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If you were to ask me, of course I would say that it matters that we pray for one another. The Scriptures are filled with examples where we see prayer as one means of God bringing blessing and grace into the lives of others. I don’t deny that. It’s just that when it comes right down to it my praying is often pretty anemic.

It’s easy to slip into just praying generically for others. A “please be with him” or “please watch over her” kind of prayer that, although no doubt sincere, is hardly circumspect. I neither think much about what the real needs are nor about what, specifically, God could or might do that would have real impact in the life of that loved one. But I tend to feel better that I pray . . . sadly living as if that was the primary purpose of praying on behalf of others.

And then I bump up against Paul’s short reminisce about his prayer for his friend, Philemon.

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 6)

I think I probably just skipped over this sentence when I first read it. Yes, Paul prayed for his friend. I pray for my friends. Good idea. Got it. But then I paused long enough to notice what Paul prayed.

He is talking about Philemon’s “fellowship of faith.” The word “fellowship” refers to “having in common” or “sharing with.” This phrase possibly could be understood in two ways: 1) the participation that Philemon has in the truths of the Gospel, seeing “faith” as referring to the common doctrine that undergirds the Christian’s life; or 2)  the sharing in common life with those who also share in the faith Philemon has in Jesus. Although these two aren’t necessarily contrary to one another, the nuance is a bit different. With the mention in verse 5 and in verse 7 of Philemon’s love for the saints, I think Paul probably has in mind the latter–Philemon’s “fellowship of faith” refers to his ongoing shared life of love for those who have embraced the same Savior as he has.

And Paul prays that this fellowship “may become effective.” That’s a fascinating request. This word is found only here in the New Testament, although the root concept is found elsewhere. “Effective” is the word that would have been used to describe a field that had been properly plowed and sown and was producing crop or of a mill that was properly functioning in the grinding of grain. So Paul’s prayer is not just that Philemon would be “in fellowship” with others, but that this fellowship would be helpful, effective, “working well.”

There is one more fascinating dimension to Paul’s prayer. He has asked, on behalf of Philemon, that the Lord make Philemon’s shared life of faith fruitful and functional “through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.” Apparently, Paul believes that for Philemon to life well in fellowship with other believers he will need to be grounded in understanding what Jesus has done and is doing in his own life–and Paul prays that Philemon would understand that. The language Paul uses reflects a request for Philemon to genuinely and experientially grasp all the good now in him through faith. And Paul wants Philemon to grasp that all that good in him is “for Christ’s sake”–that is to put on display the glory of Jesus Christ, to make Jesus Christ look good, for the spread of Christ’s fame.

Taken as a whole, this simple sentence reflecting on Paul’s prayer puts my praying to shame. My many words on behalf of others don’t often enough enter into this kind of thoughtful and strategic intercession.

I wonder how God might move in the lives of those I love if I began to pray things like:

I ask, Lord, that you would work in my friend’s life so that the life she shares with others because of their common faith in Jesus would become more and more vibrant and sustaining and encouraging. And that you would bring this about through awakening in the heart of my friend a deep understanding of the radical change you have wrought in her to produce real good, something  substantially G0d-reflecting in her. All of this–what she comes to more fully know and the life that she increasingly effectively lives into with other–so that Jesus Christ’s fame might spread and that His reputation might increase. Amen.

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One Comment

    • Vittoria Colonna
    • Posted November 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm
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    • Reply

    After reading your post yesterday, this exact phrase: “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 6)” kept burning in my mind as I was praying for a friend. . . thinking on it in some of the very ways you’ve mentioned today. Thank you for confirming that this kind of praying is right and good and effective.


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