“Ready to refresh the world?” Pepsi–Cola recently sponsored a “refresh everything” contest. They asked people to submit ideas on how to refresh their communities. One entrant was an Ohio–based nonprofit Shoes 4 The Shoeless. The group collects new shoes and socks for kids in need. Recently, the Shoeless group sent two large trucks packed full of supplies, including shoes, to tornado victims in Missouri. Chairwoman Kris Horlacher said, “If you’re going to send things to people who need them, send your very best.”
This aligns with Paul’s instructions in this letter to Philemon, which was written in A.D. 61 or 62. He begins his letter, in the custom of letter–writing in the first century, by identifying himself. Although he is a literal prisoner of the government—writing from his prison cell in Rome—he chooses to be known as a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ (v. 1). Paul placed his identity in his relationship with Christ, not others.
He is writing to Philemon, “our dear friend and fellow worker” (v. 1). Paul also addressed two other workers in the church, Apphia and Archippus. Paul’s epistles, while relevant to churchgoers today, were written to specific individuals who were active in the ministry of the early church. They were workers who encountered great opposition and challenge. They most likely depended on Paul’s words of counsel and encouragement. Because these individuals hosted the church in their home, they were most likely all leaders in the church and had positions of influence (v. 2).
We are told two specific things about this church and its reputation. In verses 4 and 5, Paul says that he thanks God every time he remembers them for two reasons: 1) their faith in Jesus—”I hear about your faith,” and 2) their love for the followers of Jesus. This is a church that is known by its love, and it brought “joy” and “encouragement” to Paul (v. 7).
Paul viewed this church as a partner in his ministry (v. 6). In addition to giving thanks for them, he also prayed for them, that they would continue to grow and be effective, a similar theme that we saw in the book of Titus.
If we aren’t official leaders in our church, we might forget that they rely on us to partner in the work of the gospel. Make a decision today to pray regularly for the pastor and other leaders in your church. You might also select a missionary who is supported by your church to commit to regular prayer. You can also send notes or e–mails of encouragement, especially during times of stress, to remind them that they don’t serve alone in the work of God.