How are you viewing your life? Are things going well? Are they difficult? If they are going well, my guess is that you probably view your life in a positive light. But if things are difficult, your view could be negative. In the middle of the difficult times, it can be hard for us to think and feel anything but self-loathing, anger and despair, wanting an escape. In the previous post, though, we saw Paul, though a prisoner, demonstrate an ability to see beyond his circumstances. As we continue studying Philemon 1-7, Paul’s at it again, and this time he not only sees his personal difficulty with a hopeful perspective, he also has a message to share.
After introducing himself as the letter writer, Paul includes Timothy as a cosigner to the letter, because Timothy was in Rome with Paul. Next he refers to the recipient of the letter, Philemon, calling him a “dear friend and fellow worker,” so we learn just a bit about how Paul felt about this guy. Clearly Paul feels a close relationship with Philemon.
Then Paul greets two other people. Apphia, who most scholars believe could be Philemon’s wife, and Archippus. Some have speculated that maybe Archippus is Philemon’s son. We don’t know.
Interestingly Paul calls Archippus a “fellow soldier.” “Soldier is a word that refers to “one who serves in arduous tasks or undergoes severe experiences together with someone else—one who struggles along with, one who works arduously along with, fellow struggler.” Scholars tell us that a “strictly literal translation of that word could imply that Paul himself was a soldier and therefore, in a sense, a secret agent of some military force.” Because we know that wasn’t the case, we need to see Paul as saying to Archippus that Archippus is one, “who works like a fellow soldier or one who experiences great hardships along with us.”
Finally at the end of verse 2, Paul greets “the church that meets in your home.” Because this is a personal letter to Philemon, it seems best to understand this as Paul referring to a church that meets in Philemon’s home. Remember that at this time, churches all met in homes. There were no church buildings.
Then in verse 3 Paul gives a greeting that is very typical for him: “Grace and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus.” But these are not just throw-away words. Paul means them. He uses them over and over in his letters, and so we know he takes this greeting seriously.
Grace came up a lot in Titus. It comes up a lot in all of Paul’s writings, and thus Christians tend to feel familiar with the concept of grace. So we could assume that we all know what it means. But let’s not. Instead let’s talk about what grace is. In the original language that Paul wrote in, ancient Greek, he is using the word, “charis.” In English, “charis” is often translated as “gift”. You can see how that relates to grace, because we often call it “God’s gift of grace.” A gift is something that is given, not earned. That is how we usually define grace, right?
Next Paul says “Peace.” Peace is the Greek word “irene”. So we have two women’s names in Paul’s greeting: Charis and Irene. Peace, or irene, refers to a favorable set of circumstances involving tranquility.
Now add in the rest of the greeting and we see that the grace and peace is “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not human grace and peace, it is from God. He wants the people receiving this letter to have quite a wonderful blessing from God. A blessing of grace and peace.
What is so amazing about this, is to consider Paul’s situation as he writes this. Imagine Paul, who is in chains, encouraging people who are not in chains! He wants them to experience grace and peace when it seems like they should be encouraging him! Doesn’t it seem like Paul is the one who should be getting a blessing of grace and peace? And yet here again, Paul does not allow his circumstances to dictate his message. He wants grace and peace to be communicated anyway. He doesn’t want his house arrest to destroy the work of God. He easily could have allowed his chains to ruin his ministry. But he doesn’t. Paul allows Jesus to transform his situation.
And Jesus has a really important purpose for this letter, which we will see in the next post in this series.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 447.