Philemon: Hospitality, Hope, Prayer and Becoming a Gift of God
"xenian", "elpizo/elpis", "proseuchomai/proseuche", and "charizomai"
Group 4 Presentation - April 23, 1999
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The focus of this work is v. 22 of Paulís letter to Philemon. Research
into the key terms and ideas in this passage indicate that Paul is
pulling together the key elements of the oikos in this passage;
hospitality, hope, prayer, and becoming a gift of God are clearly
intrinsic to the Christian household. As you read each section
pertaining to a particular word and concept, keep in mind its centrality
and connection to the way the Christian community is to relate to one
another. Might one go so far as to say that these behaviors are what is
appropriate/fitting ("to anekon") for the Christian oikos?
The basic definition of elpizo is "I hope." Its first use is in the
sense of something expected, awaited or hoped for, as in Lk 6:34: "And
if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that
to you? Secondly, "elpis" is used in the sense of relying on a basis of
confidence as trust in or confide in (I Cor 15:19) "If for this life
only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied"
Hope for the Greeks was a neutral term anticipating a future that could
be good or bad. For OT writers, there was no neutral word for future
expectations. The future was either expected to be bad or good. If the
expectation was bad, the future was viewed with fear. If the future was
expected to be good, it was looked upon with hope. The NT understanding
of hope is always positive. This can be seen in human terms as in a
farmer's hope for a good crop (I Cor 9:10). When hope is expressed in
connection with God, it takes on three distinct characteristics: 1)
expectation of the future, such as Heb. 1:1 2) trust, as in 1 John 3:3
and 3) patient waiting as in Rom 5:3-4. All three of these
characteristics are to be seen in an eschatological light as the
continuing and fulfilling of the OT hope in JC as pointed to in Mt
11:21, "and in his name the Gentiles hope." As Kittel puts it, "hope is
not concerned with the realization of a human dream of the future, but
with the confidence which, directed away from the world to God, waits
patiently for God's gift, and when it is received does not rest in
possession but in the assurance that God will maintain what He has
given" (Kittel, 532).
xenian: Hospitality or Guest-Room
"xenian" is intimately related to "xenious", which means foreign/alien
guests or strangers. According to Kittel, "Words from the stem "xen" - bear
on the one side the concept of 'foreign,' 'alien'. . . .and on the other
side that of "guest." (Kittel, vol.V, 1) Hospitality was clearly a key
factor in the successful spread of the gospel. III John 5-8 speaks to
the relevance of hospitality to every Christian: "Beloved, it is a loyal
thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to
strangers ("xenous"), who have testified to your love before the church.
You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God's service.
For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the
heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers
("sunergoi") in the truth." Thus, by supporting those who share the
gospel, the hospitable Christian also becomes a "sunergoi". In relation to
the Philemon text, it seems that Paul assumes that Philemon fits this
ideal of being a hospitable, fellow-worker (vv. 1, 22). In fact, his
use of the term "proslambano" in v. 17 indicates that it may well be a
technical term for oikos hospitality. In this verse, Paul seems to be
saying that if you are bound with me in the common cause of Christ, then
be hospitable to Philemon as you would be to me. Thus, taking others
into oneís oikos is part of being in the common-cause bond. I Peter 4:9
reinforces this ideal and moves it into the realm of being gracious to
one another because of God's graciousness to us: "Practice hospitality
ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for
one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."
Mt. 25:35 speaks profoundly to the practice of hospitality: ". . . for
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger ("xenos") and you welcomed me. . . " This passage seems
to link hospitality with refreshing, as it seems to indicate that a key
function of the community is to provide hospitality and refreshment to
one another (see "anapepautai", Phlm v. 7). The Luke 24 Emmaus Road story
is another clear example of hospitality being linked to right behavior
and the Kingdom of God.
Ephesians 2:19 is a key passage for understanding Paul's view of the
intimate relationship between hospitality and the oikos: "So then you
are no longer strangers ("xenoi") and sojourners ("paroikoi" !!!), but you
are fellow citizens ("sumpolitai") with the saints and members of the
household ("oikeioi") of God." This passage seems to indicate that because
God has made us members of God's household, we are no longer strangers.
The implication is that we are to act like it by being hospitable.
(Note: The eschatological inference behind "so then" is noteworthy. In
one sense we have already experienced this household of God. However, we
are time bound and do not experience the fullness of the present.) (See
also I Cor. 7:21 "chrestai").
"proseuchon" : Prayer
The terms "proseuchomai" and "proseuche" are the fundamental NT terms for
prayer; they express the encounter that manifests itself in individual
acts of prayer and supplication and in an ongoing communal attitude and
behavior influenced by prayer. The concept is based on the conviction
that God exists, hears and answers prayer (Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol.
13, 978.) The biblical conception of prayer is primarily intercession
and self-scrutiny leading to hope (elpis !!). (ibid) Despite its
multifaceted character, biblical prayer is essentially a simple human
reaction. The rabbis called it ďthe service of the heart.Ē Furthermore,
in ancient Israel, communal prayer is seen to be of greater significance
than private prayer (Deut. 2:12). In fact, too much reflection on oneís
prayers in the expectation that these will be answered was discouraged.
Prayer is clearly a cornerstone of Christian practice. The early
Christian community devoted themselves not only to the apostlesí
teaching, fellowship, and breaking the bread, but they also devoted
themselves to prayer (Act. 2:42). The church community prayed
corporately for Peter in prison (Act 12:5). In order to devote
themselves to prayer and to serving the Word, the 12 apostles selected
seven to wait on tables among the whole disciples (Act 6:4).
In I Peter 3:7, husbands are instructed to show consideration for their
wives so that their prayers may not be hindered. The context of this
passage within the household code seems to add to the implication that
prayer is not only corporate within the oikos, but that prayers are
central to the Christian householdís ability to live into the reality
that Christ has set before them. Prayers are crucial to the life of the
oikos, and each member must be careful to live his or her life so as not
to hinder the prayers. The question this raises is what is the oikos
praying for? Isn't the prayer for koinonia? (see also Matt. 18:19).
Paul is concerned with intercession, something he does for the churches
and in like manner expects from them. In Phlm 6, Paul writes, ďI pray
that the sharing of your faith may become effective.. . . ď In Rom.
15:30, Paul appeals to the Christian community there to ďjoin me in
earnest prayer to God on my behalf.Ē Clearly, Paul is counting on the
intercession of prayer in these texts, as well as in Phlm. 22, but he
knows that the issue is in Godís hand (the grace of God). Rom. 1:9-10
also indicates Paulís belief in Godís providence in these matters: ď. .
.that by Godís will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you.Ē
Paul hopes to come to the house church of Philemon by Godís will through
("dia") their prayers. Does Paul want to declare the mystery of the
gospel, or the parenesis of the Christian household (become who you are)
boldly? ďTo prepare a guest room for him and to pray for his release
symbolize their share in the mission work to which he himself is
committed, for he will come to them not only as friend, but as apostle.
Not only does he himself constantly pray for his churches, but he begs
them to assume the wider responsibility of giving him prayer support as
apostle in the new age.Ē
Intercession in the biblical sense appears always to presuppose a
community relationship between the intercessor and those for whom he
prays (whether the people of Israel, the Christian fellowship, or the
wider group of ďhumankindĒ). The two parties are connected in some
way. This connectedness seems to be presupposed in Philemon. Note the
opening blessing (v. 3), the prayer-report (vv. 4, 6), the indirect
prayer request (v. 22b), and the closing blessing (v. 25).
"charisthesomai/charizomai": Becoming a Gift of God
Paul's unique use of the "divine passive" charisthesomai" in v.22
(translated "I shall be given" ) indicates that it is only God who can
secure Paulís release. This is why Paul instructs the Philemonís
community to petition God in prayer. The term "charizomai" denotes a gift
given graciously. Divine favor stands behind the gift given. It also
has the meaning of granting something or somebody to someone. Romans
8:32 points out the most divine of all gifts given. I Cor. 2:12 also
reminds us of the Divine causative behind what has been freely given us.
The term "charizomai" draws attention to the gracious nature of the divine
action. Paul's hope for his release is not for his own sake but for the
benefit of you ("humin", pl). Paul's release from imprisonment depends on
an act of generosity of God's part, in which their prayers would be
important, however, the outcome rests entirely in God's hands. And it is
God who can graciously give Paul to the community ("humin"). A "doulon" of
God is his possesion to give freely at his own choosing. To become a
gift of God is to first become a "doulon" who understands that they are in
his hands to give away as a gift to another. In Phlm 22, Paul hopes and
through the prayers of the community to be graciously given (granted) to
them by God; therefore, becoming a gift of God to the community by God's
grace. In v. 15 Paul states that Onesimus was taken for a while and now
the taker (God) is sending him back and Paul hopes he too will be
graciously given to them (by God). Paulís hope for his release is not
just for his own sake, but primarily for the benefit of the Christianís
that are in Colossae ("humin").
The presence or parousia of the apostle was important to the early
Christian communities because of the relationship between Paul and the
communities. Paul often established the churches and played a key role
in the conversion of Christians, as he had with Philemon and Onesimus.
It was as if he "birthed" them. As an apostle, Paul represented
authority and was a source for guidance, scriptural interpretation, and
inspiration. If there were false teachings (Col), dissension (1 Cor;
Gal), or other problems such as that addressed in Philemon, Paul as
apostle provided authoritative leadership. Paulís joy or concern
reflected his evaluation of how closely the communities followed
Christís teachings. The apostolic presence reflects the complexity of
The apostolic presence could be effected in several ways. Funk
describes Paulís "travelogues" as promising to personally visit, send
another (like Timothy in Ph 2:19), or both. Paulís letters also
represent apostolic presence. Following a pattern typical of Greek
letters to friends, Paul uses
a conversational, intimate style of writing which simulates actual
presence (Koskenniemi in Doty 12). By receiving Paulís letter, Philemon
is challenged to receive Onesimus as he
receives Paul, by letter or personal visit. Alternatively, Philemon
receives Christ as he receives Onesimus (or Paul via the letter).
It seems that Paul is pulling together the key elements of the oikos in
this passage; hospitality, hope, prayer, and becoming a gift of God are
intrinsic to the Christian household/housechurch. Hospitality is central
to what is means to be a bound-one in Christ. Hospitality means
embracing the other just as he is. It is about belonging and being
accepted. Hope and prayer are intimately linked. The household's prayer
is for the incoming of the word of God. In prayer, the household
acknowledges its inability to be a community or new creation without
God. So prayer is about giving our hope and destiny to God. This text
assumes that the household is already praying. (Note the optative in v.
20) Thus, hope is not just speculative or anthropological; it is a
theological confidence. It is a foretaste of the future that has already
visited you in the present. All prayer, hope and hospitality is
intended to put the Christian oikos in the posture of right relationship
with one another and with God, thereby rendering each member a gift of
God. Finally, this letter does seem to be apostolic; it is not just
about Philemon and Onesimus. It is about "koinonia" and "splagchna". It is
about "euchestos" óbeing well-useful to God! Ultimately, the message is
that we are all slaves to something; so, choose your "kurios"!!
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