Archive for September 8th, 2010

Philemon, verses 1-7

                            An “epistle” is literally a letter.  They were letters, though, to be read publicly as in this epistle to Philemon to the Church meeting in the home of Philemon, Aphia and Archippus (verse 2). It was personal, yet public.   The Apostle began his epistles with the recipients of his writing, then with an apostolic greeting and then a thanksgiving for the letter’s readers

Excursus:   regarding verse 3:  “Grace and peace…”:  the Apostolic greeting and it’s variations has been customary  greeting for a Lutheran pastor to begin his sermon.  Why?  First it’s a profound prayer and benediction in the Lord for the congregation and secondly, for the congregation to know that the sermon which follows is derived from Scriptures, both Law and Gospel, and does not deviate on purpose from the apostolic Faith, see verse 6.

Excursus: verses 4—7: the Greek word for “thanksgiving”, eucharisto, in vs. 4 is the basis of the one of names for Holy Communion:  The Eucharist.  Galatians is the only letter that does not begin with a thanksgiving, see Galatians 1:  1—6. Why?

                             Paul does not identify himself as an apostle at all in the letter but quite frankly, “…a prisoner for Christ Jesus”, or it can be translated, “…a prisoner of Christ Jesus”.  Yesterday I wrote that there are depths of meaning of freedom, slavery and imprisonment in this short letter.  Paul was imprisoned yet free.  St. Ambrose (340—397, Bishop of Milan)  preached the following on Philemon which indicates these levels of meaning: 

 “How many masters he has who runs from the one Lord. But let us not run from Him. Who will run away from Him whom they follow bound in chains, but willing chains, which loose and do not bind? Those who are bound with these chains boast and say:” Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy.” It is more glorious for us to be bound by Him than to be set free and loosed from others.”

                            Before Paul refers to Philemon as his “co-worker”, he calls him “beloved”. “Beloved”, in Greek is a form of the word, agape, as in, for instance, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3: 16).   The Church Fathers, based upon ancient traditions, surmised that Apphia was Philemon’s wife and Archippus their son.  If so, the Apostle is writing to a family (see yesterday’s posting) and now this family is in Christ Jesus by Baptism and the Faith and not only them, but the Church meeting in their home.  As we sang on Saturday was probably applicable to Philemon’s household: 

 Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall,
Where Jesus Christ is all in all!
Yea, if He were not dwelling there,
How dark and poor and void it were!

Excursus, personal note:  since my resignation, this has been the closest I and my family have been to a house-church of the 1st and 2nd centuries:  Confirmation instruction in our dining room, and worship and a LLM meeting in our living room also in our home a pot-luck brunch. Personally, it seems “meet, right and so to do”. 

 It is easy to gloss over these first seven verses but notice the depth of love in Christ Jesus in this letter’s opening. In fact, verse 7, “…the hearts of the saints” and in verse 12, “…my heart” shows this depth. The normal Greek word for “heart” is “cardia” (as in our word, “cardiac”, etc.) But Paul uses a Greek word hard to translate into idiomatic English:  it’s literally, “bowels”.  For instance, in Luke, when our Lord sees the funeral procession of the son of the widow of Nain, it is reported, “…he had compassion”, again, the Greek, “bowels”.  The heart was considered to be the seat of the will and the “gut” as the seat of emotions. 

Excursus:  “Agape” is not derived from us but from the Lord. Philemon, his family and the Church meeting in their home made their confession of “the Faith” in the Lord and continued to do so. Agape is based upon faith as faith is the work of the Holy Spirit to confess,  Jesus is Lord (see 1 Corinthians 12: 3) The word “confession” in Greek is “homologia”, literally the “same word”, or maybe the “same Word”.  Doctrine matters. It is “sound doctrine” (see 1 Timothy 1: 10;  6: 3; Titus 1: 9;  2:1 and the Greek word for “sound” is one in which derive our word,”hygiene”: sound, clean). God’s Word,  in which  Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Aphia, Archippus, the Church meeting in their home, were on the “same page” of the Bible.

                                                   The word love, or “agape”, then is used two more times (verses 5 and 7)  and two times the word “faith”, literally “the faith” (verses 5 and  6).  This results in joy. Please note:  the basis of Paul’s love is not his feeling but God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, what He has done in our forgiveness,  resulting in the good works in Philemon’s home and the Church in the neighborhood:  “…the sharing of your faith”.  Yes, time for more Greek:  “…the sharing of your faith” is literally:  “…the koinonia of the faith, yours”.  “Koinonia”  is one of the Greek words I have used for the blog’s title.  “Koinonia” also is translated as “association, communion, fellowship, close relationship”.  As we share (koinonia)  in the Lord’s Blood, see 1 Corinthians 10:  16,  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (literally, koinonia, communion”) in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinonia!) in the body of Christ?”, then we share in the Faith and so share our faith.  “Koinonia” is used many times:  1 Corinthians 1: 9;  2 Corinthians 1: 9; Philippians 1: 2 etc. Here in Philemon it also has the nuance of “fellow feeling”. Paul’s prayer that this sharing of faith results in “good”: the knowledge of all that is good in Christ Jesus…and for Philemon and his household and many others this family in Christ Jesus knows…and this epistle testifies to the fact that  the Faith in Christ Jesus would spread all the way to Rome…as when Paul met the runaway slave Onesimus in a prison.

 Thought/Discussion/Study Questions: 

  1.  “It is more glorious for us to be bound by Him than to be set free and loosed from others.” (Ambrose)  How would you understand this in light of the book of Philemon?  Luther wrote:  “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”  What understanding does that bring to bear on Paul being imprisoned, yet free?
  2. How can “koinonia of the faith, yours” inform and instruct our “sharing of the faith”?  Is this sharing primarily for the individual or the congregation or both?  Can there be “sharing of the faith” apart from confession and Holy Koinonia?
  3. As a pastor, in a denomination going against the Scripture, I had  heard the following familiar saying used to justify staying together: “We just agree to disagree”.  Is that saying applicable to the church? What does “confession: saying the same word” say to that saying?

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