Paul makes an appeal to the heart of Philemon

When you know that the decision will be tough, how do you make the appeal to someone else?  How do you convince them that one way is the best way?

The first post in this series introduced us to the Paul, Philemon and Onesimus. (Click here to read it).

For a quick recap:

  • Paul was first introduced as Saul — a man who wanted to destroy the church.  He meets Jesus on the road to Damascus and his life is changed forever.  Saul becomes Paul who becomes arguably the greatest Christian missionary and church planter ever.
  • Philemon is an friend that Paul made along the way in his journey.
  • Onesimus was a servant of Philemon who ran away. Under the law, Onesimus faces a severe penalty.

Paul attempted to reconnect with Philemon in the previous verses.  Now, however, he is trying to make an appeal to his friend — an appeal on the behalf of Onesimus.

8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to command you to do the right thing, 9 I would rather appeal to you through love. I, Paul—an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus— 10 appeal to you for my child Onesimus. I became his father in the faith during my time in prison. – Philemon 1:8-10

Paul is faced with a difficult situation and task.  In this letter, Paul is making an appeal to Philemon, the master, on behalf of Onesimus, a servant who has run away.  Onesimus has committed a crime under the law and Philemon has the right to seek punishment against him.  It’s a tough situation.  Philemon and Paul metin Colosse and Paul introduced Philomen to faith and to the church.

Notice how  Paul begins.  Paul knows that he is in a place to make a demand. He could simply tell his friend that this is what I want you to do and how I want you to do it. Let’s just be honest — statements along those lines can sometimes make us cringe.  Sometimes they lead us to act in guilt, obligation or even with reluctance.  Actions based on these types of commands feel forced and less than genuine.

But Paul doesn’t use that authority.  He goes in a completely different direction.

“I could tell you what to do, but I’d rather you make that choice yourself.”  In Paul’s particular situation, it is an appeal to the heart of Philemon.  

For Paul, the appeal to the heart is always the strongest approach in any situation. It’s the way that God moves and the way that Christ acts.  When we act in love, we reveal our heart for Christ. 

Think about the contrast of this situation.  Paul is in a prison and he’s probably being commanded to do many things (and definitely not out of love.)  In Paul’s situation, he choices not to be the authoritarian.  Instead, he gives Philemon a chance to buy into the siuation, to see it from his own perspective, to think about the options.  

Why does Paul make the appeal this way?  Maybe it’s simply because Paul understand Philemon and know Philemon and believes that Philemon will come to the same conclusion that Paul has.  In fact, Paul is so confident that Philemon will see it this way that he refuses to command Philemon to do it.

Maybe there’s an opportunity for all of this.  

The challenge for today:  Where are situations that you can appeal to the heart of another instead of simply commanding someone to do something?  How would that change situations you face and the relationships you have?

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