As Paul counseled Onesimus (face to face) and Philemon (via letter) he was seizing several opportunities. Read it here and look for the opportunities: http://www.esvbible.org/Philemon/
Paul is given an opportunity to rise above his circumstances. He is in prison when Onesimus comes to him. Paul could have pointed to his own chains and said he was in no position to help. He could have let depression hold him back from ministering to Onesimus. He might have chosen not to write a letter because he thought Philemon wouldn’t listen to a man in prison. Instead, he seized the opportunity and rose above his imprisonment. There are times we must each rise above our circumstances if we are to be all God created us to be. What circumstances hold you back?
Paul became a mentor to both of these men. This much is clear in the wording of the letter. He invested his life into others. He looked for opportunities to share the Jesus-Life with folks. When they weren’t nearby he didn’t give up. He wrote letters and made plans to visit them face to face. Every day, we have the opportunity to pour our life into one-another. Do we see and seize that opportunity or do we focus so much upon ourself that we pass them by?
Paul was willing to inspect what he expected. Any want-to-be leader can ask or demand that a person do something. Paul could have written this letter and then ‘checked the box’ and went on…but he didn’t. He was making plans to go back to Colosse once he was free from prison. Why? To inspect how Philemon handled the situation. To make sure that Onesimus had actually returned home. Anything worth saying is worth checking up on. An old term I learned in business management is ‘MBWA’ - Manage By Walking Around. It means to step up from your desk and look around. You will see what is happening.
Paul was given an opportunity to utilize his Gospel-Centered Relationships and do something hard. He wrote to Philemon whom he knew was a follower of Jesus. He appealed to him to make a God-Pleasing decision in how he could show grace to his former slave. He also challenged Onesimus to do something very hard…to go back to his former master.
A good relationship that is centered on God’s Word is a treasure. However, treasure is meant to be used, not hoarded. If you have a good relationship (or a few) with folks who are followers of Jesus then you should be very thankful. You should also consider how you can maximize that relationship for the benefit of you both and for the Glory of God. Do you feel comfortable challenging one-another to make God-Honoring decisions? Do you appeal rather than command what you think is right? Do you encourage based upon what you have seen? These are the marks of a good relationship.
Lastly, Paul had a remarkable opportunity to pay the price for Onesimus’ freedom. This will be our topic tomorrow.