Philemon 4–7 (ESV) — 4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
As Paul opens his letter to Philemon, he commends Philemon for his love for other believers and for his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul thanked God for Philemon’s way of life as he prayed. Philemon’s love for others had even brought joy and comfort to Paul because Philemon had refreshed the hearts of fellow believers.
As we read this, it is evident that Philemon was a man who had a great faith in Jesus Christ and lived it out in his life. That faith showed forth in how he loved others, especially fellow Christians. Love of others should mark all of God’s people and should be a powerful testimony of the church. The song They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love is not just a good song, but expresses important biblical truth. We are called to love one another.
As Paul praises Philemon for his love of the saints, this will become important in the rest of the letter. Paul is going to ask Philemon to continue in what he is already doing for others, but with Onesimus. Paul is going to ask Philemon to show great love for Onesimus as a fellow believer and brother in Christ. This was not the norm or the expectation from a cultural perspective, but Paul was going to ask Philemon to live counter-culturally, just as Jesus has called each and every one of his followers to do.
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