A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church prays that Philemon’s partnership in faith might be energized when he comes to realize the great potential that lies within the members of the Christian community for doing a good deed in service of Christ.
This verse is key to the whole letter as it expresses in prayer form what Paul imagines as the basis and the outcome of the appeal that he makes to Philemon on behalf of Slave of Philemon for whom Paul appealed in his Letter to Philemon. Faith is here understood as a relationship or partnership (in Greek koinōnia) in which Paul and Philemon, and by implication all Christians, share. This sharing in faith in turn empowers individuals with the energy and the knowledge to discern what doing a “good deed” involves in each situation. It is important to note Paul’s use of the singular here: not “all good deeds,” but a “good deed” is imagined. Paul imagines Philemon doing something particular and specific, and he is confident that his appeal will be successful: “knowing that you will do even more than I say.” This is true on at least two counts. Paul says, “I know that you can do it, because you have done it before.” “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (v. 7). Also, “You can do it because it will be done ‘in Christ.'” “Let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ” (v. 20).