Saturday, 14 July 2018
…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— Philemon 1:9
Paul, having built his case concerning the command he could make, now completely changes the nature of such an appeal. Instead of a rightfully stated command, he says, “yet for love’s sake.” For Paul to command Philemon concerning the weighty matter which he will speak of might then put up a wall of resentment between the two. Though he has not yet stated his request, it is obviously something of great importance, and which could possibly be a burden of great measure on Philemon. Rather than imposing such a burden, he instead appeals to Philemon’s love, towards Paul and towards their common faith in general. This is then fully revealed in the words, “I rather appeal to you.”
From what could be commanded, Paul instead appeals based on love. Instead of a wall of enmity, he is looking for a holy kiss of fellowship. Instead of taking what could be taken, he asks for that which could be denied. Paul is placing his request back under Philemon’s authority, chancing that it may be turned down, but counting on it being granted – even to over and above what he hopes for (coming in verse 21).
Having stated that what he desires is a request based on love, he then continues to lead Philemon’s decision, providing words that would make it a cold-hearted gesture to refuse. He does this by stating two huge limitations which are placed on his own life. First, he says, “being such a one as Paul, the aged.”
It is unsure how old Paul was at this time. The only real clue is the word used to describe him in Acts 7:58, translated as “young man.” It signifies a man in his prime, even up to the age of 40. If he was 20, he might now be about 50. If he was 40, he might now be about 70. The facts concerning Paul’s life, as revealed elsewhere in the New Testament, mean that he would be old even if only 50. He had lived a hard life from the day he met Christ, and his body would bear the pains associated with that. It would be that much more so if he were now 70. No matter what, the appeal to his age is one which will make it difficult for Philemon to turn down. But then Paul adds in more; something he has written about frequently over the years, and which is his sad state once again. He says, “and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ…”
He had obviously been free when he was with Philemon, but now he was imprisoned. All people in the empire would know what that meant. It would be a weary existence, cramped and dirty living, painful cold, tormenting heat, and constant deprivation. Those in prison were dependent on others for their very food. Whatever Paul’s request is, he has tied his advanced age in with his miserable conditions, and he is basing it on Philemon’s love. How could Philemon turn down his request and be considered a true and faithful brother in Christ? One can now see why Paul so carefully highlighted the positive attributes ascribed to Philemon by others in verses 4-7. Was such a record true or not? His response to Paul’s coming request would reveal the truth or falsity of those reports.
Life application: How do people speak of you in your walk with Christ? If you feel you have a good record of service, or at least faithfulness in Christ, will you respond according to that record when a true need is asked of you by another brother in the Lord? This doesn’t mean that we need to respond to every request. It is obvious that people prey upon churches and individual Christians. But when true needs arise, are you going to be a part of meeting them? Be as ready to meet the challenge as you were to accept the praises for your life in Christ in the past.
Lord God, there are always needs brought before Your people. Some are by sharks who simply want to prey upon us because we are Yours. But there are many true needs which must be met, and which we may be asked to help with. Are the good words spoken about us in the past concerning our faith and generosity going to be met with deeds comparable to those accolades? Help us in this Lord. Grant us wisdom in who we should give help to, but grant us a generous heart when we give. To Your glory. Amen.