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By: Larry Shaffer
Let’s find the good!
This is an intense but brief personal letter from Paul while in prison in Rome, to a dear friend, Philemon, whom Paul led to Christ many years earlier while establishing the church in Colossae. Paul is going to ask, not command, Philemon forgive and restore someone who had been close to him and who had betrayed him. The betrayal of someone close is the deepest pain. Our greatest joys are rich, trust-based personal relationship. Our greatest hurts come from betrayals made within such relationships. We see both types of relationships within this letter.
Paul starts out first with a personal greeting including the following;
I thank God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love…, verses 4-7.
Philemon is a growing disciple of Christ. He is the real deal. Paul loves him and he loves Paul. There is a father/son bond and a “comrade in arms” union between these two based on their common love for Jesus and for Christians in the city of Colossae.
It’s now in you
In this greeting, Paul reminds, encourages and confirms in Philemon that he is indeed a fully transformed man, for Christ’s sake. The apex of Paul’s encouragement is in the phrase I pray…your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Chris’s sake. Every good thing in you! As a Christian, we now have much good within us. Not absolute good, which only comes in heaven. But good, nevertheless.
Contrast this to our former state before Christ outlined in Romans 3:10-12, There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Such was Philemon, and such were we…before the miraculous, transforming grace and salvation of Jesus in our lives.
There is now “good within you” Philemon. We are not thoroughly good for we carry a body of flesh. But Paul said, I pray that you be aware and have the knowledge of the good that is in you for Christ’s sake. This is not the message that there is good in all mankind because the Romans 3 passage above clearly states otherwise. Only in salvation, when Jesus imparts to us grace upon grace, gift upon gift and changes us from the inside, is there good within us. And at the risk of sounding like Joel Osteen, (which I’m not keen on), there is power, love, grace and forgiveness to give within us that we must know, understand and tap into for Christ’s sake. And when we do, we begin to live in Christ’s power and humility (seeming contradictions) and become effective in ministering to others, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!
Betrayal and forgiveness
As a sales person at heart and a student of the art of persuasion, I can see that Paul is setting him up for the big request. Paul is going to make a request that tests him to the limit. To FORGIVE a person close to him that betrayed him. To tap into one of the good things now that is within Philemon: to forgive as Christ has forgiven. May God teach us to do the same.
Lord, You have given Your Spirit to live inside of us and therefore, to tap into the power of love, grace and forgiveness inside of us. May we live out our new nature, the nature of Christ, and show forth Your work within us. So that You will be honored and praised for the good works that we do. What a joy to have you dwell richly within our hearts. Amen!