Philemon 1:14

Thursday, 19 July 2018

But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. Philemon 1:14

Paul’s words of the previous verse said that he “wished to keep” Onesimus with him. He then said that this was so that he could minister to Paul on Philemon’s behalf. He was writing as if Philemon’s help was to be conducted through Onesimus. He now says, “But without your consent.”

Obviously, Philemon would not be helping Paul if he didn’t consent to help him. Therefore, he couldn’t claim Philemon’s help without consent. And so without this consent, he says, “I wanted to do nothing.” In the previous verse, the tense of the verb “I wished” was imperfect. That now changes to “I wanted” in the aorist tense. In essence, he was first saying, “I was wishing.” Now he is saying, “I am finally determined.” One could think of him saying, “I had really hoped to keep him with me, but I firmly decide that he must be sent back.” There is a subtle plea for mercy, and then there is the acknowledgment that he must do what is right in order to allow the plea to be granted.

Imagine someone (Mark) having $50.00 that belonged to someone else (Gordon). Mark may need $20.00 for lunch. He could say, “Gordon wouldn’t mind me spending $20.00 for lunch.” Further, Gordon owes Mark a giant debt of another kind. What an incentive to help himself to the small amount of $20.00!

As noted in the previous verse, it may be true that Gordon wouldn’t mind Mark taking the money, but there may be more involved than just whether Gordon minded or not. He may need all $50.00 to pay his car registration. To go spending that money, without specific approval, would be wrong. Further, even if Gordon didn’t mind, Mark’s spending the money without Gordon’s approving it in advance would then deprive Gordon of his right to bless his not-so-clearly thinking friend.

This is akin to what Paul is saying now. “I know that you would be willing to minister to me, and that you would be willing to do so through Onesimus, but I also know that without your consent, it would be inappropriate for me to keep him.” Paul next relays to Philemon exactly what should be relayed from Mark to Gordon, by saying, “that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.”

Paul is doing what is right in all ways with this matter, and yet he is doing it in such a way that it would be the epitome of ingratitude for Philemon to take any other course of action than to respond favorably to Paul’s request. It is a masterful way of having the matter settled in his favor, or showing the true nature of Philemon in the process. Paul is allowing Philemon to be gracious to Paul while still directing him to do the right thing. This is actually similar to how he handled the matter of collection from the church in Corinth for the saints in Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians 9:1-5.

Life application: Using tact is always a good way of leading people to make the right decisions while allowing them the dignity of not looking bad in the process. It is a skill which must be developed, and it should be carefully applied in sensitive matters. Paul was a master at it, and his example will serve us well in related matters, if we will simply take advantage of it.

Lord God, grant us the wisdom to be tactful in how we conduct our affairs with others. Feelings can easily be hurt over what we might think of as minor issues. And so be with us as we interact with others, knowing that we also desire the same respect and care from them over matters which concern us. And because Your word shows us examples of how to conduct ourselves in such ways, grant us the wisdom to read that precious gift daily. To Your glory. Amen.

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