When Paul calls Epaphras his “fellowprisoner” (v.23), that tells us he was in prison — and yet he was thankful! If you’re in the prison of a bad marriage, a bad job, poor health or a bad life in general, do what Paul did. Stop focusing on your difficult circumstances and find something you can be thankful for! Paul was thankful for Philemon, and I’m sure there is someone in your life for whom you can be thankful. Gratitude makes it possible to deal with the worst of circumstances, as Paul demonstrated in this epistle.
But why would Paul say “I thank my God”? I think it was because he dictated his letters (Rom. 16:22) due to his eye trouble (Gal. 4:14,15). I think he dictated Philemon’s epistle to Onesimus, his runaway slave (Phile. 1:10), whom he was sending back to Philemon with this epistle. As he dictated the letter aloud, he was surrounded by other prisoners who cursed their gods for letting them be imprisoned. That’s why Paul said, “I thank my God.” That made him stand out from the crowd, and was a testimony to those other prisoners
And it will make you stand out from the crowd as well. You too are surrounded by people who worship another god, the god they made up in their own mind. You know, the one who exists just to serve us and make us happy! If you wor-ship a god like that, you’ll curse him when you land in jail.
Many Christians worship the God of the Bible, but the God of the Old Testament. You know, the One that told Israel He’d bless them if they were good. If you worship a God like that and still land in jail if you are good, or experience some other difficult circumstances, you might curse Him and leave the faith, as many have done.
Notice Paul made “mention” of Philemon in his prayers (1:4). That word means to refer to something briefly without going into detail (cf. I Sam. 4:17,18). That’s always how Paul prayed for people (Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:15,16; I Thes. 1:2). You don’t have to drone on and on when you pray for someone (Mt. 6:7; Lu. 20:46,47). You’re not unspiritual if you don’t spend hours in prayer, as some pastors would have you think.
How did Paul hear about Philemon’s faith and love (1:5)? Colosse, where Philemon lived, was 1,200 miles from Rome where Paul was imprisoned. He must have heard it from Onesimus. Would your runaway slave say good things about you?
But now did Onesimus see Philemon’s love and faith? You cant see love or faith, but you can see what they produce — labor for the saints (Heb. 6:10), which amounts to labor for the Lord (Mt. 25:40). History says that Colosse suffered a devastating earthquake just prior to the writing of Philemon’s epistle, and Philemon probably helped the saints with his wealth. He owned more than one guesthouse (1:22) and owned at least one servant, so must have been well to do.
“Communicate” (1:6) means to get a message across to someone (Gal. 2:2). Philemon was trying to communicate his faith to others. But if Paul was praying that the communication of his faith would be effectual, that must mean it hadn’t been effectual. Why not?
Well, it was supposed to be effectual by the acknowledging of all the good things that were in Philemon in Christ (1:6). If Christ is in us (Ro. 8:10), we should acknowledge that by walking worthy of Him (Col. 1:10). If we are sanctified (I Cor. 1:2) we should walk that way (I Thes. 4:4). If we are sinless in God’s sight (I Cor. 5:7) we should purge out sin (v.8). If we are accepted in Christ (Eph. 1:6) we should live in a way that is “acceptable” to Him (Rom. 12:1).
So what was the problem with Philemon? I think he was forgiven (Col. 2:13) but wasn’t walking in forgiveness (Col. 3:13). He was a giving man, but not a forgiving man, and that was keeping him from communicating his faith effectively. People saw he claimed to be forgiven but wasn’t forgiving others, so the gospel he shared had no effect on people. That’s why Paul was praying that the communication of his faith would be effectual. If he forgave the slave Paul was returning, it would begin to be effectual.
And so will yours, if you acknowledge “every” good thing that is in you in Christ, as Paul told Philemon.