Paul is “buttering up” Philemon, not with useless flattering words, but with the truth. Paul IS thankful for Philemon’s faith and love. Paul’s first focus in his life is Jesus Christ and sharing His good news. Philemon is doing that in spades!
Philemon was opening his home as a meeting place for believers. He was also investing personally in the spread of the gospel. I’m not sure if Paul received support from Philemon directly or just knew of others who had, but the report of Philemon’s generosity had reached even into Paul’s “prison cell.”
Paul also knew that Philemon was a strong Christian and he was working up to asking an amazing thing of him. Because of Philemon’s faith and history of “love”, Paul felt he could make such a request.
I wonder if Paul learned of Philemon’s faith through other brothers coming to him with reports or through Onesimus. After considering last time we were together whether Paul knew Philemon personally or not, today’s reading pushes me further to the “known by report” camp. Paul’s statement, “Because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (verse 5) speaks the strongest of Paul’s long distance relationship with Philemon. If Paul had known Philemon personally he would, probably, have use different language here.
On this day of Thanksgiving in the United States, I want to focus on Paul’s attitude of thanks. Today we are encouraged to share what we are thankful for as we gather together. Looking at Paul’s circumstances one would wonder how he could be so thankful. His letter to the Philippians tells us why. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 3:11-13).
Did Paul ever find himself beginning to grumble? Did he have to do attitude checks? Did he ever voice frustration? I think the answer to all three of these questions is yes. Not because I can quote chapter and verse for it but because he was human. I know he had some AMAZING praise and worship times, like when he and Silas were in prison and praised the doors right off the hinges (Acts 16:25-26). If you look closely at the rest of the story though you might also see the “not so thankful” Paul portrayed here (Acts 16:16-40). Paul displayed annoyance, stubbornness and possibly even anger during this encounter. But the biggest lesson we take away from this story is how thankfulness and praise moved mountains!
I wonder if this was one of the memories Paul returned to whenever he felt downhearted. Did Paul ever feel discouraged when his praised didn’t have the same earth shaking effect? I know I’ve felt let down a time or two when one of my prayers went unanswered, after seeing the power God has to answer them. But then I do an attitude adjustment and remember that HE is God and I am NOT.
So I’m going to take a page out of Paul’s play book and choose to be thankful, no matter my circumstances. And right now my circumstances warrant it too, but even when they don’t, still HE IS PRAISE WORTHY!
Thank You Father for the country I live in. I know there are SO many others out there that are not as fortunate as I am, even in this country. Thank You for the food on my table and the reserves in my cupboard. Thank You for running water, including hot water. Thank You for electricity and the ability to heat my home with it. Thank You for my family, even the ones I don’t know personally or get to see very often. But above ALL ELSE, thank You for Jesus. Without His loving sacrifice there would be nothing to be thankful for. Everything else is temporary.
Thank You Jesus for my eternal future. Thank You for all You did, are doing, and will do in my life. Thank You that I can look forward to “bench time” with You. Remind me of that every time I begin to grumble.
Holy Spirit, thank You for putting songs of praise in my heart. Thank You for putting down these examples of men for me to follow. I want a heart like David’s; one filled with praise and thanksgiving. Even if everything else falls away, still I will praise!