After telling Philemon that he thanks God for him because of his role with his fellow believers, he prays that his efforts will continue to be successful and effective for Christ’s glory. Paul then tells Philemon how much he means to him. Philemon, verse 7, says, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

Paul says he gets much joy and comfort from Philemon’s love. We know that Philemon was a rich man. He owned slaves, of which Onesimus was one. I wonder if Paul’s “comfort from Philemon’s love” might include financial assistance. It seems that Paul was under house arrest in Rome, and although under the care of the Roman government, he was still responsible for his upkeep. It’s not unusual for Paul to refer to the financial sacrifices of others on his behalf, and he is always grateful for them. I also think that Paul may consider Philemon’s ownership of Onesimus. He will request that Philemon make a concession for him and change his view of Onesimus from slave to brother in Christ. This may be why Paul makes it a point to use the endearing term “My brother” when addressing Philemon. Kent thinks this is a possibility as well. He writes, “The statement concludes with the warm, affectionate address, ‘brother.’ The reality of the Christian koinonia has constituted each believer a brother to every other member of the body of Christ. The mention of this relationship would surely have brought Philemon renewed rejoicing as he basked in the glow of Paul’s written acknowledgment of him as a brother. He soon learned that Paul wanted him to do the same for Onesimus.”[1]

When Paul says that Philemon has refreshed the hearts of the saints, it could easily refer to the fact that Philemon was gracious and kind to all the others in the church at Colossae. Bird suggests that it has something to do with some “assistance.” I think it includes financial or physical in some way. He writes, “A further reason for Paul’s thanksgiving is that Philemon’s love for the saints occasions Paul’s joy and comfort. This extends not only to Paul but to other saints (i.e., those of Paul’s circle who know of Philemon, such as Epaphras) whom Philemon has refreshed. The connotation here is of relief from toil and frustration through assistance. Once more the compliment implies a question. Philemon has been a means of comfort and consolation to others before; on the issue relating to Onesimus, will he be so again?”[2] It seems that Paul is subtly preparing him for the request he will make on behalf of the enslaved person Onesimus later in the letter. Philemon had the gifts of hospitality, encouragement, and financial support. He was well known for these gifts. The slave-master relationship that had previously existed between the two men would be changed forever. They were now brother-brothers. They had become spiritual brothers in Christ. As Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither slave nor free man, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The work of Christian men abolished slavery as a whole. William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament and a Christian man like Philemon, worked his entire life to abolish slavery through the British Empire. It led the way for slavery to be abolished in the United States as well.

[1] Kent, Homer A., Jr. 2006. Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon. Revised Edition. The Kent Collection. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books.

[2] Bird, Michael F. 2009. Colossians and Philemon. New Covenant Commentary Series. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.