The apostle Paul really knew how to handle conflict.
Just look in the book of Philemon. This book is a very personal letter from Paul. It concerns Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon, his master in Colossae. Onesimus ended up in Rome, possibly hoping to become anonymous in that large city. But he just so happens (really? God’s sovereignty at work!) to run into Paul, and became a believer in Jesus as Messiah.
Paul then writes Philemon to apprise him of the situation, and sends the letter to Colossae via Onesimus! It seems that Paul was sending Onesimus to his death. According to Roman law, Philemon could have Onesimus executed for running away.
Save for one thing.
I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love…Philemon 9a CSB
Paul, as an apostle and also a leader in the church, could have commanded Philemon to take Onesimus back (Philemon 8). He could have easily pulled rank on Phil. But he didn’t. Paul let love rule the day.
Philemon is a fellow brother in Christ. Now remember, this is the early church, so everyone is a new Christian. Paul sent Onisimus back as an example of what is right, an example for Philemon to follow. Paul was hopeful, based on Phil’s love and faith, that he would do the right thing.
Paul knew that the church in Colossae had been refreshed through Philemon (v7). He knew that Philemon had experienced the love and forgiveness of Christ in his own life. And Paul knew this: the more you know and experience Christ, the more you want to share what you have received.
Philemon had received forgiveness, freedom and love. Out of that overflow, Paul was confident that he would extend the same to Onisimus.
Paul also remind Philemo that Onesimus is useful to them both (v9). Again, this is the early church. Paul and the church leaders needed fellow workers.
“…the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37
Paul didn’t appeal to Philemon as a superior (an apostle of Jesus), nor did he appeal to him on the basis of slave versus free. Paul appealed to him in light of eternity. He knew more workers were needed to spread the gospel, the good news. Paul knew more souls needed saving. And isn’t that the kind of love we should all have?
“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14
Grace and peace to you,
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