I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (Philemon 4-7)
Thankful For Brethren
The preaching work of the apostle Paul was an exhausting mission of long hours, arduous travels, and constant concern for the church. Few men could keep pace with the workload Paul put upon himself. He traveled all over the Roman Empire. Every city he came to was a preaching opportunity. His writings filled the churches with exhortations, challenges, rebukes, instructions, and directions. He debated Jews and Romans alike. Kings heard him preach as well as common sailors. Paul knew untold numbers of people in his work. Many opposed his preaching both in the church and without. A few times, he stood at odds with his dear friends and, on one occasion, parted company with Barnabas. Paul had a lot on his plate and some delicacies were not very palatable. But there were always brethren that he could rely on and he was thankful for those special saints.
It is easy to be overcome with the negatives of preaching and view the work of the church as hard and an unthankful task. Paul had some brethren that refreshed his soul because they were filled with love and faith for the Lord and these beloved saints encouraged others. Philemon was a man that was special to the heart of Paul. It is most likely that Philemon lived in the city of Colosse and was a convert of the apostle while he labored in Ephesus. Paul calls Philemon his beloved and fellow laborer. A situation had arisen where one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had run away and taken something of value. Somewhere in the scheme of divine providence, Onesimus had obeyed the gospel and Paul was sending the slave back to Philemon. Paul urges his beloved friend to receive his new brother in Christ back with love. There was all the confidence of the apostle that Philemon would follow his advice.
Philemon was one of the brethren in a preacher’s life that would constantly refresh the soul of the weary apostle. Paul was thankful for Philemon’s encouragement, mentioning him often in his prayers. The love and faith of Philemon helped Paul face hard days of discouragement and despair. Philemon shared his faith. The saints were built up by the faithful example of Philemon. Paul wants his beloved friend to know how much his encouragement meant to him and he told him so. The church was made better by the faith of men like Philemon.
Preaching the gospel can be trying at times. Faced with criticism, the servant of the Lord can fill his heart with all of the negative feelings that sometimes comes with the work. Failures in the local work can become larger than they need to be. Disappointments can mount. Disagreements can divide. Disharmony can fracture relationships. Paul faced many things in his ministry, but his concern for the church was above all. It weighed heavy on his mind. Saints like Philemon reminded the apostle that while the body of Christ is filled with challenges, there are many brethren that thanksgiving must be given for their simple, unnoticed but well-deserved praise gives blessing to workers in the kingdom. Jesus faced immense criticism, but he loved to hold and pray for children. The company of disciples that held close to him carried him through the most difficult times. When Jesus was dying on the cross, a few disciples, including his mother, stood before him to let him know he was not forgotten. Special people.
Times can be hard and things may not work out as desired, but there will always be people like Philemon and Apphia, Archippus and yes – even people like Onesimus. A slave now a slave of Christ returning to his master because he loved God more than his own life. As Paul concludes his letter to Philemon, he mentions others who enriched his life. There were men like Epaphras (a fellow prisoner) and Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. Demas would forsake Paul and that was a reminder of the challenges brethren face and how sometimes they fail the Lord and fail the church. But Paul pressed on with thanksgiving of men like Philemon. Let the church be filled with men and women who are examples of faith and love in Jesus Christ. To the Philemon’s that live in my life – thank you.