“…for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.” – 1 Corinthians 16:18a (ESV)
Even though the book of Philemon is short, it is filled with so many applications for our lives. The countercultural piece of Paul calling a slave his son affirms the Gospel is for everyone. The parallel to our wrongs being charged to Jesus is powerful.
But in this short book, there is a theme that is woven throughout: refreshing others is vital for the Church. The dictionary defines refresh to “become fresh again: revive.” Another definition says, “to make (another or oneself) feel…stronger, more energetic… than before."
In this theme of refreshment, we see the circular, mutually-benefiting gift of refreshing others in the book of Philemon. Refreshing others spiritually has this multiplication piece. Paul writes that Philemon is known by loving others. He writes that Onesimus is someone Paul considers family. He mentions that all of them are working towards advancing the Gospel. He mentions Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke – all fellow Kingdom-builders. All these people are working together to revive each other as they work to advance the Gospel.
We are entrusted to refresh others in their faith because we are not meant be the Church alone. There is the communal (albeit messy and imperfect) group of people that come together recognizing that we were created to worship our God and be in fellowship. We refresh others in their faith because it is within our inner fibers of our being. We enter into the mess and complication of being in community with imperfect people not only because it’s a call by our Creator, but also there is encouragement and joy in doing life with others.
We also see the newness that comes with refreshing others in the book of Philemon. While Paul doesn’t specifically condemn slavery in these twenty-four verses, he makes it clear that Onesimus has worth and is capable and useful. Paul also brings up how Philemon has been changed because of the Gospel. Knowing Jesus changes us.
Paul writes in a different letter that when we know Jesus we are “a new creation, the old is gone.” Our values are different, our actions are different because Christ is at the center. Reconciliation is possible when we are on mission. Paul tells Philemon that maybe everything occurred for such a time as this that Onesimus’ status has changed from slave to “a dear brother” (verse 16).
When we are changed by God, we see others as created in His Image. When we are living for God, we pursue His Kingdom in community with other believers. When we refresh others, we see the circular multiplication and experience newness ourselves.
As we go into the New Year, what ways is God putting on our hearts to refresh others? What does that looks like for us today, this week, this year?