Paul has already expressed that Philemon’s reputation is one of godly usefulness. It is good and there is really nothing that requires Paul’s apostolic attention, be it instruction or correction. However, Paul does pray for him. And when he prays, he thanks God for Philemon and asks only “that the sharing of your faith may become effective” (Phile. 1:6).
He desires that Philemon’s faith not be inactive and concealed, but that it is manifested to the saints by actual effects. In other words, He prays that Philemon’s faith be known by evidences of grace. He asks the Lord to bless the work of Philemon so that the church would understand and experience every good thing that is in us through Christ.
This is a hefty encouragement. Paul is marking Philemon as a spiritual leader in the church. He prays that he be an example to all of the believers gathering in his house so that they may have full knowledge of the blessings of God. He is praying that Philemon’s labor be powerful and effectual for the Kingdom. Paul was not the kind of man who wanted to steal the limelight. He wanted the kingdom to go forth. He wanted them all to be effective like he was.
He prayed for effectiveness only. There was no need to pray that Philemon share his faith by works. Paul was confident that he was doing that. He hoped his sharing would be like a ripple in the water caused by the tossing of a stone. Let the others see his faith proven. Let his labor of love be noticed and observed.
The second half of the verse gives us a deeper insight into what Paul considered to be effective. It was not that others would see Philemon as a more spiritual and honorable man. It was not so they could see miraculous wonders and signs. It was not to elevate Philemon in any way.
The Greek word often translated knowledge here, refers to something more than just knowing. It is both knowing and experiencing. It is intellectual understanding accompanied by experiential understanding. It is not just knowing what something looks like, but actually seeing it. It is both conceived and observed.
Philemon’s persevering witness of trusting in the Lord would be effective by providing full knowledge of “every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Phile. 1:6). That is to say, that all spiritual blessings, divine graces, and good and useful things believers have via the Holy Spirit are to be evidenced, so that all will know them for the sake of Christ.
Understanding the blessings we have in Christ bring about the worship of the Lord. Hearing that Paul prays for the effectiveness of Philemon’s labor should bring about even more motivation to love, persevere, and to forgive. It is one thing to have your brother pray for you and it is another to have the Apostle Paul pray for you. Although there may not be significant evidence that one is more powerful than the other, it must have stirred the heart of Philemon to hear it.
To say it briefly, Paul assured the heart of Philemon by telling him that he had a reputation of labor and that he was praying that his labor be effective for the sake of Christ.