(Some brief notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)
Today, we're going to take a look at the letter to Philemon, written by the apostle Paul. In particular, we're going to look at an example of Paul's prayers, and learn a simple recipe for prayer. But first of all, what is the background to the letter to Philemon?
Philemon is a Christian, and from verse 2 we understand his wife was Apphia and his son was Archippus. He probably was quite wealthy, as his property was large enough for the church to meet in. The church was based in Colosse - in Paul's letter to the Colossians, the apostle mentions Archippus and Onesimus, Philemon's slave (Colossians 4v9, 17).
Onesimus had run away to Rome, possibly stealing money from Philemon (v18). It appears that he met Paul (who was in prison in Rome) and became a believer (v10). Paul then writes a letter to Philemon, preparing him for the return of Onesimus and teaching him how he should now respond to his slave.
We'll be looking at the guidance he gives next week, and also considering why Paul doesn't simply tell Philemon not to have slaves. This week, we're going to look at the first few verses of the letter, and learn about prayer in the light of Paul's example.
A Simple Recipe for Prayer
1) Take some thanksgiving (v4).
Paul wants the Colossian believers to be "abounding in thanksgiving" (Col.2v7), so it's no surprise that his own prayer begins with thanks to God. What does he say "thank you" for?
a) Love for the Lord and love for each other. Paul recognises that our love for God and our love for each other begins with God. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4v19). The origin of the compassion evident in a Christian community is found in God's work, bringing us into His family. It is therefore appropriate for us to thank God for this love.
b) Faith in the Lord and faith in each other. Paul clearly believes God is the one to thank for their faith in Christ. Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2v8). Why thank Him for their faith unless He is the provider?
But Paul also thanks God for their faith in each other. Love should always be partnered with trust, and it is wonderful when that is visible in a church; when we have faith in each other to provide help when needed; to give wise advice; to take responsibility for our roles. That is certainly something to give thanks for.
2) Add some requests (v6).
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4v7) What request does Paul make? Firstly, he prays for the sharing of their faith. This not only means with unbelievers, but also with each other. It was appropriate for them to share their faith through encouragement and the use of their gifts.
The reason for this sharing was so that they would gain "full knowledge", understanding the work of Christ in each other, and seeing it taking place.
Why does Paul pray for this to happen? "For the sake of Christ!" Jesus will be glorified as the church matures, and as the lost are convicted of their sins.
3) Mix these two ingredients together within a loving church family.
Even though Paul is in prison in Rome, he writes as though he is a member of a family in Colosse. Reports of the love evident there is a blessing to Paul (v7). This is the context for prayer. The commitment to pray for each other confirms the authenticity of a church family, and the genuineness of the prayers themselves.
This is the stage that is so easy to overlook! It's tempting to think that my prayer is the bowl in which the ingredients get mixed together. But actually, it's the church community that is the bowl! For example, how can we thank God for the love shared in a church community if we're not really committed to that community? How can we pray for the sharing of our faith if we're not willing to share our lives?
So the simple recipe for prayer is:
1) Take some thanksgiving
2) Add some requests
3) Mix these together within a loving church family