Philemon 8-16 – “Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you — since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus — 10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” NASU
No matter what Paul thought of slavery he recognized it as a legal reality in his day and always sought to do Right with a right heart and spirit. The matter was Onesimus the slave of Philemon, a believer was the subject of discussion. Paul had encountered this slave while in prison and Onesimus had ministered to Paul giving him immeasurable comfort and blessing. Now Paul addresses the matter with Philemon and asks him to “do the right thing”. Paul does not instruct him to free this slave but to DO WHAT IS RIGHT and that expresses a confidence in God to move on the heart of this fellow believer in a positive manner.
Notice, Paul says, “…though I have enough confidence in Christ to ORDER YOU to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you…” He did not come to Philemon with his gospel guns blazing as we are too often do but based his appeal on LOVE. The love of Philemon for Paul, the love of people, and more importantly Love for God is brought into focus. Paul did the right thing the right way and in that appeal opened the door for the Spirit of God to move on Philemon’s heart and everyone could rejoice. Had he demanded Philemon release Onesimus, Philemon might have done so because of his respect and love for Paul but there would have been a door open for a root of bitterness to spring up and resentment could have taken root. Paul took the path of LOVE and RESPECT and appealed based on Love and Right.
He identified the service Onesimus had provided. He identified the conversion of Onesimus to the faith. He addressed the fact that the slave was a runaway and in that condition and attitude was of no value to Philemon but as a result of his spiritual experience, he was now more valuable than ever. Paul acknowledged the legal rights of Philemon in this matter and although he wanted Onesimus to stay with him he informed Philemon that “without his consent”, which recognized the legal rights, he would do nothing. Then he appealed for Philemon to now regard Onesimus not as a slave but a brother in Christ.
Paul could have said, “Slavery is wrong and encouraged Onesimus to continue his desire to escape.” He could have but instead, appealed to Philemon and Onesimus to Do the Right thing the Right Way. This is not about slavery and its rightness or wrongness, it is about LOVE, RESPECT, and HONORING others. It is about Loving God to the point that in all things and at all times we seek to DO THE RIGHT THING in the RIGHT WAY! In life, we encounter many things that give us the opportunity to DO THE RIGHT THING in the RIGHT WAY. May the LORD help us to manifest Him in all things and at all times. There is much more that could and should be said on this matter but hopefully, this will challenge your hearts to consider those things you do and consider why you do them. Right is right, but right done in a wrong way or with a wrong attitude can be as destructive as wrong. God help us to do right and be right in our attitudes as well as our actions!
God, bless you richly is my desire and prayer!