I love Paul’s little letter to Philemon. There’s far more there than you’d think and it’s easy to pass it by without giving it too much thought. It’s likely a crispy page in many Bibles!
As I said the other day, this is how I’d translate Paul’s prayer report in v. 6: “I pray that the fellowship of your faith might become effective in the knowledge of all the good that is in us unto Christ.”
According to Paul’s vision of Christian existence, all believers inhabit Christ. God has grabbed hold of us by the Spirit and plunged us deeply into Christ, a new sphere, a new location on the cosmic map activated and animated by God’s Spirit.
It’s the realm of resurrection power, of true and new life.
And there are things we can do to stir up that life amongst ourselves.
When we love one another, forgive one another, reconcile with one another, serve one another, confess our sins to one another, creatively speak words of grace to one another, defer to one another, give honor to one another, and create opportunities for one another, we draw upon and activate even further the presence of God’s resurrection power.
This has a salutary, sanctifying, renewing, life-giving, and soul-sustaining affect on the entire community in overpowering ways and to an overflowing extent.
The joy of the Lord shared by God’s people is greater than the sum of the community’s parts. That’s because it’s the work of God’s Spirit, who sustains the church according to the limitless supply of God’s resurrection power.
That life-sustaining power is a radical difference from any other community and it ought to increase and grow as communities mature in Christ.
In my opinion, that’s the dynamic that Paul is getting at in the prayer report’s final phrase, “unto Christ.” He wants Philemon to clearly grasp the richness of the reality into which God has brought him by the Spirit. He is no longer “in the world,” so he can’t act in order to further the world’s fallen and corrupted order.
His purposeful action of welcoming Onesimus and reconciling with him will be the action whereby that reality called “in Christ” will be catalyzed, radiated with power, and fanned into flame with sanctifying and renewing power.
He wants him to take action “unto Christ” in order to experience even more of the presence of God in Christ by the Spirit and in order to radiate the power of that life-sustaining presence to the entire community.