I pray that this fellowship of your faith may become active in understanding every good thing that belongs to us in Christ. Philemon 6 (EHV).
In verse 5, Paul writes of how he’s heard good things about Philemon through the grapevine. Then, in verse 6, there seems to be a mild chastisement of Philemon, specifically in how Paul says, “your faith may become active in understanding.”
Don’t get hung up on that. Perhaps the best way to grasp it is to know that Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to ask Philemon to forgive – and free – Onesimus from the burden of slavery. Paul wrote to Philemon to ask him to take back Onesimus, a slave who had run away. Paul did this because Onesimus had come to faith in Jesus, had confided in Paul his status as a runaway slave belonging to a common friend. It’s understandable that Philemon would be hesitant, even where fellow believers like Paul and Onesimus were concerned.
Knowing that, it makes sense that Paul would want to encourage Philemon to ‘think outside the box.’ Think about things you haven’t thought about before (like forgiving a runaway slave). Think about forgiving someone who wronged you (like that runaway slave, whose very flight was a rebellion against you). Think about setting an example for other people in this nascent faith known as “Christianity” (because Christ forgave us first).
Think about that last statement most of all. Even Philemon needed to be reminded of that, especially when considering the fate of Onesimus. As a slaveowner, it would have been Philemon’s right to have Onesimus beaten, maybe even killed; that wouldn’t have been uncommon in first century Roman culture. Yet even more uncommon was this new faith system where “love your enemies” and “forgive as God forgave you” were the governing themes.
When Philemon put those into practice, he forgave Onesimus, freed him, and welcomed him home as a brother. It set a practical, powerful example for other believers of the time. Such a difficult but simple action as forgiveness showed that Philemon understood how the love of Jesus blesses us with every good thing, especially a warm and peaceful heart. Because Jesus forgave him first.
When we put those into practice, we do the same thing. We spread His love around to those who don’t deserve it. We forgive those who wronged us so that they, too, might come to know God’s peace. We put aside our anger and pray for those who are causing hurt so that they, too, might know how it feels to have mercy on another. In a time where ‘thoughts and prayers’ are disparaged by cynical skeptics, the simple act of sharing Christ’s mercy allows love to conquer hatred and real peace to displace meaningless resistance. It’s active in understanding.
For further reading: Luke 6:27, Ephesians 4:32, Philemon 7
Lord Jesus, forgive me so that I may forgive others. Inspire me today to find ways to share Your forgiveness and Your peace.