10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.
Let’s continue looking at Paul’s letter to Philemon in our study of reconciliation. We previously discussed the wisdom of making an appeal to one of the parties rather than simply commanding unity, but how do we recognize which person to begin with? Paul started with the more wounded person.
Philemon 10 says,“I appeal to you . . .” There’s that word again.“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus.” Now that’s really interesting to me because can you try to imagine what it would be like to get a letter from the apostle Paul? Most people would think it would be fairly cool to get a bona fide letter from the apostle Paul at your house. An amazing piece of mail! Philemon was no different.
So he starts reading it. And he’s like, “He likes me. He’s fired up about me. He remembers me. He loves me. It’s my letter from Paul!” And then he starts digging into the content of the letter. And he’s like, “He’s praying for me. And he wants me to share my faith.” Then he gets to Philemon 8 and he’s like, “But he says he could command me to do what is required . . . and he’s going to appeal to me about something . . . he’s going to appeal to me about . . . ”
But then he gets to this part. And Paul says, “And I appeal to you for my child Onesimus!!!” Philemon could think, “That guy lied to me! That slave stole from me! He ran from me! And Paul doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He should stay out of this! Stop meddling in my affairs!” And the whole picture would change.
So I think the point here is Paul started with Philemon because Philemon is really burdened. Philemon is really upset. Start with the more wounded person.
Wherever Onesimus ran to, he ran into Paul.
And here comes this letter to the more wounded person; to the person who lost the most; to the person who gave up the most. Paul starts with him. So do that, too.
Gently appeal instead of a requiring agreement.
Start with the more wounded person.—James MacDonald
Prayer – Father, it’s amazing to me that life 2,000 years ago isn’t so different from now. People were hurting other people then in very similar ways as today. Thank You for Your Word that gives me direction in handling situations like conflict between people I love. Give me Your words and wisdom as I reach out to those that are hurting as You lead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.