Paul’s Prayer for Philemon

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 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. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Philemon 4-7

As was the custom of that time and place, Paul moves from his greeting into a prayer of thanksgiving for his recipient in vv. 4-6, and transitions into the main body of the letter in v. 7. In writing this the way he did, Paul shows extreme skill as he approaches his reader with a touchy subject. Notice how his prayer prepares the way for things he would say in the body of the letter… prayer in verses 4 – 22; love in 5 – 7,9; fellowship in 6 – 17; good things in 6 – 14; hearts in 7 – 12,20; refresh in 7 – 20; and brother on 7 – 20 (see also this passage cf. Col. 1:3-14).

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers (v. 4) If you are Philemon and you have found out, or are about to find out that your runaway slave Onesimus has been with Paul, you might wonder what he has been saying about you: Has he been telling Paul all sorts of lies about your treatment of him to justify his having run off? From this you can see that he hasn’t told Paul anything that would cause him to think ill of you, for Paul is always thanking God for you.

because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. (v. 5) Paul continues here from the preceding verse and gives the reason for his thankfulness, and in doing so, he has an opportunity to remind Philemon of what kind of man he is in the faith− one who truly loves God’s people and whose faith is in Jesus Christ.

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) Sad to say, this is the controversial verse in the paragraph with scholars debating almost every word and ending up with various interpretations. The genesis of the debates comes from the fact that the original Greek doesn’t have any words for “I pray that”. Thus, the NIV and many other translations, include those words as a matter of interpretation on the part of the translators to make the English work in the sentence. We are left with an unanswered question: Is this actually what Paul was praying for, or was he making a statement?

When I look at it, it doesn’t really matter. Whether Paul prays this, hopes this or knows this doesn’t really change anything for us, and I have to assume that Philemon caught Paul’s intent in a way we cannot so far away in time and culture. For our purposes, considering the reason for writing in the first place, notice Paul’s use of certain key words: “your partnership with us” “effective in deepening your understanding” and “we share for the sake of Christ”.

Paul is about to ask that Philemon share Onesimus the slave with him for the sake of Christ; his meaning seems a bit obvious to me.

Finally, the last sentence brings us the transition to the main body of the letter, which we will dive in to in the next section.

Advertisements

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
This entry was posted in Bible and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Paul’s Prayer for Philemon

  1. Pete says:

    The more I read Paul’s epistles, the more I come to appreciate how he crafts each letter, down to each word, to build up the recipient of the letter. His flow is incredible, and his thoughts are well shaped. He was word master, as are you, Don.

    As I go through my Galatians study, I am seeing this more and more. Your explanation of the outline in Philemon shows us he approaches a tender topic with ease and grace. In Galatians, he brings up a controversial subject right off the bat. Always to edify and help the other to grow in Christ – not to chastise or demean them. What a great lesson for us to emulate as we write our words today.

    Be blessed

  2. Gary Fultz says:

    I have spent a lot of time in my devotional life reading paul’s prayers. His depth of love and passion for teaching and correction would probably get him kicked out of may of our churches today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s