The Appeal of God
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. 8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might 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.
17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
As I get around our congregation and we sometimes talk about the future and our directions for St Petri; about God’s mission here in Nuri and about re-engaging people in church and worship, the conversations sometimes focus on the practice of witnessing – sharing our faith in Jesus with people.
I am not sure there is another topic in the church that creates more lack of confidence, feelings of inadequacy and guilt than “witnessing”. Somehow we all seem to think it is about the right words, the wrong words, and that we are failing …. I don’t believe any of that!
Today in this really interesting little “book” of the bible, all 335 Greek words of it, we get some real help in just being ourselves and using a particular way of bearing witness to our life in Christ that really is helpful.
In this short letter we hear Paul appealing to his friend, Philemon, out of love, rather than demanding something from his friend out of control and superiority. Here we are given a gift for our own witness to Jesus among others….. The way of appeal, not demand.
But first, the pressing issue….
Paul writes this personal appeal to Philemon on behalf of a slave who has done a runner on Philemon, his owner. The slaves name is Onesimus.
To Philemon, this Onesimus is useless and worthy of the harshest treatment under the law of the day. Now apparently, in the Greco- Roman world of the 1st Century, around 35-40% of the population was enslaved. As property of their masters, slaves were often considered animated work tools. They had no rights. They were often abused and could be dismissed on a whim when too old or if sick – and of course, there was no Centrelink or Medicare assistance on which they could rely!
Most importantly for our understanding of Paul’s approach here, the slave owner (Philemon) would be well within his rights to kill the runaway slave. The stakes are high – life and death for Onesimus!
Now to Paul, Onesimus has become an important and much loved co-worker in the gospel.
10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.
Hasn’t Paul changed a lot! Remember, Paul was brought up in the tradition of the Pharisees. He was a man of demand. Indeed, he was brought up to control and manipulate people with the law. When that didn’t work, he employed physical and political force (Acts 9). He was the man who held the cloaks of those joining in the stoning of Stephen outside Jerusalem and the man who went from house to house imprisoning Christians!
His natural way surely would have been to either, manipulate and control Philemon by stealth, or use demand and even threat to get him to take this runaway slave back.
He uses neither. Instead of the way of demand, he uses the way of appeal.
10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus
The way of appeal – What is it?
First of all Paul respects the person in the conversation. He shows respect for Philemon and affirms him as a person.
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,…..
Paul also respects the community of which Philemon is a part. Philemon is probably a leader of some wealth in the Colossian church that gathers in his own rather large house.
2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church (community) in your house:…..
Paul trusts that Jesus is in this conversation.
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
He says what he says and does what he does not in his own authority or will but in the authority and grace of Jesus. This conversation is one in which Jesus is present and active.
And here is the real heart of witness:
Paul appeals to love not demand
Paul says he could be bold enough to demand – he has authority as an Apostle and founder of the Colossian church to make demands, but he decides to appeal to Philemon as a brother in fellowship with Jesus, out of love.
…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love
How can a man who was brought up to misuse the law to control and manipulate people into his way of religion and then employ violence when the control and manipulation did not work, now in a very serious situation choose the way of appeal in the name of love – and all for a runaway slave, a man of no rights, no consequence to the world and clearly in the wrong?!
Because he knows the blinding love of Jesus of Nazareth who took him in while he was a raging enemy of God and the gospel!
Paul knows that even though he was a very keen religious person wanting others to be like him in his religious observances, he is a sinner, a person naturally opposed to God’s grace – disobedient to the core, loveless to a tea. He knows his own lostness in self-importance, self-righteousness, being prone to opting to control others and get his own way by stealth or out and out force.
But he knows that while he was all of this, Jesus was the One who took him in through Ananias and the Jerusalem congregation. God loved him through his people and gave him a new heart of love, and new mission – to be a bearer of the gospel of Jesus to a world in need.
What has changed this man? Jesus’ love and grace has changed this man.
Friends, our witness is NOT demand by force or control by stealth
Witness to Jesus is the way of appeal. The way we speak and act in our relationships alone and together as a God’s people in mission is this way of appeal, not demand.
- We respect people
- We respect people’s community and background.
- We enter into conversation trusting that Jesus is the third person in the conversation.
- We do what we do and we say what we say in his power and in his grace.
- We speak in love, not judgement or hate or disrespect.
I think I learned this way of appeal rather than control and demand working in a school.
Every week, three times a week, kids from ages 5 to 17 would file into the worship space of our new Lutheran K-12 college in a very non-Lutheran area and have to sit through a chapel service.
For the non church kid – of who 85% of the school were, it was another world!
I found myself asking how we as Christians who run the school bear faithful witness to the grace and love of God given in Jesus to these kids and these largely non-churched staff listening in.
I soon figured out that any hint of demand or manipulation or mounting a fine argument for Christianity just fell to the ground.
One day I remember saying as we began, “Today you do not have to pray, sing, listen or believe anything that is said in Chapel, but if the person next to you wants to pray or sing or listen, we just ask that you allow that”. The relief in the room was palpable.
We had moved in an instant from demanding belief and religious observance to appealing to love, like Paul; from demanding to giving an invitation, from controlling to offering a gift that we knew could very well be treated with disdain.
Those chapel services became little offerings of grace – the Christian community offering a gift of grace, and simply asking people to have a think about Jesus. Because we did not demand anything (except that they be there) they seemed a lot happier to be there – generally anyway! There were more ears listening than ignoring most of the time.
Friends, I am convinced that at St Petri, this our best way forward in our conversations with so many who are switched off to church, faith, the possibility of God’s grace being active in their lives.
This way of appeal to the love of Christ is our authentic way of being who we are as the bearers of the good news of God’s grace freely given in Jesus Christ out of love for those with whom we live. It is our best way forward as we take on the challenge to recalibrate our mission focus in these next few years.
We have no need of demand church attendance, religious observance, maintaining moral lifestyle or demanding that people “be like us”. If we go down that road, our words and actions will crash and burn to the ground in these secularising and cynical times.
But, we do have every authority to appeal the Jesus Christ’s love for people – telling his story and our story in him in our own words, not to control or manipulate or demand a faith response, but to invite a conversation, appeal to the love we have in us in Christ and for the ones with whom we are speaking.
That is the story to tell. They are the words to speak and actions to match.
Not demand but appeal.
Share your experiences with that word “witnessing”. What feeling does it bring to the surface for you?
Share an experiencing of witnessing that you have had that went well, and one that did not go so well.
What do you think about this statement: “We Christians/Lutherans have often viewed witnessing as demanding something from people rather than giving a good gift to people”.
In your experience, what happens when you use demand to get your way rather than appeal? (See verse 14 especially)
Read through Philemon noting the uses of the words love, and appeal and the like.
Think about and share the summary of Paul’s basic line of appeal with Philemon. What is Paul saying to Philemon in a nutshell?
Now transfer that line of appeal to a conversation with a non-church or disconnect from church person you know.
What words would you say in your appeal to faith with this person?
Try a few different ways of making an appeal to Jesus’ love.
Maybe make a group one (write an appeal you could say to a non-church friend along the same lines as Paul does here about Onesimus to Philemon.
Do you think that this way of appealing to the love of Jesus can be effective in our everyday witness to Jesus’ love? If so, how can you engage in this kind of conversation more often? What stops you from using this kind of appeal to Jesus’ love as you sometimes speak about matters of faith?
Lord, we remember the people we know who cannot or will not hear of your love for them and we pray for them now…..(you could mention some names out loud of silently…..)
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