philemon is his “brother” (v. 7)—again emphasizing the sibling relationship that Jesus taught for his followers.

The good they “share” in Christ (v.6) likely refers to all the good things they experience because of their shared faith in Christ, i.e., the good things resulting from their corporate faith, their faith together.

Paul also reminds Philemon of his relationship to the church that meets in his house. He notes that Philemon has a “love for all the saints,” and that his service has refreshed “the hearts of the saints” (v. 7). The “saints,” here, are simply members of the church that meets in his house (v.2).

The emphasis on the warmth and love that characterize Philemon’s relationship with Paul and with the “saints” demonstrates Jesus’ teachings that we are to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40) and fellow followers of Jesus (John 13:34-35).

Paul also reminds Philemon of his relationship to Jesus, a relationship characterized by faith (vv. 5, 6). By “faith,” Paul means an attitude of trust. This faith can be “effective,” according to Paul (v. 6), which means it can issue in certain kinds of action. Indeed, Philemon’s faith has led him to host the Colossian church in his house (v. 2) and to refresh “the hearts of the saints” (v. 7).

Philemon 8-9 Commentary

Paul’s purpose in this passage seems to be to prepare Philemon for something Paul is about to ask him to do (“the right thing” in v. 8). Paul wants Philemon’s act to be an expression of his partnership with Paul (v. 6), his love for Paul and for the church (vv. 5, 7, 9), and an expression of Philemon’s faith in Jesus (v. 6).

Paul likely feels bold enough to command Philemon to do as he asks because he believes he’s asking him to do something Jesus commanded his followers to do (like in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; when Paul doesn’t have a command of the Lord, he only feels comfortable giving his trustworthy opinion [1 Corinthians 7:25].) In commentary on v. 18, I guess at which command of Jesus might be in view.

It does not seem Paul feels he could command Philemon simply because Paul is an Apostle and Philemon is merely the host of a church. Indeed, Paul never mentions his standing as an apostle in the letter. Such a hierarchical motive would be contrary to the egalitarian relationship between members of the church that Paul has emphasized thus far in the letter.

In this passage, Paul seems to understand love not as a kind of action, but rather as a motive for action (vv. 8-9).

Looking for more? Try this excellent free Bible study on the book of Philemon. Or, read commentary on Philemon 10-17, Philemon 18-21, or Philemon 22-25.


One thought on “Philemon 4-9 Commentary: Philemon’s Relationships

  1. Pingback: Philemon 22-25 Commentary: Prepare a Guest Room

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