Jump Start # 2933
Philemon 8 “Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I a such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”
Philemon is an interesting book for many reasons. It is one of five books of the Bible that contains only one chapter. It is the only personally directed letter to someone who was not a preacher. Both Timothy and Titus preached. It involves a delicate and personal matter—what to do with a run-a-way slave who has now become a Christian. The letter was carried by the run-a-way as he was returned to his owner, Philemon.
Our verse today identifies a few thoughts that we need to remember.
First, Paul recognized that he could order Philemon to take the slave back. It was in his right and authority as an apostle to do that. The keys of the kingdom was given to the apostles. They did not have the right to do what they felt like. They were guided by Heaven. Taking back the slave was the right thing to do, especially now that he was a child of God. Forgiveness and grace are the platforms upon which our faith stands.
I wonder if we tend to “order” people rather than appeal to love and their heart. This is something that parents need to think about. “Because I said so,” gets really old really quickly. Throwing your weight around because you carry the title of shepherd or elder can be a misuse of your position. It’s the cowboy that drives cows. The shepherd leads. There is a difference. Appeal to love or command as a boss—one might get the same results, but how one achieves those results and how it affects people are not the same.
Second, “do what is proper.” Some things are just the right thing to do. That’s what Paul is looking at. What is the right thing here? It may not be easy, comfortable or even what you feel like doing, but if it’s the proper thing, then do it. Taking the run-a-way back, without crippling him, beating him and sending a message to both the run-a-way and other slaves, may send the signal that the master is soft. Others might get the notion to run. But, what’s the proper thing to do? Now, how about us? You see a piece of paper dropped on the floor. Step over it. Go tell someone else about it. Ignore it. Or, take a moment and pick it up. What’s the proper thing to do? You see someone with an armful trying to get out the door. What’s the proper thing to do?
To do the proper thing is to think of others. It is to go out of your way. It is to be kind, thoughtful and mindful of how you can help others. It’s hard to be a servant of Christ and not do the proper thing.
Third, when we develop open eyes and open hearts we will recognize the proper things to do in life and not have to be told. This starts in the home. Get the little ones learning to work together to pick up toys, clean their rooms. Sure, they will fuss about having to do that. They may complain that their little sister made the mess, not them. But with you helping them, you show them the proper thing to do. This translates to having open eyes to see what needs to be done and not wait to get orders to do it. I have found that so many brethren will jump in and help out if you ask them. That’s wonderful. That’s a team effort. But why is it that nothing will get done until they are asked? If no one asked, no one would have done anything. To get to the point of having eyes to see what needs to be done and then to do it because it’s the right thing is where we are at our best.
Fourth, the powerful example of taking back the run-a-way is much more than a personal and historical story in our Bibles. It is more than seeing a child of God do what he should do. It is a lesson for us. When we have been hurt by others, what is the proper thing to do? You know. But much too often, that’s not our choice. We’ll tell others about what they did. We’ll try to get others on our side and isolate the one who hurt us. We’ll go out of our way to be out of their way. Avoid. Ignore. Shun. Do not include. Isolate. And, much too often we feel that we are in the right about this because they did us wrong. But, what is the proper thing to do? What is it that God would want you to do? But, we scream, that’s difficult, hard and unpleasant. Do you think it was any easier for Philemon to take back Onesimus? What would other masters think of Philemon? The pressure was enormous.
Or, turn this around, and you are the one who gossiped about someone. You are the one who hurt someone. You are the one who did wrong. What if you were the run-a-way? What is the proper thing to do? Onesimus did not know what Philemon would do. Most slaves, if they were not killed, they were severely injured. There were consequences of his running a way. Now the right thing to do was return. And, for you, the right thing to do is apologize. They might get mad, you say. Possibly. That’s a consequence of what you did. They might turn against me and shun me. Possibly. That’s a consequence of what you did. They might never speak to me again. Possibly. That’s a consequence of what you did. You cannot let their possible reaction determine what you should do. What is the proper thing? What is the right thing for you to do? Hard? Yes. Uncomfortable? Yes. Something you feel like doing? No. But it’s the proper thing. It’s the right thing.
Paul said I could command you. I could tell you. But I appeal to you to do what is proper. How is it that you’d want others to treat you? This walk with Jesus can sure get tough, especially when we get off course and fail to do what is right.