Church At Home – Philemon 1:1, 2

The New Testament book of Philemon is one of the shortest books, at only 355 words. Yet it contains one of the most important messages in Christian life, that of forgiveness. The short letter was written by Paul during his Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:30-31). The Epistle to Philemon has only one chapter.

Paul’s Letter to a Friend

Paul wrote to Philemon, a Christian brother living in Colossae. This is the only place in the New Testament where Philemon is mentioned by name. He was a beloved friend to Paul. Philemon was a bishop martyred at Colossae during the first general persecution in the reign of Nero.

The New Testament contains 13 letters that Paul wrote. In 9 of them, he called himself an apostle in the opening. In this letter (along with Philippians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians), Paul appealed to his reader more as a friend and less as an apostle.

Paul’s Plea, on Behalf of a Slave

Paul tells Philemon that his runaway slave, Onesimus, has converted to the Gospel. Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in the Gospel without the severe punishments that would usually be inflicted on runaway slaves (Philemon 1:17). While passing no judgment on slavery itself, Paul exhorts Philemon to manifest true Christian love, and remove the barriers between enslaved people and free people. Paul even offered to make up any financial loss Onesimus had caused Philemon to suffer (Philemon 1:18–19).

Lessons from the Epistle to Philemon

Five practical lessons from Paul’s epistle to Philemon are:

  • We can use our home for God’s glory,
  • We should pray for one another,
  • We can appeal to others in love,
  • We are encouraged to love like Jesus,
  • Let us forgive like Jesus.

Believers become brothers and sisters in the Gospel (Philemon 1:16). The underlying theme of Philemon is the brotherhood of all believers.

A House or Home Church

Paul also addressed his letter to “the beloved Apphia.”  Apphia was the wife of Philemon. Archippus, his son, is also mentioned in the letter. This address to family members is unique among the letters of Paul. In the customs of that day, Apphia was the supervisor of the slaves in the household. Thus, Apphia was as much a party to the decision about Onesimus as her husband.

Philemon was a Greek convert and was a resident of Colossae (Colossians 4:9). He allowed a Church congregation to meet in his home (Philemon 1:2, 5). Philemon was a wealthy Christian and a minister of the house church that met in his home.

For the first 313 years of Early Christianity, until Constantine legalized Christianity and churches moved into larger buildings, Christians typically met in homes. Intermittent persecution, before the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, deterred the erection of public church buildings.

In the second half of the 3rd century, the first purpose-built halls for Christian worship (aula ecclesiae) began to be constructed. Jerusalem was the first center of the church, according to the Book of Acts, and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the location of “the first Christian church.” The apostles lived and taught there for some time after Pentecost.

The house church or home church is a label used to describe a group of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes. The group may be part of a larger Christian body, but some have been independent groups that see the house church as the primary form of Christian community. Because the biblical references to these house churches are so brief and seemingly incidental, there probably were many house churches not cited in Scripture.

Christian House Churches Are Biblical

House churches are biblical places where believers gathered for worship. In the lives of the earliest Christians, those who knew Jesus met in various homes to “break bread” (the oldest term for celebrating the Eucharist (communion)) and to deepen their faith (Acts 2:46). Note: there was no requirement that stated only the priest may administer the Eucharist – but that is a topic for another lesson.

The New Testament Provides Several References to House Churches

The New Testament provides several other references to house churches, which were evidently:

  • family homes where early believers would gather and ponder the life and message of Jesus,
  • grow in their faith,
  • and support each other with prayer and Christian love.

References to house churches occur within intriguing stories of faith, weaving together colorful glimpses of the ancient Christian life (some are Acts 12:12; Acts 16:40; Romans 16:3 & 5; Colossians 4:15). Because the references to house churches are so brief and seemingly incidental, there were probably many other house churches not cited in Scripture.

House Churches provide a place to develop close relationships while learning about the biblical worldview. They help those seeking God to discover what it means to be a Christian. The New Testament describes a dynamic, growing movement centered in homes.

In Judaism, the home is often regarded as the most important place of worship and includes:

  • prayers,
  • observing Shabbat,
  • celebrating festivals,
  • and studying the scriptures.

Many Jews believe that praying regularly at home helps to build their relationship with God.

When households practice faith at home, everyone can grow closer to God. Research shows that children and youth whose families participate in Christian conversations, Bible reading, traditions, and prayer are more likely to claim their faith as adults.

Private Worship at Home

Home altars have always played an important role in a Christian life of faith; they are a place of centering, a reminder that God is not trapped within the walls of a church. References to house churches occur within intriguing stories of faith (Acts 12:12; Acts 16:40; Romans 16:3, 5; Colossians 4:15).

The Holy Spirit graces us all where we live. The New Testament describes a dynamic, growing movement centered in homes.

The Place Where God Dwells, In and Among His People

The tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem symbolically represent the place where God dwells, not the representation of where God lives. We don’t live in the architect’s model of our home; we live in a real house. God dwells in and among his people, which the artifact temples of old represented.

Exodus 25:8, 9 explains the purpose of the tabernacle was to be the dwelling place of God. The idea was not that God exclusively lived in that place, but that it was the specific place where men could come and meet God. Exodus 29:45, 46 states that the LORD’s locality, in relation to people (and the tabernacle, in v. 42), is simply the “meeting” place for God to speak with His people.

God graced the Temple, Jerusalem, and all of Israel with His presence. But He is not like the statues of pagan idols. His Being is not, and cannot, be contained in or restricted to a single place or specific location (Isaiah 48:13, 66:1; Matthew 5:34-35).

Handmade temples cannot boast of being God’s dwelling places. They are simply places where a believer more conveniently meets the infinite God, to open up to the divine infinity. Without this, self-contained life is so boring (Psalm 142:3).

In Numbers 35:34 God commands Israel to not defile the land in which they live, “in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.”

Solomon seems to also understand that the temple was never really for God to dwell in, but a place to exalt God’s name (1st Kings 8). God graced the Temple, Jerusalem, and all of Israel with His presence. But He is not like the statues of pagan idols. His Being is not, and cannot, be contained in or restricted to a single place or specific location (Isaiah 48:13, 66:1; Matthew 5:34-35).

Handmade temples cannot boast of being God’s dwelling places. They are simply places where a believer more conveniently meets the infinite God, to open up to the divine infinity. Without this, self-contained life is so boring (Psalm 142:3).

Believers Don’t Need A Man-made Temple

As Christianity spreads, Jesus’ disciples learn they don’t need a temple; like the Samaritan woman at the well, they will worship God in spirit …

John 4:21 – “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Jesus said a time was coming when people were no longer to worship at the temple. Instead, they would worship wherever they were, in spirit and in truth (John 4:21–24). The attitude of worship and the object of worship matter, not the location.

God does not live in structures made by the hands of humanity. He dwells both above creation and also in/among humanity as part of creation, all created by His own hands.

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In conclusion, consider what the Daily Bread email message sent on 11/28/2022 says,

Philemon 1:1, 2 – To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house (NASB)

Philemon was a Greek convert and was a resident of Colossae (Colossians 4:9). He allowed a Church congregation to meet in his home (Philemon 1:2, 5). Philemon was a wealthy Christian and a minister of the house church that met in his home.

Paul also addressed this letter to Apphia, the wife of Philemon, and the church meeting in their house. The house church or home church is a label used to describe a group of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes.

References to house churches occur within intriguing stories of faith, weaving together colorful glimpses of ancient Christian life (some are Acts 12:12; Acts 16:40; Romans 16:3, 5; Colossians 4:15). There were other house churches not cited in Scripture.

God graced the Temple, Jerusalem, and all of Israel with His presence. But He is not like the statues of pagan idols. His Being is not, and cannot, be contained in or restricted to a single place or specific location (Isaiah 48:13, 66:1; Matthew 5:34-35).

As Christianity spreads, disciples learn they don’t need a temple; like the Samaritan woman at the well, they will worship God in spirit (John 4:21–24). The Apostle Paul said that we, our bodies, are holy temples of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

The attitude of worship and the object of worship matter, not the location.

God does not live in structures made by the hands of humanity. He dwells both above creation and also in/among humanity as part of creation, all created by His own hands.

When households practice faith at home, everyone can grow closer to God. Does your home need to become a house church?

You Can Receive The Daily Bread, for FREE.

To receive the Daily email Bread messages, free on Mon., Wed., and Fri., in your email inbox, just fill in the form below or send an email, asking to be added, to  jmikeh@jmhowington.com  

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