The Sharing of Your Faith?

“…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…”

Doesn’t this sound just like our prayers? Don’t we pray this way? If you’re like me, probably not.

But what exactly does this prayer mean? There are several ways to interpret this phrase as evidenced by the various ways Bible translators have tried to capture the essence of Paul’s thought here. The key to understanding this passage is how one takes the word “fellowship” {koinonia}, which can mean “fellowship, participation, to share in something.” This was a business term. If 2 people started a fishing business in Paul’s day, they called it a “fellowship” because there was a shared interest.

VIEW #1: SHARING OF FAITH= SHARING FAITH W/UNBELIEVERS OR EVANGELISM

NIV- “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

Contemporary English Version- “As you share your faith with others, I pray that they may come to know all the blessings Christ has given us.”

ESV- “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.”

This view holds that Paul is praying that Philemon would be active in sharing his faith, that he would be an evangelist and witness to others. But based on the context, I don’t think this is the correct interpretation.

VIEW #2: SHARING OF FAITH= THE FAITH IN JESUS SHARED WITH OTHER BELIEVERS

HCSB- [I pray] that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for [the glory of] Christ.

New Century Version- “I pray that the faith you share may make you understand every blessing we have in Christ.

NET- “I pray that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Christ.”

NLT “And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.”

This view holds that the faith of Philemon, which is faith in Jesus Christ, and is shared with other believers who have faith in Jesus, would be deepened.

The phrase “may become effective” more likely means “become more effective, or deepen.” The phrase “for the full knowledge…” means “not just a mental understanding but an experiential knowledge.”

So what Paul is praying for Philemon is that the faith that he shares with other believers would deepen his understanding of all the blessings that he has in Christ. Or, that as Philemon reflects on the fellowship that he has with others because of Jesus, it would cause his understanding of all that Christ has done for him to be further deepened.

Or, put another way, when Philemon thinks about how he is a part of the body of Christ because of the grace and mercy of God, it would cause his understanding to go deeper into God’s grace and mercy. And what would be the result of reflecting on God’s mercy? It would change the way he acted toward other believers, particularly Onesimus, the runaway slave that has offended Philemon!

As Philemon dwells on God’s grace and mercy to him, this would deepen his understanding of grace and mercy and this would prompt him to demonstrate the same kind of grace and mercy to Onesimus.
So this passage is not about evangelism, it is precisely about deepening your thoughts on God’s mercy to you so that you can then go and show mercy to someone who has offended you!

This passage is about thinking deep about the Gospel, about all that God is and has done for you in Christ, and then being moved by those truths to go and do the same for others. Yes, we should be active in sharing our faith via evangelism, but we must not neglect the import of this passage: the family of God has experienced God’s mercy together and we are called to share that mercy and forgiveness with others.

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