Congregation occurs city wide, in a church building and in our homes. Paul wrote an inspired letter to Philemon that describes those aspects of congregation.
In addition, in our spiritual congregation w are seated in Christ in heavenly places. The heavenly Jerusalem is where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. It is our current spiritual dwelling “the festal gathering and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” Where we go when we die, “the spirits of just men made perfect.” And, our eternal dwelling in the new heaven and new earth.
Here, we will view Christian congregation on this earth. From Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary published in 1921-1922: THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO PHILEMON.
This letter is a remarkable example of a tender and tactful intercessory appeal. It is addressed to Philemon, probably a convert of Paul, a wealthy citizen of Colossae in Phrygia, and a prominent member of the Christian congregation in that city. Phm 1:2 5-7 19: Col 4:9 17. He had not only earned a reputation for faith and love, but had also gladly offered his house to the Christians of Colossae as a place of worship, as was the custom of the early Christians. Onesimus was a slave belonging to Philemon, who had, probably after a theft committed in his master’s house, run away from Colossae and gone to Rome. Here he was providentially brought under the influence of the great apostle and was converted by him, Phm 1:10. “He was very profitable to the aged apostle, who was still a prisoner, ministering to him in the bonds of the Gospel. By his grateful and devoted services he greatly endeared himself to Paul. The latter cells him his own heart, a brother beloved, a faithful and beloved brother, Phm 1:12 16; Col 4:9. As he was Philemon’s lawful slave, Paul could not think of retaining him permanently in his service. He therefore took the opportunity afforded by the mission of Tychicus to Colossae, Col 4:7, to send him back to his master. Thus the apostle establishes the principle that the Gospel does not invalidate human ordinances that are not in themselves against the Moral Law. On the other hand, he reminds Philemon that he must now recognize his slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ.”
Practically the entire letter treats of this one matter. After the opening address and salutation Paul expresses his great joy over Philemon’s faith and Christian work. He then states the object of his letter, namely, the appeal to the addressee to accept his runaway slave as a brother in Christ and his o m dear friend. Personal matters, greetings, and the apostolic blessing conclude the letter. It was written at Rome, during the apostle’s first imprisonment, probably in 62, and at the same time as that to the Colossians, Col 4:7-14.
Address and Salutation. Phm 1:1-3.
V.1. Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy, our brother, unto Philemon, our dearly beloved and fellow-laborer, v.2. and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus, our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house: v.3. Grace to you and peace from God, our father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this intimate letter the apostle does not emphasize his apostolic commission, that being unnecessary in the case of a man who recognized the authority of his teacher: without reservation. Instead, he brings out another factor, namely, that of his being in prison for the sake of the Gospel: Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and brother Timothy, to Philemon, the beloved, and our fellow-laborer. It was a precious privilege which Paul enjoyed, that of bearing shackles and chains for the sake of his Lord and on behalf of the Gospel which he had proclaimed so fearlessly. Though he was a prisoner, he was still in the hand of the exalted Christ, the Lord of His Church, wherefore it was not necessary for him to apprehend any evil for himself except that which the Lord Himself permitted to come. He names Timothy, as in the case of the letter to the Colossians, not as coauthor, but as his associate in the great work of saving souls for Christ and as a brother, both in the faith and in the work of salvation. Philemon the apostle addresses as the beloved, the common love in Christ Jesus uniting them in bonds of such intimacy as exceed the closest earthly relationship in strength. Paul addresses Philemon as a friend, preferring to entreat through love rather than to use the lofty tone of command. And he puts a special distinction upon him by designating him a fellow-laborer, a term otherwise reserved chiefly for preachers of the Gospel, but applied to Priscilla and Aquila, Rom 16:3. Not only because Philemon had offered the use of his house, but also because he showed his interest in other ways and was actively engaged in spreading the Gospel by every means at his disposal was he thus honored by the apostle. The work of the Church is not confined to the pastors and teachers, but is entrusted to all Christians.
Paul includes also other members of the Colossian church in his address: And to Apphia, our sister, and Archippus, our fellow-soldier, and the congregation in thy house. Apphia, or Appia, was apparently the wife of Philemon, distinguished also by her interest in the work of the Lord, like other women whose names stand out in the history of the early Church, such as Nary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, Lydia. Archippus seems to have occupied an even more important position than Philemon in the congregation, Col 4:17, and is therefore believed by many to have been the bishop, or pastor, of the congregation at that time. A fellow-soldier Paul calls him, using the figure of speech which appealed to him very strongly. 2 Cor 10:3-4; 1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 2:3-4. In a general way. Paul addressed his letter to the entire house-congregation of which Archippus was the head. It is by no means improbable that the entire congregation at Colossae was housed in the inner court of Philemon’s dwelling, since this afforded considerable space, if built after the manner of Greek or Roman houses.
The greeting is that of most Pauline epistles: Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. By the grace of God as it was revealed and manifested in Jesus Christ the right relationship between God and man has been reestablished. The Father having been reconciled to lost and condemned mankind through the blood of His Son, peace between the two contending parties had been established, or rather, the righteous and holy God, for the sake of Christ’s merits, has again accepted the children that had left Him in disobedience. Thus to us, as believers, God is our Father; we have been restored to sonship through the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, and we are united in fellowship under the banner of our exalted Lord. Jesus Christ, these two persons of the Godhead being equal in majesty and deity.
Paul’s Thankfulness and Sympathy on Account of Philemon’s Christian State. Phm 1:4-7,
V.4. I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, v.5. hearing of thy love and faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, v.6. that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. V.7. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
Paul’s may of finding reasons for thankfulness to God is illuminating as to his character and may well serve as an example to all Christians: I thank my God, always making mention of thee in my prayers. The fact that the apostle found so much to be thankful for in the life of Philemon as he knew it, would be sure to make a strong impression upon the latter and incline his heart all the more readily to grant Paul’s request, especially since this appeal was intended to stimulate a further evidence of the proper condition of mind. The apostle was united with his God, with Him whom he knew to be his highest gift, in daily prayer. This prayer included, above all: also thanksgiving for the gifts of grace which had been bestowed upon Philemon, which he could not help but mention. Note: It is a fine and laudable thing for all church-members to live such lives as will stimulate similar prayers of thanksgiving in the hearts of their pastors, just as it is a praiseworthy custom for a pastor to make daily mention of his parishioners in his prayers to his God.
The reason for this grateful prayer Paul now mentions: Hearing of thy love and the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus and toward all saints. Whether Onesimus, after his conversion, had come to see many things in a different light than before and accordingly had related these facts to the apostle, or whether the latter had other sources of information, he knew, at any rate, that the report was true. There was evidence before the eyes of all that cared to investigate that Philemon bore in his heart a fervent love toward his Lord Jesus Christ and, in consequence of this, also toward all the brethren, the believers, or saints, as Paul calls them by reason of the fact that they have been consecrated to God by faith and are serving Him in lives of sanctification. This love was the result or outgrowth of faith, in itself a proof of the faith which had been wrought in his heart by the Gospel. The love which lives in the Christian’s heart and finds expression in his life is a proof both to himself and to others that faith has been enkindled in him by God, a fact which should, in turn, prove an incentive to him to nourish this flame with all carefulness.
Having registered the reason for his thankfulness, the apostle now states the content of his prayer: That the communication of thy faith may become effective by the knowledge of every good thing in you toward Christ Jesus. That is Paul’s intercession, that the same faith which lived in Philemon might be communicated to all the other Christians that heard of his example and that the effect of this transmission or communication might serve or help them all to understand all that was good in them toward Jesus Christ. A complete and accurate knowledge, an ever-growing and better understanding of the capabilities for good which faith in Jesus Christ works in the hearts of all believers gives them a calm reliance upon the power of God in them, a cheerful confidence to furnish to the world the outward proof of the faith which lives in them. All this, of course, contributes to the promotion of the cause and work of the Lord here on earth. Even here the apostle’s tactful diplomacy directs the attention of Philemon toward the fulfillment of the appeal which he was about to broach.
To this the apostle adds another ground for his attitude of thanksgiving as noted above: For I had great joy and encouragement on the basis of thy love, because the hearts of the saints are refreshed through thee, brother. The report regarding the excellent state of Philemon’s faith and love filled the apostle with great joy, it gave him much consolation and encouragement, just as similar accounts of their parishioners or experiences in which they figure serve to lighten the burden of faithful pastors in our days. The evidences of the love which lived in the heart of Philemon and was the motive in his work in the congregation were of a nature to relieve, to refresh the hearts of the saints. St. Paul probably has reference to everything that Philemon did for the Colossian Christians that met in his house, in dispensing both temporal and spiritual goods. The appreciation of the great apostle is most strongly brought out in the emphasis upon the word “brother,” placed at the end of the sentence. It is by no means an objectionable ruse or a sordid trick to introduce a request to a Christian brother in this manner, provided always the statements that are made are in conformity with the truth. There ought to be more of this frank appeal to the love which lives in the hearts of the Christians by faith.
Read the remainder of the chapter at: http://www.kretzmannproject.org/