When reading Paul’s letter to Philemon this week I saw a theme I hadn’t really seen before. This letter is an instruction on how to refresh the saints.
Philemon was a refreshing person. When Paul thought about Philemon he thought about the joy and comfort Philemon had given him and others:
I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:7)
Doesn’t that make you want to be like Philemon? Don’t you want to be a joy and a comfort to others? In this “dry and weary land” (Psalm 63:1) don’t you want to be an oasis of living water (John 7:38) for parched saints?
That’s what Jesus wants us to be. He says,
Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42)
The ministry of refreshment is so important to Jesus that he wants us to know the reward there is for those who give it.
And in Philemon, Paul tells us five ways we can refresh the saints.
1. Love and Trust Jesus
I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus. (Philemon 1:5)
“Love the Lord, all you his saints” (Psalm 31:23). God is love (1 John 4:8) and therefore love is from God (1 John 4:7). Only when we love and trust God supremely that we have the resources to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). It is our profound love for and trust in the Lord Jesus that will refresh our brothers and sisters most. Only the water Jesus has quenches the thirst of the human soul (John 4:13–14), and we can only give it to others when we are drinking it ourselves.
2. Love the Saints
I hear of your love… for all the saints. (Philemon 1:5)
Talk is cheap. Deeds usually aren’t. That’s why John says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Let’s refresh the saints in our lives by very practically meeting their needs with whatever resources God has given us (1 John 3:17). Yes, let’s give them words of eternal life (John 6:68), but let’s also love them by laying our lives down for their joy (1 John 3:16).
By “the saints in our lives” I mainly mean those in our churches. While we bear some responsibility to refresh needy saints in other parts of the world (e.g. 2 Corinthians 9), we are primarily responsible for those in the faith community where God has placed us.
3. Share Your Faith (with the Saints)
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. (Philemon 1:6)
Talk can be cheap. But it’s priceless when through it we share real faith. Sharing our faith is not just evangelism. We share our faith every time we point someone to the source of our hope (1 Peter 3:15). And weary saints often need the refreshment of our shared faith. Sharing it is like the loaves and fish. The more you share, the more faith there is. So share it liberally!
4. Free Your Family Members to Serve the Kingdom
I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf. (Philemon 1:13)
Paul wrote this letter to let Philemon know that his prodigal bondservant, Onesimus, was now a brother in Christ and that Philemon should extend him the grace of Christ. But not only that. Paul also made it clear that Onesimus was of great help to Paul’s ministry and that Philemon should not think primarily of his own household rights or needs, but of the kingdom needs.
One way for us to put this principle into practice is to release members of our household for the sake of refreshing the saints even if it involves personal cost and inconvenience for us.
5. Make Your Home an Embassy
“Prepare a guest room for me.” (Philemon 1:22)
The fact that Paul made this request says something about Philemon, namely, that he showed hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). So as Christians our homes are not our castles but our embassies. God has given them to us to refresh the saints and help unbelievers become “fellow citizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19). Let’s make our homes oasis places.
Oh the precious, priceless ministry of refreshment. And oh how desperately needed it is. All around us are weary brothers and sisters who are slogging it out in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12) on a battlefield of a futile world (Romans 8:20). Yes, there are times for reproofs and corrections (2 Timothy 3:16). But most of the time what our brothers and sisters need are encouragements.
So let’s make it our aim to refresh the saints and choose one practical way to do that today.