Paul began his greeting to Philemon by thanking God for him and his faith in Christ as well as his love for his fellow believers. Then in Philemon 1:6, Paul adds a petition to his prayer of thanksgiving. He says, “And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” Paul wants Philemon’s testimony to be fruitful. He wants those who have contact with Philemon to recognize his love for God and fellow believers to be obvious by the things that Philemon does in the general course of his daily life. He prays that when others look at Philemon, they see all the goodness that comes with faith in Jesus Christ.  Moule explains Paul’s prayer, “Yes, this is my dearest wish, my most earnest prayer; that your life of unselfish helpfulness may so tell around you that the observing world shall recognize, in your instance, all the beauty of the gifts Christ Jesus gives His people so that praise shall come ‘unto Christ Jesus,’ aye, and new disciples too.”[1] Christ sends His spirit into our lives, which brings all good things. The fruits that sprout in a believer’s life are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The fruits of the Spirit show themselves to others in good deeds. Good deeds are motivated by a convert’s appreciation for the great gifts that God has bestowed upon him through his faith in Jesus. The fruits of the Spirit cannot be earned or deserved but follow naturally in the course of one’s growth in the knowledge of the grace one receives. Good works in and of themselves do not bring the fruits of the Spirit. The Spirit brings good works into the lives of believers. As Beet said 120 years ago, “Paul desires that the spirit of brotherhood which belongs to Philemon’s faithfulness may produce results, and these so abundant and various as to evoke, as their surrounding element, a recognition by others of every excellence which dwells in Christians, and thus tend to the glory of Christ; or, in other words, that Philemon’s loyalty to Christ may assume form in a manifestation of Christian brotherhood, and thus secure recognition of all the excellences with which Christ has enriched His people.”[2]

But Paul had something very specific in mind, as we’ll see in the course of this short letter. He prayed that Philemon’s growth in the grace of Christ would have an impact on how he treated his former slave, Onesimus. Homer Kent makes this simple, “As Philemon increasingly recognized all the spiritual realities that Christ had provided in salvation, he would be stimulated to display a similar sort of grace to the undeserving Onesimus.”[3] Philemon’s personal faith found its source in his personal understanding that he could not save himself. There was nothing in his good works, moral character, or religious behavior such that he could earn or deserve anything from God. It would be all of grace. God saved Philemon even though he didn’t deserve it. Only this changes the workings of individuals to extend such grace to others who don’t deserve it. Onesimus, who apparently robbed Philemon and ran away to Rome, certainly did not deserve forgiveness. That’s the nature of Grace. It can only be given to those who don’t deserve it. After serving out his debt to society for his crime, Paul sends Onesimus back to his owner. Praying that his former owner, Philemon, would now see Onesimus as a fellow believer and receive him with open arms as a brother, not as a runaway slave. Like the prodigal son who comes home to the father to a warm reception, Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus the same way. All believers, Philemon included, were once runaway slaves.

 [1] Moule, Handley C. G. n.d. Colossian and Philemon Studies: Lessons in Faith and Holiness. Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell.

[2] Beet, Joseph Agar. 1902. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

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