Philemon:1 – 4
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,*
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister,* to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 When I remember you* in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we* may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
The letter to Philemon was a personal letter sent along with the letter to the Colossian church. It is a letter written with a specific purpose, which we will get to another day. It is a single chapter, but it has some of the same characteristics of others of Paul’s letters. It begins with a greeting – It is Paul who writes, and Timothy is with him, perhaps even writing the letter as Paul dictates. The letter is addressed to Philemon, whom Paul identifies as a friend and co-worker, and to others of his household, a woman named Apphia who is either Philemon’s sister or is considered and loved like a sister to Paul. It could be that Apphia is Philemon’s wife, and, just as Paul greets Philemon as a dear friend, he is greeting his wife as a sister. There is also Archippus – we have no clue who this is, except that he is a member of Philemon’s household who is like a fellow soldier to Paul. And finally, he greets the church that meets in Philemon’s home.
Next there is a blessing – and then a prayer. Paul’s letters almost always have a prayer for those whom he is addressing in their opening. Here he says “when I remember you in my prayers”. Although Paul has included several people in the opening greeting, this letter is actually written to one person, Philemon. The “you” here is singular. (There is not just one word for the second person singular pronoun in Greek; there is a singular or a plural “you”). He thanks God for this friend, because he hears of his love for all the saints (all the believers) and of his faith in the Lord. He prays that this faith may be effectively shared, especially when Philemon perceives and understands all the good that together they might do for Christ. Paul says that he has received joy and encouragement through the love of this person who is like a brother to him, that the hearts of the saints have been refreshed.
A greeting – a blessing – and then a prayer for this person. Perhaps our own communications would be aided by this approach. So much of what we call communication today involves “sound bites” which try to boil a complex issue down into a few words, often offensive or attacking words. How much better it would be to meet one another face to face, or in a longer letter, and greet and bless one another, and pray for one another, before getting down to the issues, which, respecting one another, we could then discuss to greater depth, probably seeing that the answers are not so simple, and that neither is completely wrong, or completely right!