The apostle Paul wrote a brief letter to his friend Philemon. The aim of the letter was freedom for Philemon’s slave Onesimus (I’ll address that in a later post). Onesimus had run away and heard the gospel of Jesus through Paul and became a follower of Jesus. In the beginning of the letter Paul spoke about Philemon’s faith.
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and 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. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.Philemon 1:4–7 ESV
Even while in prison Paul was hearing stories of Philemon’s faith and the love he had for his fellow believers. We know from the opening verse of the letter that the church in Colossae met in Philemon’s house. He was a wealthy landowner and would have the square footage necessary for the gathered assembly. Paul doesn’t express gratitude for this, however. He is thankful for the sharing of Philemon’s faith. I love what he says about these stories—faith stories, testimonies—he’s heard: “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”
To understand the full impact of this statement we must remember where Paul was when he wrote this letter. He was in prison in Rome. He was hopeful he would be released soon and be able to visit the Colossians, yet he was in prison when he told Philemon that the word of his testimony had brought him much joy and comfort in the midst of his difficulty and suffering.
Last Sunday we baptized two new believers into the church. Each shared the story of God’s work in her and his salvation. The net effect of this sharing is that each one of us is encouraged and strengthened. We ought to experience joy when we hear of God’s mighty power on display in a person’s life, regardless of the depths of sin from which God may have saved a person. This is why sharing our stories with one another is so important. Through these stories of God’s faithfulness our own faith is strengthened and encouraged, even when we find ourselves suffering for our faith or simply suffering because life can be painful.
Let’s be quick to share stories of God’s faithfulness and kindness to one another. This is a great gift he gives us, that we might be strengthened in community.