“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains” (Philemon 10).
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. However, how does one go about being a peacemaker?
In his letter to a Philemon, we have a good example of how to go about being a peacemaker. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus (cf. Philemon 16) who had escaped from him and, perhaps, also stolen from him (cf. Philemon 18). Onesimus ran away to Paul where he became a Christian (cf. Philemon 10, 16), and began ministering to Paul while Paul was in prison (cf. Philemon 13). Paul did not feel it was right to have Onesimus serving him without Philemon’s consent. Paul acts as a peacemaker as he sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter (Philemon 12-14).
First, peacemakers respect the pain others are feeling from the conflict. Paul did not try to “force” peace upon Philemon. Although he could appeal to his authority as an apostle to try to get Philemon to forgive Onesimus, Paul did not (cf. Philemon 8). Paul wanted Philemon to allow Onesimus to keep serving him while he was in prison, but he did not want Philemon to have act out of compulsion, but to act voluntarily (Philemon 13-14). Being a peacemaker involves giving people time and space to sort through the feelings of pain they are experiencing because of the conflict they are having with another. They cannot be compelled to be at peace. They need to voluntarily choose peace.
Second, Paul appealed to Philemon to act out of love. When we are at conflict with others, we often act out of such ill motives as anger, wrath and even hate. Paul encourages Philemon to take the higher road and to be motivated to act out of love. Paul writes, “Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ-- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains” (Philemon 8-10). Not only do peacemakers not try to force peace, but they encourage the warring parties to be motivated to act out of love.
Third, the apostle helps Philemon to get a proper perspective. Again, when we are having a conflict, sometimes we lose all perspective. We become so focused on the pain we feel with the person with whom we are in conflict that we forget “the big picture”. Paul mentions to Philemon that perhaps God has been at work in this whole situation so that Onesimus may come back to Philemon, not just as a slave, but as a brother in Christ: “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 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” (Philemon 15-16).
Finally, Paul expresses his belief that Philemon will do the right thing. It is interesting to note that Paul does not chastise Philemon in this letter to him. He doesn’t come across as condemning Philemon for the anger he feels. Instead, he gently encourages Philemon. Paul writes, “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Philemon 1:20-21).
Today, I will learn from this short letter of Paul to Philemon that in being a peacemaker I need to have patience with the feelings of others, encourage them to act out of love, help them to regain a proper perspective, and let them know my belief in them to do the right things as they follow Christ!
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).