Philemon 1:6 NIV
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Ever since I memorized this within the first year after I became a Christian the prevailing belief was that it means you should “share” the gospel with people so that we can understand more of the good things we have in Christ.
But in studying Philemon recently I can see this isn’t what Paul is saying.
Most who are reading this blog already know this but the book of Philemon is a letter by Paul to Philemon largely about taking a runaway slave named Onesimus back. Onesimus ran away, which is a grave offense in that society and possibly did more wrong to Philemon in the process.
Philemon is a godly man and Paul is exhorting him to take back Onesimus, forgive him and treat him as a brother.
I think we can get stuck in Christian lingo in the verse the way it’s presented in the NIV. People always say they “share the gospel” with somebody (one of my pet peeves). As opposed to preaching, proclaiming, presenting or explaining the gospel. So when we hear “sharing your faith” we take it to mean sharing the gospel. What he means is that in exhibiting your (as in the) faith you’ll understand and know by experience what these aspects of your faith are.
He’s saying, ‘Philemon, if you forgive this guy, listen now, if you forgive this guy you’re going to immediately experience the good thing in you called forgiveness. You could read about forgiveness in a book, but you wouldn’t really know it because you haven’t experienced it. You could hear somebody preach about forgiveness and how wonderful it is and how blessed it is, but you really wouldn’t know it until you did it. You know how to get the knowledge of the good things that are in you? Exercise them. You find out the tremendous goodness of what God has placed within you when you walk in obedience to the will of God and you do things and you see and experience those things in your own life. God has given you the capacity to forgive. Forgive somebody and experience it.’
–John MacArthur in a sermon
Although this post isn’t about translation comparisons, here is an example of where in my humble estimation the TNIV is an improvement over the NIV.
Philemon 1:6 TNIV
I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.
Philemon 1:6 NASB
and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.
Philemon 1:6 HCSB
I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ.
Philemon 1:6 NET
I pray that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Christ.
Philemon 1:6 MSG
And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it.
Philemon 1:6 REB
My prayer is that the faith you hold in common with us may deepen your understanding of all the blessings which belong to us as we are brought closer to Christ.
ESV and NRSV also use the word share. I’m not saying the word share is wrong here. It’s just that with our lingo is easy to misinterpret what Paul is saying.
When Scripture is misinterpreted it:
- misses the meaning of what it’s really saying
- is possibly keeping us from looking to other Scripture to see if the premise is true
- is possibly believing something that isn’t Scriptural
- is possibly leading others astray with consequences that could be very damaging