You know what? I believe there’s still more for us to learn from this letter. So we’re going to dig a little deeper, and work through the letter section by section. We’ll discuss and apply where appropriate. I find that God always has something to teach me when I take the time to sit at his feet and meditate over his word. I trust that this will prove true for us in the following weeks.
The letter arranges itself according to the standard Hellenistic letter structure: address and greeting (1-3), thanksgiving/prayer (4-7), main body (8-22, which I may break into two parts: vv. 8-16 and vv. 17-22), and closing greetings (23-25).
Opening Greetings (1-3):
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We’ve discussed how this letter is the most personal of all the New Testament letters. Paul writes as a prisoner (which we’ll find later aids his rhetorical strategy) to Philemon who’s described as a “beloved” and “fellow partner.” We may also gather that Philemon was a very wealthy man since most individual’s homes were not large enough to host a church or to provide a guest room (2, 22).
Now although the letter is primarily written to Philemon, several other recipients are named, thus making the private letter “public” as well. This I believe is a subtle way to add a little more pressure on Philemon, the extra accountability helping to ensure that he’ll respond appropriately. Though this is more than just a clever strategy to get Philemon to respond as Paul wishes; it also reflects the corporate nature of the first century church. As Dunn says, “the church in Philemon’s home partook of something of the character of its meeting place; that is, it functioned in some real sense as an extended family” (313).
This brings up something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. A part of me would like to start a house-church network. Do any of you think that this would be a more effective way to do church? Less effective? I’d be curious to hear any thoughts you might have.
More exciting stuff in the weeks to come… 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions on the opening introduction. Grace and peace.