Philemon 1-11 – “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. 8 Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you — being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ — 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.” NKJV
We know from previous readings and studies that Paul received significant ministry from the runaway slave Onesimus who belonged to Philemon, a believer and fellow laborer in the cause of the Kingdom. There are many lessons here and one is how to make an appeal without overstepping your authority or sounding self-righteous.
Paul identifies himself as a prisoner of Jesus and referred to Philemon as a ‘friend’ and ‘fellow laborer’. He identified others in the church that Philemon was a part of and called them ‘fellow soldiers’. He blessed their work and their house and informed them of his frequent and continual prayer for them and the success of the work they were conducting as well as their love, liberty, and charity.
Paul then informs Philemonthat while he could issue a directive based on Scripture and the Word of God, he chose to offer an appeal as a friend and fellow laborer in Christ out of love. He then made his appeal for Onesimusand detailed his ministry and value to Paul in Paul’s time of suffering.
His plea included the assertion that while Onesimus may have been unprofitable, disgruntled, and dissatisfied causing him to run away he was now a member of the Body of Christ, and if his lot was serving as a servant he would do so with his heart and be the best servant possible. Paul was appealing for Onesimus to be received not just as a servant but as a brother in Christ.
While I cannot personally fathom using anyone as a slave, we have slavery in so many ways in life and justify it. I’ve seen husband-wife relations where one or the other is a virtual if not literal slave and abused enormously if they try to break free. I’ve seen employer-employee relationships where the employee was a virtual slave with constant threats as to their future if they did not toe the line.
I’ve seen the political world where citizens are virtual slaves forced to bow to the whims and wishes of an all-powerful government. I’ve even seen it in churches where either the pastor or the congregation were ruled by tyranny and made virtual slaves. None of that is God’s desire, in my view but if we approached each other as members of the Body of Christ regardless of our social, political, economic, or relational status we would find a much more productive working relationship.
If we would learn to appeal as friend to friend, brother to brother rather than issuing decrees we would find a much more productive situation. Therefore, as you go through your day go know that you are representing the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and respond to those things you encounter with that view in mind.
May the rich and bountiful blessing of our Lord be upon you!