Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 43: Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,
1. Paulus vinctus Christi Iesu et Timotheus frater Philemoni amico et cooperario nostro,
2. And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
2. Et Apphiae dilectae, et Archippo commilitoni nostro, et Ecclesiae, quae domi tuae est.
3. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo.
4. I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
4. Gratias ago Deo meo, semper memoriam tui faciens in precibus meis,
5. Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
5. Audiens tuam dilectionem et fidem, quam habes erga Dominum Iesum et erga omnes sanctos,
6. That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
6. Ut communicatio fidei tuae efficax sit cognitione omnis boni, quod in vobis est erga Christum Iesum.
7. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
7. Gratiam enim habemus multam et consolationem super dilectione tua, quia viscera sanctorum per to refocillata sunt, frater.
The singular loftiness of the mind of Paul, though it may be seen to greater advantage in his other writings which treat of weightier matters, is also attested by this Epistle, in which, while he handles a subject otherwise low and mean, he rises to God with his wonted elevation. Sending back a runaway slave and thief, he supplicates pardon for him. But in pleading this cause, he discourses about Christian forbearance 269 with such ability, that he appears to speak about the interests of the whole Church rather than the private affairs of a single individual. In behalf of a man of the lowest condition, he demeans himself so modestly and humbly, that nowhere else is the meekness of his temper painted in a more lively manner.
1. A prisoner of Jesus Christ. In the same sense in which he elsewhere calls himself an Apostle of Christ, or a minister of Christ, he now calls himself “a prisoner of Christ;” because the chains by which he was bound on account of the gospel, were the ornaments or badges of that embassy which he exercised for Christ. Accordingly, he mentions them for the sake of strengthening his authority; not that he was afraid of being despised, (for Philemon undoubtedly had so great reverence and esteem for him, that there was no need of assuming any title,) but because he was about to plead the cause of a runaway slave, the principal part of which was entreaty for forgiveness.
To Philemon our friend and fellow-laborer. It is probable that this “Philemon” belonged to the order of pastors; for the title with which he adorns him, when he calls him fellow-laborer, is a title which he is not accustomed to bestow on a private individual.
2. And to Archippus our fellow-soldier. He next adds “Archippus,” who appears also to have been a minister of the Church; at least, if he be the same person who is mentioned towards the conclusion of the Epistle to the Colossians, (Col 4:17,) which is not at all improbable; for the designation — “fellow-soldier” — which he bestows on this latter individual, belongs peculiarly to ministers. Although the condition of a soldier belongs to all Christians universally, yet because teachers may be regarded as standardbearers in the warfare, they ought to be ready more than all others to fight, and Satan usually gives them greater annoyance. It is also possible, that Archippus attended and shared in some contests which Paul maintained; and, indeed, this is the very word that Paul makes use of, whenever he mentions persecutions.
And to the Church which is in thy house. By employing these terms, he bestows the highest praise on the family of Philemon. And certainly it is no small praise of a householder, that he regulates his family in such a manner as to be an image of the Church, and to discharge also the duty of a pastor within the walls of his dwelling. Nor must we forget to mention that this good man had a wife of the same character; for she, too, not without reason, is commended by Paul.
4. I give thanks to my God. It deserves attention, that he at the same time prays for that very thing for which he “gives thanks.” Even the most perfect, so long as they live in the world, never have so good ground for congratulation as not to need prayers, that God may grant to them, not only to persevere till the end, but likewise to make progress from day to day.
5. Hearing of thy love and faith. This praise, which he bestows on Philemon, includes briefly the whole perfection of a Christian man. It consists of two parts, faith in Christ, and love towards our neighbors; for to these all the actions and all the duties of our life relate. Faith is said to be in Christ, because to him it especially looks; in like manner as in no other way than through him alone can God the Father be known, and in no other than in Him can we find any of the blessings which faith seeks.
And towards all saints. He does not thus limit this love to the saints, as if there ought to be none towards others; for, since the doctrine of “love” is, that “we should not despise our flesh,” (Isa 58:7) and that we should honor the image of God which is engraven on our nature, undoubtedly it includes all mankind. But since they that are of the household of faith are united with us by a closer bond of relationship, and since God peculiarly recommends them to us, for this reason they justly hold the highest rank.
The arrangement of the passage is somewhat confused; but there is no obscurity in the meaning, except that it is doubtful whether the adverb always (in the 4th verse) is connected with the first clause, “I give thanks always to my God,” or with the second clause, “making mention of thee always in my prayers.” The meaning may be brought out in this manner, that, whenever the Apostle offered prayer for Philemon, he interwove thanksgiving with it; that is, because Philemon’s piety afforded ground of rejoicing; for we often pray for those in whom nothing is to be found but what gives occasion for grief and tears. Yet the second mode of pointing is generally preferred, that Paul “gives thanks for Philemon, and always makes mention of him in his prayers.” Let my readers be at full liberty to judge for themselves; but, for my own part, I think that the former meaning is more appropriate.
In the rest of the passage there is an inversion of the natural order; for, after having spoken of “love” and “faith,” he adds, “towards Christ and towards saints,” while, on the contrary, the contrast would demand that “Christ” should be put in the second part of the clause as the object to which our faith looks. 270
6. That the communication of thy faith may be effectual. This clause is somewhat obscure; but I shall endeavor to elucidate it in such a manner that my readers may somewhat understand Paul’s meaning. First, it ought to be known that the Apostle is not continuing to give the praise of Philemon, but that, on the contrary, he expresses those blessings for which he prays to God. These words are connected with what he had formerly said, that he “makes mention of him in his prayers.” (Phm 1:4.) What blessing then did he ask for Philemon? That his faith, exercising itself by good works, might be proved to be true, and not unprofitable. He calls it “the communication of faith,” because it does not remain inactive and concealed within, but is manifested to men by actual effects. Although faith has a hidden residence in the heart, yet it communicates itself to men by good works. It is, therefore, as if he had said, “That thy faith, by communicating itself, may demonstrate its efficacy in every good thing.”
The knowledge of every good thing denotes experience. He wishes that, by its effects, faith may be proved to be effectual. This takes place, when the men with whom we converse know our godly and holy life; and therefore, he says, of every good thing which is in you; for everything in us that is good makes known our faith.
Towards Christ Jesus. The phrase εἰς Χριστόν may be explained to mean “through Christ.” But, for my own part, if I were at liberty, I would rather translate it as equivalent to ἐν Χριστῶ, “in Christ;” for the gifts of God dwell in us in such a manner, that nevertheless, we are partakers of them only so far as we are members of Christ. Yet because the words in you go before, I am afraid that the harshness of the expression would give offense. Accordingly, I have not ventured to make any alteration in the words, but only wished to mention it to my readers, that, after full consideration, they may choose either of those meanings which they prefer.
7. We have much grace and consolation. Although this reading is found in the majority of Greek copies, yet I think that it ought to be translated joy; for, since there is little difference between χάριν and χαράν, it would be easy to mistake a single letter. Besides, Paul elsewhere employs the word χάριν to mean “joy;” at least, if we believe Chrysostom on this matter. What has “grace” to do with “consolation?”
For thy love. It is plain enough what he means, that he has great joy and consolation, because Philemon administered relief to the necessities of the godly. This was singular love, to feel so much joy on account of the benefit received by others. Besides, the Apostle does not only speak of his personal joy, but says that many rejoiced on account of the kindness and benevolence with which Philemon had aided religious men.
Because the bowels of the saints have been refreshed by thee, brother. “To refresh the bowels” is an expression used by Paul to mean, to give relief from distresses, or to aid the wretched in such a manner that, having their minds composed, and being free from all uneasiness and grief, they may find repose. “The bowels” mean the affections, and ἀνάπαυσις denotes tranquillity; and therefore they are greatly mistaken who torture this passage so as to make it refer to the belly and the nourishment of the body.
“De la douceur, moderation, et humanite.” — “Of gentleness, moderation, and kindness.”
It has sometimes occurred to me, that the intricacy of this passage might be removed, first, by the transposition suggested by Calvin, and, next, by transposing the 5th verse so as to place it before the 4th. “Hearing of thy love towards all saints, and of thy faith which thou hast towards Lord Jesus, I give thanks unto my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, That the communication of thy faith may be effectual, through the knowledge of every good thing which is in thee towards Christ Jesus.” - Ed.