Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Now that Paul has laid the groundwork for his ask, he is now going to appeal to Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in the Lord. Paul begins by asserting his apostolic authority. He writes, “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.” Paul is making a gracious plea for Onesimus. He approaches this subject diplomatically and cautiously and lovingly. It is clear from this text that Paul expects Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ rather than a runaway slave. Paul would rather have Philemon’s consent out of love rather than his obedience.
Paul conveys to Philemon that Onesimus had become like a son to him. He also conveys how useful Onesimus had become to him in his ministry. In verse twelve, Paul appeals once again to Philemon’s heart when he writes, “I am sending him (Onesimus) who is my very heart—back to you.” Paul is asking Philemon to receive Onesimus just as if he were receiving Paul. The fact that Paul says of Onesimus, “who is my very heart,” shows how deeply Paul cared for Onesimus and his wellbeing.
Now Paul inserts a little motivation into his words: “But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.” Once again, Paul is respectfully appealing to Philemon’s authority in the church. We would all do well to learn from Paul’s approach in settling our differences with others.
Then Paul illustrates how God works behind the scenes to bring people to faith and restore relationships. Perhaps God had to send Onesimus thousands of miles away from his master in order to bring him to faith. This also illustrates a measure of irony behind God’s patience and providence.
So, what is Paul requesting? In his commentary on Philemon, F.F. Bruce writes, “Paul’s request is that his friend and convert, Philemon, would receive back his slave Onesimus on a new footing—no longer as a slave but as a fellow-Christian and as a partner in the service of the Gospel to which Philemon, like Paul himself, is dedicated.” Basically, Paul implores Philemon to treat Onesimus as if he were Paul himself.
Questions to Ponder
What can we learn from Paul’s approach with Philemon? What are some ways we can show respect to those in authority? In the church? In our community? In our government? How is God’s hand of providence evident in your life? Do you seek to live your life according to the Golden Rule?
- Thank the Lord for being the one who is faithful in restoration and shepherds so well. Thank Him for providing examples in His Word through Paul and Philemon’s relationship and others in our midst.
- Ask the Lord to reveal to you ways that you can honor and respect the authority that is in our midst, including authority within the home, church, city, and government.
- Start by praying for them. Ask the Lord to grant them wisdom and to bless them with their own walk with the Lord. Pray for protection, godliness, holiness, humility, and wisdom as they lead/shepherd.
- Pray for them to be encouraged and surrounded with believers who will come alongside them to help, breathe life into them, and be a blessing. Pray for yourself and our brothers and sisters at Oak Pointe, that we will be a blessing to Pastor Bob/Shirley, all our pastors and their spouses, leaders, elders, as well as those in our city, state, and country.
- Pray about sending a handful of them an encouraging card or letter thanking them for their leadership.
I love You, my Lord and my God. I worship and praise You, King of Glory and my Redeemer and Friend. Lead me and Your church into Your truth today, Lord. As You have taught us about relationships and about honoring and respecting those in authority over us, I am asking that today and the rest of this week You would empower us to be a blessing back to those in authority in our midst. Give us favor and words of life and encouragement to speak into the leaders in our midst. Surround them now with Your hedge of protection. Watch over them, Lord, I ask by Your Holy Spirit. Father, I pray that You would infill me with Holy Spirit so that today I will live to do unto others as I would want done unto me. Lord, that changes everything. Fill me with compassion, patience, forgiveness, love, hope, and trust for all those in authority over me. Thank You for them, Abba, for they are there because You have put them there. Bless them, Abba, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.