Philemon 1:5

Making mention of thee always in my prayers. We may judge of the reality of our affection by the current of our thoughts. Do we find them tending towards some absent friends daily? Then we have evidence that ours is not the superficial love that can live only in the presence of its object. With the Christian thought turns to prayer. There on the throne of the universe is One who can best befriend our dearest friends.

I. THERE WAS BLESSEDNESS IN THE EXPERIENCE. "I thank my God making mention," etc. It was not a prayer touched with sorrow for Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus, or with anxiety about their faith and character. It was the prayer of one who rejoiced that the Christ above could keep them from falling.

II. THERE WAS PURPOSE IN THE PRAYER. Paul remembers its subject-matter. When he heard of their love and faith towards the Lord Jesus, he prayed that their faith might not be merely personal or selfish, but that their religion might be, in the modern speech, "altruistic," which is "otherism" as opposed to "selfism." Paul prayed that the communication of their faith might be effectual, that the light might shine on others so as to guide them, that the fountain might flow into other hearts so as to refresh them. - W.M.S.

Hearing of thy love and faith
Some translators in ancient times, and many in later days, would at once accept M. Renan's version, as an equivalent, and, indeed, as a judicious correction — "De ta foi au Seigneur, de ta charite pour tous les saints." Yet those who reverence Scripture may justly maintain that St. Paul's own arrangement of the words has a higher rhetoric, under the guidance of a better wisdom. Let us suppose a writer to have before him two propositions, one of which is of special importance for his immediate purpose. He might be able to bring out that purpose most effectively by beginning and ending his sentence with the motive to which he wished to give prominence. From this point of view, it is instructive to compare the two contemporary letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. In those more elaborate and dogmatic pieces the idea of faith is of principal significance, and in one or other of its aspects is the leading subject of consideration. But in the Epistle to Philemon the writer's great object is to appeal to the principle of Christian humanity, to that true human love which flows from the constraining power of Divine love, believed in and accepted. "Love toward the saints," and therefore to the brother for whom he pleaded, is consequently placed in the forefront. It is the first note of the whole strain. Let us conceive the epistle presented to Philemon, when the delegates first arrive, and the returned fugitive anxiously awaits his master's decision. The letter is received with reverential joy. Philemon listens, or reads, in breathless expectation, and the very first word which falls upon his ear, or meets his eye, after the salutation, is love. It has a force in this place which no other word could supply. St. Paul, therefore, places love first; but as he never can forget faith, and Christ as the central object of faith, he puts love first, the object of the love last, faith towards Christ in the middle between the extremes.

(Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

Love is put before faith. The significance of this sequence comes out by contrast with similar expressions in Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4. The reason for the change here is probably that Onesimus and Epaphras, from whom Paul would be likely to hear of Philemon, would enlarge upon his practical benevolence, and would naturally say less about the root than about the sweet and visible fruit. The arrangement then is an echo of the talks which had gladdened the apostle. Possibly, too, love is put first because the object of the whole letter is to secure its exercise towards the fugitive slave; and seeing that the apostle would listen with that purpose in view, each story which was told of Philemon's kindness to others made the deeper impression on Paul. The order here is the order of analysis, digging down from manifestation to cause; the order in the parallel passages quoted is the order of production, ascending from root to flower.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

1. He reduceth the principal points of salvation to two heads — faith and love. In these standeth the happiness of the godly. By these, a Christian man perfected, for they are the chief graces of the Holy Ghost.

2. He beginneth with love, and placeth it before faith; deed is more precious, but it is inward and hidden in the heart, and in name and order goeth before love. But he first nameth love because it is better known to us, better seen of us, and is as the touchstone to try our faith. For though the cause be more worthy than the effect, yet the effect is more conspicuous and manifest. So faith, being the cause of works, is more excellent, and love as an effect is more evident.

3. We see, that albeit faith be set in the last place, for the reason rendered before, yet faith is first defined, and so the order somewhat inverted. Now, it is described and declared by his object, that it respecteth Christ Jesus.

(W. Attersoll.)

This faith embodies the theoretic principles of Christian life, while this love for saints embodies these principles on their practical side. Like heart and lungs in the body, each has its own functions; and, though separate, the one never acts apart from the other — life being the combined play of both. Faith binds to all Christian verities, translating them into personal convictions; while love binds to all Christian motives, translating these into personal activities — love being well called the daughter of faith and the mother of virtue and good works.

(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)


1. They give us good acceptance with God and man, because they are evident marks and notable testimonies of our election and perseverance, They are as two earmarks, to know and discern whose sheep we are.

2. God hath given praise and glory as an inseparable companion of godliness and goodness; and on the other side, He hath allotted shame to follow sin. He hath joined these together, to wit, glory with piety, and shame with iniquity. These draw together, as it were, in one yoke, so that one cannot be without the other. The apostle speaking of the ungodly, faith, their glory shall be to their shame. Seeing, therefore, the graces of God's spirit are testimonies of election, and companions of praise and glory, we must from hence conclude that the good gifts of God that are found in us make us accepted of God and man.


1. Seeing faith in Christ, and love toward the saints give us a good report in the Church, and lay up a good foundation for us in heaven, we see that only godly men have a good name, and evil men shall leave the blots of an evil name behind them. The memorial of the just shall be blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot. This overthroweth three sorts of men that offend, and esteem not of men according to their faith and profession.(1) Such as slander the godly, and bring up an evil report of the faithful people of God, and seek to take away their good name from them, which is a jewel more precious than silver and gold. But we shall less esteem what they speak, if we consider who they are that speak. For the witness of an enemy is by no law to be taken, but always to be suspected.(2) Such as magnify and advance the ungodly, give them the praise of the world, speak well of them, as of the only honest men that deserve to be commended. But so long as they live in sin, their own wickedness doth testify to their faces, and their ungodly hearts proclaim their own shame, and shall bring upon them utter confusion. Let this be written and engraven in our minds, that ungodliness will leave a reproach behind it.(3) It convinceth such as are civil men, and can say they are not drunkards, they are not adulterers, they are not thieves, they lead an honest life, they pay all men their own. These men have a good liking of themselves, and are accounted the only men among others. But a man may do all this, and be a Pharisee, yea, no better in the sight of God than a Turk and Infidel. He may carry the countenance and have the report of such a liver, and yet smell strongly, and savour rankly in the nostrils of God, of ignorance, of unbelief, of pride, and of self-love. If we would deserve true praise indeed, we must not rest in these outward practices and in this moral civility, we must plant religion in our hearts, we must have a sound faith in Christ, we must know the doctrine of the gospel, we must worship God aright.

2. Seeing faith and love give us a good commendation and report, let us by these and such like graces of God's Spirit, seek after a good name, let us not hunt after the praise of men, but that which is of God. The other is a blast of wind; this is certain and never fadeth.

(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)

1. Seeing these two gifts are coupled together one with another, it followeth that they must never be separated in a Christian man. He that is joined with the head, must also be joined with the members; and he that hath his part in the communion of saints, hath his fellowship with Christ.

2. Seeing faith and love go together, and dwell together, we are put in mind of a notable duty, and are thereby directed to prove our faith by our love, and our love by our faith, and to make one of them serve to assure the other. The cause will prove the effect, and the effect will manifest the cause. We may prove fire by the heat, and the heat by the fire; a good tree by his fruit, and the fruit by his tree.

(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)

I. See in Paul's example, WHAT IS THE EFFECT THAT THE GOOD REPORT WHICH THE GODLY HEAR OF THEIR BRETHREN, USETH TO WORK IN THEIR MINDS. Commonly men suck in their own praises with very greedy ears, but they cannot with patience endure the praises of others, thinking that the praises of others is a close kind of dispraising themselves, and that so much is taken from them as is given unto another. Hence it is that the speech of those that are much in the commendations of others is so troublesome to us, in that thereby we feel ourselves stirred up to wrath, fretting, envy, and such like distemper of corrupt affections. But it is far otherwise with the children of God, who have the circumcised ears of Paul, that not only with patience, but with great joy, can hear the commendations of their brethren, and upon the hearing of them break forth not into fretting and fuming, but into a holy lauding of the Name of the Lord.

II. Observe, THAT THANKS ARE DUE TO GOD, NOT ONLY FOR THOSE BENEFITS WHICH HE BESTOWETH ON US OURSELVES, BUT ON OUR BRETHREN ALSO. And therefore if we pay him not this debt, he may justly charge us with ingratitude. For shall we confess it our duty to pray for our brethren, that they may be enriched with these graces; and shall we not think ourselves equally bound to give thanks to God, when He hath heard our prayers?

III. If in Paul's example others are bound to give thanks for our graces, then it is our part, who through God's mercies are possessed of any of His graces SO TO USE THEM THAT WE MAY MINISTER JUST CAUSE TO OUR BRETHREN TO GIVE THANKS FOR THEM.

IV. Paul saying that he heard of the faith and love of Philemon, PLAINLY SHOWETH, THAT THERE WERE SOME THAT RELATED AND REPORTED THEM TO HIM. By whose example we must learn to have a special respect of the good name of our brother, being always ready, as occasion shall serve, to speak of those good things that are in others.

V. Observe GOD'S PROVIDENCE, RECOMPENSING FAITH WITH FAME AND GOOD NAME. When faith shall open our hearts and mouths to extol God's name, God will open our brethren's, yea, sometimes our enemies' mouths, to extol ours (Hebrews 11:13). "By this" (namely faith) "our elders obtained a good report." This was the means whereby they became so famous. What marvel, then, if thou hast an ill name, when thou hast an ill conscience? Naughty faith and fame, cracked credit and conscience, commonly go together.

(D. Dyke, D. D.)

By faith understand justifying faith, which only is able to bring forth true love, either to God or man. And by love, as the apostle showeth, not only love to God, but also to man. Here observe —

I. THE DISTINCTION OF THESE GRACES of faith and love. They are named distinctly as two virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).

II. THE CONJUNCTION OF THESE TWO GRACES, for howsoever they are to be distinguished, yet not to be divided. Wheresoever true faith is, there necessarily love, both to God and our brethren, will follow. For though faith be alone in justification, yet not in the justified. As the eye, though alone in seeing, yet not in him that seeth, but joined with the ears, nose, and many other members of the body. Faith therefore is a fruitful mother of many daughters, and love is the firstborn of them. Faith, though it be in regard of God a beggar, always holding out the hand to receive, and crying, "Give, give," yet in regard of those in whom it dwelleth, it is like a sovereign lord and king, and hath as a king his officers under him, and among the rest, love, his almoner, to distribute and disperse those treasures which itself hath received from the Lord.

1. Our love towards God proceedeth from faith, which, apprehending God's love to us, enflameth our affections again with the love of God. The beams of God's love lightning upon our hearts reflect back upon God Himself by the virtue of our faith. "The love of Christ," saith the apostle — namely, being apprehended by our faith — "constraineth us." An example whereof we have in Mary Magdalen, whose faith, believing that much was forgiven her, caused and constrained her to love much.(1) This plainly convinceth the faith of many to be nothing but vain presumption, because their love to God is so lukewarm.(2) But as this doctrine is terrible to the hypocrite, whom it unmasketh of his vain vizard of faith, so it is no less comfortable to the true Christian. For what dost thou feel thy soul panting in the earnestness of desire after God? Dost thou find thyself grieved when thou missest of thy desire? Doth thou find thy heart to arise when thou seest God's Name dishonoured, etc.? Surely, these things as they are arguments of sincere love, so likewise of faith not feigned. If thou canst with David (Psalm 18:1) say "I love the Lord," thou mayest as truly use the words following, and say, "The Lord is my Rock."(3) This doctrine of love flowing from faith, confuteth those that teach, our election dependeth upon our foreseen obedience. By that which hath been delivered it appeareth that our love of God is caused and stirred up in us by His love, to us apprehended by our faith.

2. Our love of our brethren springeth likewise from faith, for the apostle speaketh here of both loves. This will appear, if either we consider those duties of love, which we owe generally to all, or in special to some.(1) For the first this is a duty which we owe to all indifferently, to be ready to forgive one another, being offended. Now what is that which will make a revengeful nature yield to this, but faith, which, when once it hath apprehended God's love, forthwith reasoneth, as the Master in the parable with His servant (Matthew 19). The Lord hath freely forgiven me my whole debt, ought not I then to show the like compassion to my fellow servant? Therefore the Lord enjoining the duty of forgiveness; the apostles pray, Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:4, 5).(2) Other duties there are which we owe specially to some.(a) As first, to those that are yet unconverted, the desiring of, and by all means possible labouring after their conversion. Now, it is faith only which will make a man do this. For, when by faith we have felt the sweetness of God's love ourselves, we cannot but call upon others, and with the prophet David invite them to the eating of the same dainties with ourselves (Psalm 34.). "Come, and see, and taste how good," etc.(b) But yet a more special love, which therefore hath a special name of brotherly love, is due unto those which are already effectually called, and so made members of Christ. This love also cometh from faith, which, causing us to love God, must needs also force us to love all those in whom we shall see the very face and lively image of God Himself so clearly shining.

1. Uses: by this then once again we may try our faith. A working faith hath laborious love even to our brethren annexed (1 Thessalonians 1:3). If then thou art of a hard nature, of a memory lastly retaining injuries of affections vindicative, which the Scripture calls feet swift to shed blood, this shows thou hast no part in the blood of Christ by faith. The like is to be thought of those which are moved with no compassion towards the soul of their brethren sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, but can suffer them to pine and perish away in their sins, and never reach forth the hand to pull them out of the ditch.

2. This doctrine serveth not only for the trial of our faith, but also of our love to our brethren. For as that faith, which is without this love, is an idle, and imaginary faith, so that love of our neighbour, which cometh not from faith, is blind and foolish, and in the end will prove a deceitful and unfaithful love. Natural men, that seem to love very dearly today, tomorrow are at deadly feud. The reason hereof is because their love comes not from faith.

3. It maybe asked, How could others declare to Paul the love and faith of Philemon, which are secret and hidden virtues, that be in the innermost corners of the heart, far from the sight of the eye? They saw not Philemon's faith, but his outward works, and by them they judged, and so did Paul too of his faith, discerning the tree by the fruit.

(D. Dyke, B. D.)

Toward the Lord Jesus
Sometimes faith is spoken of as "in" Christ, sometimes as "unto" or "upon" Him; here it is "toward" Him. The idea is that of aspiration and movement of yearning after an unattained good. And that is one part of the true office of faith. There is fruition and contact in it. We rest "in" Christ by faith. It incorporates us into His mystical body, and brings about a mutual indwelling. We lean "on" Christ by faith, and by it build the fabric of our loves, and repose the weight of our confidence upon Him, as on the sure foundation. We reach "unto," and, in deepest truth, pass "into" Christ by faith. But there is also in faith an element of aspiration, as of the soaring eagle to the sun, or the climbing tendrils to the summit of the supporting stem. In Christ there is always something beyond, which discloses itself the more clearly, the fuller is our present possession of Him. Faith builds upon and rests in the Christ possessed and experienced, and just therefore will it, if it be true, yearn towards the Christ unpossessed.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

For faith is just like the coupling chain of a railway carriage — everything depends on where its fastenings are ultimately attached. The carriage moves only if its coupling chain communicate with the moving power. And faith saves only as it takes hold of the Saviour for itself, and terminates in Him as its object. This precious faith is a bond of attachment. It cannot be a single isolated act, but an abiding attitude of confidence towards the Lord Jesus.

(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)

A gentleman when visiting in a hospital in London sat beside the cot of a little girl. Wishing to win her confidence, he said, "My child, do you love your mother?" With a very serious look she replied, "Yes, I do indeed." "But why do you answer so gravely; what is that you are thinking about, my dear?" Then she replied with great earnestness, "Because I can never love my mother anything as she loves me." Can any of you say of Jesus as the little girl said of her mother, "Yes, I love Him indeed, but I can never love Him in any way as He loves me?" Toward all saints — Clearly their relation to Jesus Christ puts all Christians into relation with one another. This was an astounding thought in Philemon's days, when such high walls separated race from race, the slave from the free, woman from man; but the new faith leaped all barriers, and put a sense of brotherhood into every heart that learned God's fatherhood in Jesus...The love which is here commended is not a mere feeling, nor does it go off in gushes, however fervid, of eloquent emotion. Clearly Philemon was a benefactor of the brotherhood, and his love did not spend only the paper money of words and promises to pay, but the solid coin of kindly deeds. Practical charity is plainly included in that love of which it had cheered Paul in his imprisonment to hear. Its mention, then, is one step nearer to the object of the letter. Paul conducts his siege of Philemon's heart skilfully, and opens here a fresh parellel, and creeps a yard or two closer up. "Surely you are not going to shut out one of your own household from that wide reaching kindness." So much is most delicately hinted, or rather left to Philemon to infer, by this recognition of his brotherly love. A hint lies in it that there may be a danger of cherishing a cheap and easy charity that reverses the law of gravity, and increases as the square of the distance, having tenderness and smiles for people and churches which are well out of our road, and frowns for some nearer home.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Philemon's love extended itself to the saints, as is here avouched of him; yet it was not cooped up within the pen of the saints: the saints must have the prime place in our love, but not the whole. "Do good to all men, chiefly to them of the household of faith": chiefly, but not wholly. Aristotle gave an alms to an unworthy man: one reproved him for it. Says he, I gave it to the nature of the man, not to the man; the nature is God's, and must be sustained: the vice is his own and the devil's, and must be reformed.

(W. Jones, D. D.)

1. This teacheth that there ought to be among all the faithful a communion of saints; they are as a family or household among themselves. They have a near fellowship, they are near brethren, they are fellow members of one body, they are knit together by one spirit, they are called under one hope, they are made Christ's by one faith, they are made one by one baptism, they have one bread to feed upon, they have one cup to drink of, they have one table to meet at, they have one God that they worship, they have one salvation that they aim at (Ephesians 4:2, 3). We are charged to have a care of all mankind, but as it is fit and convenient that they which are of the same family should be helpful one to another rather than to such as are of another family, which are not so nearly joined unto them (Philippians 2:1, 2). The gifts of God to be imparted to our brethren are of two sorts. For as we consist of two parts, the soul and the body, so the gifts are of two kinds — spiritual graces, and temporal blessings. We must bestow upon them spiritual gifts, procuring their good by example, exhortation, comfort, prayer, reproof. Touching temporal blessings, we must be ready and content to bestow such goods as God hath bestowed upon us, for the good of our fellow members. If we have this world's goods we must not hide our compassion from them, for then we cannot assure ourselves that the love of God dwelleth in us.

2. Seeing we are charged to provide for the godly poor, and not to see them want, it teacheth that we are all the Lord's stewards, to dispense and dispose His blessings to others. For properly we are not lords, but tenants; not owners, but stewards; not possessors, but borrowers; and whatsoever we enjoy, it is not ours only, but ours and the poor's — they have their share and portion with us. A Christian man, though he be the freest man upon the earth, yet he is a servant to all, especially to the Church of God. This condemneth —(1) Such as seek for nothing but to settle themselves and maintain their own estates, to enrich themselves that they may live in ease and wealth, like the rich man mentioned in the gospel: these make no conscience of swearing, forswearing, lying, dissembling, oppressing, and such like unfruitful works of the flesh. These men may allege and plead for themselves what they will, but in truth they never yet knew what the communion of saints meaneth.(2) It reproveth such a waste and consume the good creatures of God in riotousness, in drunkenness, and in all excess, and when they are in brotherly love and Christian compassion admonished, do answer, "What have you to do with my spending? I spend nothing but mine own, I spend none of yours." Yes, thou spendest that which is thy wife's, thy children's, thy family's, the poor's, the Church's, yea even that which is God's, for which thou shalt give an account at the great and dreadful day of judgment.(3) Seeing we are debtors to all men, but specially to the faithful, it reproveth such as show the chiefest fruit of their love and charity upon the ungodly and profane, whom it were many times more charity to see punished than relieved: and corrected than maintained.

(W. Attersoll.)

1. Because they are thereunto called and chosen in Christ, they are thereunto justified and redeemed by Christ. For we are chosen before the foundations of the world to be holy (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7; Luke 1:68, 74, 75).

2. The servants of God must be saints, to the end there may be a conformity and likeness unto Him that hath had mercy upon us. It is requisite that there should be a resemblance between God and His people. God is holy, it is one of His names, He is called the Holy One; Christ is Holy, and He is called the Holy One of God; the Spirit is holy, and therefore is called the Holy Spirit. The Son beareth the image of His Father, and thereby is easily known whose Son He is. If we be the sons of God we must express His image in holiness and true righteousness (Leviticus 11:45; 1 Peter 1:14, 15).

3. The faithful are called by the name of saints, that there might be a difference between that which we have of ourselves, and that which we receive from God: between the old man and the new man; between our first birth and our second birth; between nature and grace. No man is a saint by nature, we have no holiness from ourselves, but we are strangers to it, and that is a stranger to us; nay, we are enemies to holiness who love nothing else but profaneness, and desire to be anything else than to be saints and holy.

(W. Attersoll.)

An unknown man one day dropped dead in New York. He seemed to have been very poor, for in the pockets of his shabby clothes there was not a cent. His description was published in the newspapers, and among other details, mention was made of a tattoo mark on his right arm. It represents a tomb overhung by the branches of a weeping willow. Below was the inscription, "In memory of my mother." Nothing was known of him; but one thing was clear — he had once had a mother whom he loved. The body was sent to a station house, and the next day would have been buried in Potter's Field at the expense of the city, if a merchant had not interposed. He asked permission to pay the cost of a decent funeral in a cemetery for the man. He did not know him, but he, too, had lost his mother, and the memory of her had been enshrined in his heart for many years. He felt a brotherhood with the man whose love of his dead mother was displayed in the tattoo marks, and desired to do a brother's part to him. If every Christian felt that the love of Christ, common to him with other Christians, constituted a bond of brotherhood with its claims upon him, how much hardship and pain would be relieved!

The magnetised needle turns to the invisible North Pole whenever it turns to any visible object that lies due north of itself; and so, love to saints, as saints, is love to Christ Himself personally, because it is love to whatever of Christ is manifest in them.

(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)

Apphia, Archippus, Aristarchus, Demas, Epaphras, Lucas, Luke, Marcus, Mark, Onesimus, Paul, Philemon, Timotheus, Timothy
Faith, God's, Hast, Hearing, Love, Manifest, Saints, Towards
1. Paul rejoices to hear of the faith and love of Philemon,
8. whom he desires to forgive his servant Onesimus, and lovingly to receive him again.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Philemon 1:5

     8296   love, nature of

Philemon 1:5-6

     8020   faith

The Epistles of the Captivity.
During his confinement in Rome, from a.d. 61 to 63, while waiting the issue of his trial on the charge of being "a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5), the aged apostle composed four Epistles, to the Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. He thus turned the prison into a pulpit, sent inspiration and comfort to his distant congregations, and rendered a greater service to future ages than he could have
Philip Schaff—History of the Christian Church, Volume I

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