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.
The prayer of Paul for Philemon’s effectiveness draws attention to the practical outworking of the gospel. He specifically prays that Philemon’s faith would be “effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” Paul’s concern for Philemon is not that Philemon would chiefly understand the theology of the gospel. Nor is his interest that Philemon would necessarily grasp nuanced truths about God’s character. Rather, Paul’s words to Philemon directly connected to the reality of gospel effectiveness. For Paul, faith must have hands. Faith must change the way we work and walk in this life. So, the call to Philemon is that his faith would overflow through effectiveness. That is to say, that Philemon’s faith would be evidenced in his own life through the outworking of his own hands.
To what extent must faith become effective? Faith must become effective in “every good thing.” Consider that for a moment – “every good thing.” Christians do not get to choose the good they want to do. Believers in Jesus must pursue “every good thing.” This is what James explains when he states, “to him who sees what is good and fails to do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Further, the word translated “full knowledge” indicates an active participation in the attainment of knowledge. In this simple phrase, Paul is urging Philemon to engage fully in learning the good things that Christ has birthed in the hearts of believers. Indeed, it is the good that is in us. The good that has been placed in our hearts when we were transformed through faith in Christ. This good does not spring from adjustments made to our actions, but from adjustments that have been wrought to our hearts. Christians do good because they are changed. Likewise, justice and righteous deeds ought to flow from within the heart of a believer.
From the overflow of the heart, the believer brings praise to Christ. These good things that are in us are present for the sake of Christ and His glory. James asks, “does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:11). Likewise, the words and deeds of a Christian must bring forth only praise to Christ. The world judges our Lord through our testimony. Therefore, we must strive to live a life that is above reproach and exalts the name of Christ at all times. For, “every good thing that is in us” is “for Christ.”
Philemon has been an exemplary brother in the past. His love for the saints and for Paul has been a model of charity and grace. Yet, even the most disciplined and loving members of the kingdom are susceptible to blind spots in their own senses. Because we live in a fallen world in which injustice is normative and sin is acceptable, it is easy to overlook errors that are so easily granted in our society. So it is with Philemon. He has accepted the practice of slavery and of exacting punishment from slaves who have sought freedom. Still, in many other areas of life, he was kind and gracious to the other saints. So Paul, before bringing up Onesimus and Philemon’s obligation to him, Paul reminds Philemon that he has loved the saints well in the past and his character is one of love and grace to the church.
What follows this encouragement and friendly urging will be a gentle, yet firm calling to abandon slavery and forgive Onesimus.