Philemon is a beautiful little letter nestled into the back half of the New Testament. It’s somewhat controversial in that it touches on the issue of slavery, but it’s also been wonderfully challenging for me in its depiction of love. Paul is an old man, writing in the final act of his play, and in the seventh verse he says to Philemon, “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”
That line strikes me as particularly lovely because it’s written from a friend to a friend. This is what friendship is. A friend is a source of refreshment. What does refreshment mean? I think Paul defines it here as a type of love that gives joy and comfort to those near it. A love that comforts. A love that gives joy. That is refreshment that soaks deep into one’s heart. It is refreshment given between those who live together in the family of Christ.
That sort of love is not easily found and it is not easily given. It grows over time as friendship blooms. It can also be found through words on the page. We have no reason to think that Paul ever met Philemon in person. We have no record of Paul visiting Colossae (where Onesimus and, therefore, Philemon lived). Perhaps Paul knew him before Philemon lived there, but it’s at least safe to assume that most of their friendship grew via correspondence. We know that Paul planned to visit Philemon, but we don’t know if that ever happened.
My point is that refreshment can happen face to face or through ink on a page. The wonderful thing about Christian authors is that they never finally die. Their bodies may turn to dust for the moment, but their souls live on and one day we will see them again, flesh and blood. John Calvin is still alive in heaven and his words still exist on paper and so, through his words, I can develop a type of friendship with him. I can be refreshed by his love through his words.
But the other half of God’s people (the ones that are still alive on this earth) can also bring refreshment. We just have to spend time together. That is one of the great benefits of friendship. Friends provide joy and comfort in a world that rations those pleasures out sparingly. And so when we find them and when those friendships grow, it’s refreshing.
Don’t live dry and worn out. Find friendships in dead authors. Find those friendships in living people. Find your refreshment.