Philemon 4–7 is a prayer by Paul for Philemon, an example for us as to how we can pray for others today. We will look at these verses briefly, only to focus on Philemon 6, which is a wonderful part of this prayer but difficult to translate and piece together. Here is the text:
“4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and 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. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” (Philemon 4–7 ESV)
Verse 4 is easy enough, showing Paul’s gratitude for Philemon, as is verse 5, which is the cause for his thanksgiving—during his first Roman imprisonment, Paul heard about Philemon’s love and faithfulness for the Lord Jesus and the saints. Philemon loved Jesus and others and was therefore faithful to both, giving Paul cause to thank God for him, especially since Paul had been somehow involved in the conversion of Philemon (cf. Phm 19).
Coming to verse 6, “and I pray” is supplied to clue us in that, in addition to Paul’s thanksgiving for Philemon in verse 4, Paul is praying for a specific request for him as well. Let’s take this prayer, phrase by phrase.
“that the sharing of your faith” – “sharing” is from koinōnia, the NT word for “fellowship,” meaning something that people shared or had in common. What Paul, Philemon, and others at Colossae (cf. Col 1:2; 4:9; Phm 10) “shared” was “faith.” It is primarily Philemon’s “faith” that is in view in verse 6 (“your” is singular).
“might become effective” – “might become” expresses the subjective tense of the verb, a typical way of expressing prayer for what hopes one will happen. “Effective” is an adjective but has to do with the idea of good works. The word comes from energēs, from which we get our English word energy. We see that Paul prayed that Philemon’s faith would somehow result in good works among others with shared his faith.
“in the knowledge of every good thing that is in us” – Here we find the guide for the outworking of Philemon’s faith—“the knowledge of every good thing,” a knowledge that is found in the Word of God. This knowledge concerns “every good thing” found in the context of believers—“ that is in us.” Thus, Paul prayed for Philemon’s faith to result in good works among others as guided by the knowledge of God.
“for the sake of Christ” – The motivation for “every good thing” that Philemon could do was not for his own glory but that of his Lord Jesus Christ.
Understanding verse 6 in this way is supported by Paul’s recollection in verse 7—Paul himself remembered how other Christians were refreshed by Philemon’s love, which in turn gave joy and comfort to Paul who heard about this love. What little we know of Philemon, he had opened his home to the church in Colossae (Phm 2), would lodge Paul in the future (Phm 22), and would forgive and perhaps even free his slave Onesimus who had wronged him in some way (Phm 17–20). In the context of the whole letter to Philemon, Paul likely prayed this prayer as he did so that Philemon would forgive Onesimus, his newfound brother in Christ, obviously a good thing to do.
Putting the related text in parentheses, a bulleted paraphrase of Philemon 1:6 could look something like this as a prayer we could pray for others today:
I pray that…
- your faith in God (your faith)
- which is shared with the people of God (sharing)
- and guided by the Word of God (in the full knowledge)
- would produce good works for God (may become effective in…every good thing)
- among the people of God (that is among us)
- for the glory of the Son of God (for the sake of Christ)
Whether forgiving someone or whatever else the good thing may be, let us pray for one another that we, too, would live out our faith by doing good things among God’s people as guided by the Word and all for the glory of our Savior.