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Don’t Force It

Philemon 14-16

500 puzzle pieces were spread out over the table in the front dining room. It was a Christmas gift for my five-year-old granddaughter, Alia, and two cold, rainy days in Texas provided not just Alia, but several members of our family, access to try their hand at putting the pieces together. I loved watching Alia attack the problem. She would take various pieces, turn them several different ways, and push with her thumb to see if she had discovered a match. One thing she’s already figured out is that when it comes to puzzles you can’t force it. The same is true when it comes to getting believers to fit together right in the Church.

Onesimus had been Philemon’s servant, but now in Rome he had become the Apostle Paul’s beloved son in the faith. In his imprisonment Paul needed Onesimus at his side meeting his needs, and his new convert proved to be excellent in this role. So why didn’t Paul just keep Onesimus and tell Philemon, who had also come to faith through Paul, that this is the way things were going to be? 

“But I didn’t want to do anything without your approval, so that any good that you did would not be by compulsion but voluntarily. Perhaps your separation from Onesimus up to this time all happened so that you would receive him back forever, no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother especially to me, but so much more also to you, a brother in the flesh and in the Lord.” 

In the first century slavery was simply accepted as a reality. If Paul would have demanded that Philemon set Onesimus free, the Roman government would have accused him of insurrection and seeking to undermine the peace of the Empire. Paul is far more cunning, not only when it comes to transforming social structures, but also when it comes to getting others to do good not simply because they are commanded to do so, but because they have a heart to do it.

Paul knew that when it comes to getting the pieces of God’s family to fit together right, you can’t just put your thumb down hard and force it. You need to communicate the radical changes Jesus makes when he turns both masters and slaves into God’s children—children who in their human relationships now treat each other as much-loved siblings, not the powerful and the subservient. 

LORD, move your children across social, racial, economic, and language barriers to recognize that our relationship with Christ has caused us to be born into God’s family and we need to treat one another as family. And this needs to flesh itself out in the way that we actually live with each other.

For more from Dave Wyrtzen please visit TruthEncounter.com!