Day 22 – Thursday
Great Expectations, Pt. 2
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I oppeal to you on the basis of love. I, then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus (Philemon 8-9).
Philemon is a tiny book in the New Testament, just a short letter from the apostle Paul to his friend, Philemon. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, has stolen something from him and run away. Onesimus made his way to Paul, where the apostle led him to Christ and began discipling him. Now, Paul desires to send Onesimus back to Philemon—but this time, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.
As we talked about yesterday, there are people in our lives who just don’t understand God in quite the same way we do. Either they’re not believers, or they may be at a different place in their Christian walk than we are. It can be frustrating when you have great expectations of someone, and they don’t live up to them. How do you handle it when your loved ones continue on in an unenlightened state?
First, you pray. That’s what you always do first. Period. This is what Paul did every time he thought of his friend Philemon, who was still unenlightened enough to own slaves. He prayed. “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ (vv. 4-6).” This is what you should do for these people, before you do anything else.
Second, you communicate effectively. This is what Paul did when he wrote his letter to Philemon. He put everything down in black and white, and had Onesimus deliver the letter with his own hands. You need to communicate effectively with your loved ones, and let them know how you feel.
Third, you keep the main thing the main thing, and don’t be pushy. Many people have wondered why Paul didn’t just come out and tell Philemon that in the light of Christian love, slavery was inconsistent with the Gospel. It would have made things more clear for generations to come, and could have avoided centuries of slavery within the Christian world. But Paul hadn’t set out to abolish slavery—he had set out to preach the Gospel. He believed that where the Gospel flourished in people’s hearts, they would eventually make the right decisions. So rather than abolishing slavery, Paul preached the love of Christ. And in the love of Christ, Onesimus had to be received as a brother, rather than as a slave. Perhaps you have something you would like to share with your loved one. Keep the main thing the main thing, and don’t be pushy.
Fourth, you make your appeal on the basis of love. Paul could have commanded Philemon to set Onesimus free, since Paul was an apostle, and since Philemon owed Paul his very life. Yet, instead of wielding his authority, Paul made an appeal on the basis of love. Do you have authority over the one you’d like to see change? Perhaps the change would take place in the person’s heart with more genuine feeling if you appealed to them in love, rather than forcing change upon them. When they know you love them, they’re more likely to listen than if you force your will upon them.
Finally, you remember to be humble. Paul said, “I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” Rather than using his given name Saul, which reminds you of the Biblical king, the apostle chose to use his Christian name, Paul—which means “small.” He remembered to be humble, even admitting that he was an old man, and a prisoner. Humility goes a long way as you share with someone about how they need to make a change in their lives.
Paul had great expectations of Philemon. He expected him to receive Onesimus back with open arms. This after he had stolen something of value from him (not to mention stealing himself—a valuable slave) and run away! Perhaps you have great expectations of someone you love. Pray for them. Communicate with them. Keep the main thing the main thing, and don’t be pushy. Appeal to them on the basis of love, forsaking authority and choosing peace. Approach them in humility, remembering your own faults and asking God to show you where your life needs to improve, as well. Do these things, and watch as souls are set free from slavery!