Regular Christians (Part 2): Philemon

Regular Christians

Philemon was one who used his possessions to help others. We can read about this man in the short letter written to him by the apostle Paul.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker…and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1-2).

At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you” (Philemon 22).

Philemon was a wealthy Christian living in the area of Colossae/Laodicea. We know at least one slave who belonged to him – Onesimus – as the letter was written to explain how Paul converted Onesimus and was now sending him back to Philemon.* Paul began the letter by acknowledging the fact that Philemon was not only able, but was also willing to host the local church in his house (Philemon 2) – a common practice in the first century. He also anticipated Philemon’s willingness to extend hospitality to Paul while he was traveling and provide for him a place to stay. In fact, as we think about Philemon using his possessions, we can even include Paul’s expectation that Philemon would be willing to send his servant Onesimus back to the apostle so that he might “minister to [him] in [his] imprisonment for the gospel” (Philemon 13). All of this demonstrated Philemon’s willingness to use what he possessed to help others.

This is what Paul said the rich were to do. He told Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). While we may not think of ourselves as being rich, most of us are rich compared with the majority of people who live throughout the world. Therefore, this instruction is for us as well. Having a willingness to share as Paul described is only possible when we put our hope and trust in God more than in our possessions.

There are different ways in which we can use our money or possessions to help others or to do good. Consider the following:

  • We can provide hospitality – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). This is what Paul expected of Philemon. Christians are to be willing to use their possessions – especially their homes in this case – to be hospitable (Romans 12:13).
  • We can give to the needy – “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). While it is good and necessary to work to provide for ourselves and our families (2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8), Paul explained that we should also be working so that we will have something to give to someone in need.
  • We can save for the future – “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22). Paul also talked about this idea, but described it as parents saving up for their children (2 Corinthians 12:14). The point is that there is a real benefit in saving for the future – not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
  • We can give to the church – “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). One of the responsibilities that Christians have is to give to the church of which they are members. Since this is done “according to what a person has” (2 Corinthians 8:12), those who are wealthier will generally be able to give more.
  • We can support those who preach – “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Galatians 6:6). We typically think of this as a work of churches (2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15-16), yet this passage shows that individuals with the means to do so can help support those who preach the gospel.

Since God “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy,” we are to be “rich in good works…generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). We should be mindful of the blessings we have received from the Lord and be looking for ways in which we can use these blessings to help others.

Philemon was a wealthy man, but we do not see any indication that he was guilty of having “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10) or that he tried to “serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). Instead, he was willing to use what he had to help others. However much or little we have compared with those around us, we can find ways to use our possessions to help others; but we must be willing to do so.

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* It might seem strange to us that a Christian would have slaves in the first century. However, we should not immediately equate this with the abhorrent practice of slavery in this country’s history. The New Testament even contains instructions to masters to treat their slaves well (Ephesians 6:9). Considering how Paul held Philemon in such high esteem, we can safely conclude that he was a master who would “grant to [his] slaves justice and fairness, knowing that [he] too [had] a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1).


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