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. 12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. (Philemon 8-14; NKJV)
In considering this text, do you see the awesome and powerful demonstration of leadership by Paul and made possible by the tremendous followership of Philemon?
We have established this is a tough ask Paul is making of Philemon in receiving Onesimus…a slave of Philemon who has run away and is not profitable. With that in mind, consider the fact that Paul does not command Philemon and he never uses the words “forgive” or “reconcile”. What Paul does is “appeal” to Philemon’s character to “receive” Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Paul knows that Philemon understands this is only possible if he forgives and they are reconciled. Paul is encouraging Philemon to put his faith and love into action and to further refresh the hearts of the saints.
Why didn’t Paul command him? I cannot say for certain but I understand the power and joy in others doing the right thing because they choose to rather than because they are told or command to. I understand the tremendous catalyst of choice. I have responsibility of leadership in my life whether it is with a colleague, an employee, a child, a spouse, a brother/sister…God has given me specific commands and responsibilities to lead. Do you see that? God has given me a work to do (responsibility) and I am accountable to the outcomes of that leadership work…and though the authority is implied…the focus is on the responsibility and the expectation is that I fulfill that responsibility as a Christian who emulates Christ Who is love! Love in the case of Christ is “choice”! The catalyst!
Leadership is a result of a cultivated relationship of trust, understanding, and mutual respect which provides the foundation for leading or influencing others towards a common purpose and work. Paul cultivated this relationship with Philemon. Philemon demonstrated his heart through his fruit. Paul trusted the faith and love of Philemon and Philemon trusted Paul’s leadership.
This is what is so awesome in this scenario. No barking orders. No insecurity. No resentment. All of these are opportunities for Satan to place a wedge and start working a relationship apart. The more people involved, the more opportunity and this is why leadership is so very important! Choosing the assume the best of another provides the opportunity for them to exceed your expectations and reduces the opportunity for Satan to divide.
Paul’s letter is all about the need to forgive and how to go about forgiveness. Paul’s approach is all about trust in Philemon’s character because of Philemon’s actions and fruit. This is a pattern worth evaluating in our own lives. If a brother or sister has demonstrated love and faith then we can assume the best of them and that they will demonstrate love and faith now and in the future. This should provide us with a confidence in each other and relieve the need for “orders” or “commands” but rather open opportunity for encouragement, increased opportunity to serve, and growth.
Forgiveness and reconciliation is a hard work that has to be voluntary for everyone. We can lead others through forgiveness and reconciliation if we first trust and provide opportunity for reconciliation rather than command that we forgive. Jesus chose us. Lets choose each other!