The Apostle Paul wrote in Philemon verse 7, “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.” This sentence is a perfect example of how a superior should enlist cooperation from those whom he commands. You cannot command anyone unless they cooperate with your commands. Let’s look carefully at this verse to see what method and attitude Paul used in order to get cooperation from Philemon.


First Paul said, “Without thy mind would I do nothing.” In other words Paul did not want something to be done just because Paul said that it should be done. Paul wanted Philemon to have full knowledge of the issue and to fully understand what Paul was thinking about it. This was not a situation of: “Do it because I said so.” Such a situation will never enlist the best efforts of others even if they comply. It is very similar to the concept of positive reinforcement. Why do people do what they do? They do it because they want to do it. People will always put their best effort into something that they want to do.   


The same principle should be applied to child-rearing and to the husband-wife relationship. In the family there are those in authority and those under the authority, but the best situation is when there is a willing cooperation, whether it be that of child to parent or wife to husband. The way for the leader to enlist that kind of cooperation is not to just issue a command, but to use the kind of method that Paul used. Paul said that he did not want to just issue a command.


Paul wanted Philemon to willingly cooperate. Of course, if Paul was correct in his evaluation of a situation, Philemon would come to the same conclusion as long as Philemon had the same information. That was really the reason for this letter. Paul was going to make a request, but Paul was also making sure that Philemon understood the entire situation concerning Onesimus. When people are true fellow-workers, then information is shared. There is open communication. Christianity was not meant to be a religion with leaders in charge of followers. It was meant to be a community of fellow-workers and friends. Jesus said in John 15:15, “Henceforth I call you not servants: for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”   


In verse 15 of Philemon Paul states exactly what had happened, and Paul gives his request for what he is asking Philemon to do. Paul wrote, “For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever.” Onesimus had departed Philemon. In some way Onesimus had run away. He had fled. He had escaped. He probably left at a time when he was needed most. Onesimus was not the first man nor the last man to run away from difficulty or responsibility. But Paul made a contrast between the small period of time that Onesimus was gone and the term “forever” in reference to Onesimus’ return. When anyone returns to the Lord, the Lord receives them forever. Jesus said in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself…” “Christ receiveth sinful men, even me with all my sin.” If Christ receives us, then we certainly should receive each other.


Paul continued telling just how Onesimus should be received and Paul wrote in verse 16, “Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord.” This is a good verse to use to show that the best spirit of the New Testament is against the concept of slavery. Onesimus had been a servant to Philemon, and Onesimus had become a runaway servant; but Paul said that Onesimus should not be treated as a servant but as a brother. The word that is translated “servant” means “slave.” True Christianity changes things, and one of the principle things that it changes is the relationships between human beings. Those who at one time were master and servant should now be brothers because of their common relationship to Christ. 


In Philemon verse 17 Paul wrote, “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” In this verse Paul uses yet another word that shows the unique relationship that Christians should have with one another. The word that is translated “partner” comes from a word that has to do with having things in common. Of course, Christians have things in common. We have a similar past: before we came to Christ we were lost souls. We have a similar future: an eternity in the glories of heaven with our Savior. We have a similar present: to face the challenges of living by faith in a world of woe and disappointment. We really do have all things common. If you are a true Christian, every other true Christian is your partner.


Paul told Philemon that if he was a partner, then Philemon would have the same attitude toward Onesimus that Paul had. We can see from verse 18 that Paul attempted to have the same attitude that Christ has to every one of us. Paul wrote, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” That is exactly what Jesus did for us. Our stripes fell on Him. Our iniquities fell on His account, and His righteouness was credited to our account. What a blessed thing that Jesus did for us. If Jesus the holy Son of God did such a thing for us, then certainly we can do it for each other. True Christianity is based upon the concept of the forgiveness of sins. The people of the world get revenge on those whom they perceive to have wronged them. The followers of Christ forgive those who have wronged them, because they themselves have been forgiven.


The Bible says in Philemon verse 19, “I Paul have written it with mine own hand. I will repay it; albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me thine own self besides.” Evidently some time in the past Paul had done something of tremendous value for Philemon. It may very well be that Paul introduced Philemon to faith in Christ. Once you come to faith in Christ, of course you owe everything to Christ; but you also owe something to the human instruments that God used in your life. Paul counted on the fact that Philemon would have the decency to have the proper gratitude for what others had done or him.


Paul wrote in verse 20, “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord; refresh my bowels in the Lord.” The truth is that all Christians are tied together. What one Christian does affects another. If one is weak, then the others suffer for it. In these last days we see how much Christianity has suffered not from the people of the world, but from those within its ranks. Paul’s joy largely came from other Christians: how they responded and how they reacted to what was happening. When a believer sees other believers serving the Lord and winning the battles of faith, it is encouraging. It brings us joy to see the people of the Lord going forth in victory. But when we see the worldliness of some, and the coldness of others; and when we see the political phonies among the clergy, then we are stricken in our hearts seeing how greatly those who call themselves Christians have failed. When they have used the methods of the world, when they have comprised with their unholy alliances, or when they have caused divisions by their unnecessary quarrels; then we are sorrowful instead of joyful. We are troubled when we think of the victories that could have been won and the work that could have been accomplished in the name of Christ, but was not.


But at least the Apostle Paul knew that in this particular situation the outcome was going to be good. Instead of revenge there was going to be forgiveness. Instead of rejection there was going to be acceptance of the one who had fallen but had now returned. This was the last word that Paul would say about the matter of Onesimus. Paul wrote in verse 21, “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” Paul knew that once everything was explained to Philemon that Philemon would do exactly as Paul wished.


Paul said that he had confidence in Philemon’s “obedience.” The word that is translated “obedience” comes from the same word as the word “to listen.” When you listen carefully to what someone says, and you change what you do because of what they said, then you obeyed. To be good at obedience, you must be good at listening. If you want someone to obey you, do not give them commands. Do what Paul did. Give them information about everything that you think about a particular situation. If they are obedient, they will listen and will end up doing the same thing that you would have done.


In the last four verses of the Epistle of Philemon Paul concludes his epistle. In verse 22 Paul writes, “But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.” In verse 2 Paul had spoken of the church that was in Philemon’s house. Now Paul is asking that Philemon prepare a lodging for Paul when Paul visited. These things show that Philemon was well-to-do, and that Philemon used his material possessions for God’s glory. That is what we all should do. One of the reasons that God gives to you more than you need is not so you can hoard it all to yourself, but so that you will use some of it for the spread of the gospel.


When Paul said, “for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you,” Paul was demonstrating his knowledge that he was totally dependent upon how the Lord worked things out. Paul wanted to visit Philemon and the church in his house and minister to them, but it was not going to happen unless they prayed about it and God arranged things that way. Paul was not in charge. Jesus was in charge. This shows the way that a church should get a pastor, and a preacher should find a congregation: prayer. If prayer is made so that everyone is truly trusting in the Lord’s leading, then God will bring the right preacher and the right congregation together.


Here in the conclusion Paul identified several other individuals who also sent greetings to Philemon. Paul wrote in verses 23 and 24, “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.” Notice that Paul used the same two words to describe these individuals that he used early in the epistle for those to whom he was writing: “fellowprisoner” and “fellowlaborers.” They all had the same status. Paul was not above the others because he was an apostle. They were fellow prisoners because of their common connection to Christ. Their connection to Christ is why the world hated them and persecuted them. They were fellow laborers because they were all involved in the same great work: spreading the gospel of Christ according to His calling and the doors that He opened for each of them.


Finally, Paul wrote in Philemon verse 25, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” This prayer or desire that Paul expressed is extremely important for Christians. We were saved by grace, and we are totally dependent upon the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Ultimately it is not what we do that counts, it is what Christ does by His grace. He must open the doors. He must strengthen us. He must give us wisdom. He must win the battles. Without the grace of Christ, even if something appears to be accomplished by human effort, it is all in vain. Notice that the Bible says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” It is what is inside of you that counts. As long as your spirit is strong, and as long as your inner man is touched by His grace, then nothing will keep you from being what God wants you to be. That is what really counts: who you are on the inside. And that is why Jesus Christ is our everything. We owe everything to Him: even the very person that we are. Because of Calvary, we can hope in His grace. Those who have never tasted of the grace of Christ have missed everything.




Copyright; 2005 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
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