God's word in today's world

Help others to buy in

The book, Philemon, is a personal letter that Paul wrote to Philemon while he (Paul) was in prison. The letter had one aim: Paul wanted to ask Philemon to take back his (Philemon’s) slave who had run away. But wait, let me not get ahead of myself. Paul is still busy with the run up to this request.

Paul is much older than Philemon. Paul is much wiser than Philemon. From the sidelines he has a very different perspective on the interplay between owner and slave. Paul understands Philemon’s side, who is really angry at Onesimus, the slave who had absconded. But he can also see Onesimus’ side, who had repented. Paul wanted to act as referee so that both can emerge as winners on the other side.

As referee Paul has two choices, both of which are correct. Firstly, as the older man, he has the right to force Philemon to take Onesimus back, but that is not the approach that he chooses. He rather takes the sensitive approach:

8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.

Paul does not force himself on Philemon. He doesn’t say he is the boss, do what I say you must do and be done with the rest. No, he takes Philemon by the hand and guides him to make the right decision.

He asks him nicely, no, he actually pleads with him on the basis that both of them love the Lord. Then he adds an additional argument: He points out that he is older and wiser and actually deserves all the respect. Lastly, he adds some emotion and states that he is actually imprisoned on behalf of all who proclaim the Word of God.

However, what we must also understand is that the letter doesn’t just drop out of the air. They have a good relationship and it is based on this relationship that Paul feels he has the right to send such a request to Philemon.

We can learn a lot from this. We must respect the importance of relationships. I can’t just out of the blue go and give advice to my son, wife, friends or whoever, if we don’t have a good relationship. This obviously applies to employees as well. It is only within a safe relationship that I have the “right” to give advice.

But then we must do it in such a way that the other one doesn’t feel threatened and has no say in whether or not to obey the instruction. We must use wisdom to help others buy into decision-making. In that way, the other person takes ownership of the instruction and the outcome will have more meaning for everybody.

A piece of practical advice from Mr. Paul in prison.

Philemon 1:4-7

Who do you have to help?
How do you have to help?
Do you have such a relationship with other people that they want to listen to you?

Lord, I realise I need lots of wisdom when I give advice to others. Please help me to do it as well as Paul. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

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