A Faithful Friend
Letters (or epistles as they were known in ancient times) are special for they are the medium by which lovers, friends and family separated by distance are united. The epistle to Philemon is one such special letter for it is a private, personal correspondence of the apostle Paul. Here we glimpse Paul not as the mighty apostle to the gentiles who planted churches all over Asia Minor and Mediterranean Europe, but rather Paul, the good Christian friend. This is why he does not address himself with his usual title of apostle in the salutation but rather simply as Paul. This is an informality that only comes with the familiarity of close friends.
Paul writes from prison in Rome where he is under house arrest with Timothy for company. Though it was the Roman Empire that imprisoned Paul, he considers himself a prisoner for Christ Jesus. Even in the middle of a bitter season of trial, Paul traces God’s hand and confesses his reliance upon the mercy of God. He is a willing slave who does the will of his master even if that be imprisonment.
Paul addresses Philemon (whose name means affectionate or loving) as a beloved fellow worker. Philemon was an affluent man who served as a leader in the early Church. The Church at Colossae met in his home and they generously supported the work of the gospel and Paul’s ministry. They had even labored hard together in the vineyard of the Lord during Paul’s missionary journey through Asia Minor. This was a dear brother in Christ.
Roman statesman Cicero rightly said "friendship is the only thing in the world concerning the usefulness of which all mankind are agreed." The beautiful reality of true friendship simply cannot be denied. Blessed are you who find a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). May we seek friends who love the Lord Jesus and be devoted to them, spurring each other to good works and work together for Christ’s sake!