When the apostle Paul wrote to Philemon, he affirmed the good testimony of this pastor of a house-church in Colossae and prayed for his continued spiritual growth. As verse six reads in the Amplified Bible, “And I pray that the participation in and sharing of your faith may produce and promote full recognition and appreciation and understanding and precise knowledge of every good thing that is ours in (our identification with) Christ Jesus – and unto His glory.”
Philemon would need these spiritual resources to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus, who came to saving faith through Paul’s prison ministry in Rome. Philemon’s “flesh pattern” would have been to judge Onesimus and treat him as a criminal instead of a brother in Christ (v. 15,16). God was calling Philemon to a new level of ministry, for which he needed to understand and fully appreciate his spiritual resources through his identification with Christ.
Ian Thomas challenges us to examine the motive and dynamic of our service: “There may have been created within you a genuine desire to serve God, out of a sincere sense of gratitude to Christ for dying for you; you may be impelled out of a sense of duty as a Christian to seek conformity to some pattern of behavior which has been imposed upon you as the norm for Christian living; you may be deeply moved by the need of others all around you, and holy ambitions may have been stirred within your heart, to count for God; if however, all that has happened is that your sins have been forgiven; because you have accepted Christ as the Savior who died for you, leaving you since your conversion only with those resources which you had before your conversion, then you will have no alternative but to “Christianize” the “flesh” and try to teach it to “behave” in such a way that it will be godly! That is a sheer impossibility!” (The Mystery of Godliness p. 120)
The alternative is to appropriate the saving life of Christ (Rom 5:10). The same Holy Spirit who made us alive in Christ lives within us to empower us for fruitful ministry (Gal 3:1,2; 5:5,16, 22,23). Let us personalize the prayer of Philemon verse 6 and ask God to make us more aware of and dependent upon His presence in our lives.
Our Father, thank you that you have not only saved us, but You have identified us with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. We want to appreciate all the blessings and resources which You have granted us so that the precious truth of the gospel will be shared. In Christ’s name, amen.