Philemon 1:14 ESV but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.
Motives matter. Paul wrote this letter to Philemon about Onesimus, a slave (indentured servant) that had stolen from Philemon and ran away to Rome. While in Rome Onesimus meets Paul and becomes a Christian. He then begins to help Paul and is being discipled. It’s a great working relationship, Onesimus is growing in the Lord and Paul has an assistant. But there is a problem, Onesimus’ past can’t be left in the past. He is still unreconciled to his former boss and he legally owes him for everything he had stolen. What to do?
Paul had a choice on what to do. He could have sent a letter presuming that it was okay for Onesimus to serve as Paul’s helper in Rome. He was an apostle, the polite thing to do would be to let the matter go. If he did that, Philemon might feel like his hand was forced in the matter and be a little bitter. Onesimus also wouldn’t have an opportunity to really address his past sins and how they affected others. He wouldn’t really be reconciled to Philemon. And Philemon wouldn’t really be given an opportunity to forgive Onesimus and demonstrate grace.
So rather than opting for the practical, ends-justify-the-means, pragmatic logic, Paul goes for the uncomfortable, but right approach. He sends Onesimus back, giving Philemon an opportunity to forgive him and send him of his own free will. It gives Onesimus an opportunity to look his former employer and man he stole from, in the eye and ask for forgiveness. It gives Paul an opportunity to honestly ask for assistance in the form of a helper from Philemon’s estate known as Onesimus.
Motives really matter. Sometimes to grow in our relationship with Christ we need to embrace the difficult steps of doing the less pragmatic, but right thing. We may need to address sin in our lives that has affected others. We may need to ask help and assistance in non-manipulative ways. We may need to simply offer forgiveness and entertain the pleas of those who have hurts us. We don’t really know how the rest of this drama unfolded, but we do know that because Paul didn’t cut corners that He, Philemon and Onesimus all had an opportunity to grow in Christ because of it.
Father, thank you for the grace to address one another. Show us how to handle our past sins and seek repentance and reconciliation. Give us grace to forgive those who have sinned against us. Show us how we can honor you in how we deal with others. Thank you for how the gospel transforms every area of our live. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.