There have been some illusions in recent years that have become internet sensations. Like the dress that was either white/gold or blue/black, or the computer voice that says “laurel” or “yanny.” Now there is the bird or the bunny. Which do you see?
It’s wild how the mind works! It is actually a bird, but you can sure see how it looks like a bunny. Here’s another one. What color are the strawberries?
Red, of course. Right? Well, maybe they seem like the color is slightly washed out, but you can still see the redness. Or can you? The creator of this photo says it is entirely in grayscale. No color whatsoever. Our minds supply the red color because that is what we are used to!
These illusions relate to our divided world, as people see things so differently. Have you ever had the experience where you are talking with someone, and they are describing their viewpoint, and inwardly you are thinking to yourself, “How can they possibly believe that?”
It can be very hard to see things from another perspective. Usually we just hold more tightly on to our own and characterize the other side as a bunch of whackos.
Last week we started reading Paul’s letter to his friend Philemon. As we continue this week, we’re going to discover that Paul sees an issue from a very specific perspective, and he wants Philemon to agree with him. How will Paul help Philemon see another viewpoint?
In verses 1-7 (you can review the five-part series on those verses starting here), we learned that Paul has a lot of really nice things to say to Philemon. While Paul certainly was telling the truth about Philemon, and while he wanted to encourage Philemon, Paul does have another motive going on. He really wants Philemon to identify himself in the ways that Paul has described him. How has Paul identified Philemon? As a person who is deeply committed to Jesus, who loves and encourages “all the saints.” That word “all” in verse 5 is key. Paul wants Philemon to be thinking, “Yeah, that is me. That’s how I am. I love Jesus and I love all his followers, and I encourage all of them.” Why does Paul want Philemon to think that way? Because there was one follower in particular that Philemon had a problem with.
Now read verse 8 to find out where Paul is going with this.
Did you notice how the tone of this passage shifts in verse 8? Paul says, “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do…” Wait. Bold? Order him? What just happened? Paul has spent the better part of the previous 7 verses pouring praise on Philemon. Now here in verse 8 he sounds pretty confrontational doesn’t he? There’s something going on, and Paul is about to spill the details.
Verse 8 stops mid-sentence, so read through the end of Paul’s sentence which continues until about halfway through verse 9.
Paul says that though he could be bold and order Philemon, he’s not going to. Instead he is going to appeal to him on the basis of love. That’s quite an interesting phrase. Paul knows he has authority, because he is an apostle of Jesus, and he could pull rank on Philemon. Whatever is going on, Paul knows he could take the power route. But he doesn’t. He takes the love route.
He still reminds Philemon that he, Paul, could take the power route, and the fact that he reminds Philemon of this stands out to me. Could it be said that Paul is being manipulative here? Someone could say that he spent the first seven verses buttering Philemon up, because he knows that he is about to drop a bomb on him. Or it could be that Paul is just showing tact and wisdom. The same goes for his reference to his position of authority and power that he could wield on Philemon. In all this, I think Paul is being truthful and wise.
Now continue reading from the middle of verse 9.
How about that? Paul calls himself an old man, and he repeats the line he started the letter with, that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Is Paul trying to establish more authority, using his status as an elder? As a prisoner? Is he staying he has street cred? Is he referring to his seniority? Probably all that and more. It is clear that Paul really wants Philemon to do something, to answer his appeal from love.
In Part 2 of this series through Philemon 8-25, Paul will reveal the details of the specific situation he is concerned about. For now, focus your thinking on how Paul has begun his appeal. He wants it to be clear that he is not using a power move, but he is appealing to Philemon based on love. I find that quite instructive and applicable to many situations. Parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, pastors. Anyone who has a measure of authority. How are you motivating the people you lead? With power or with love? Going back to where we started this post, consider the conversations you have with friends and acquaintances in which you are sharing different points of view. How are you communicating? With power or love? There certainly may be times when power is needed, but for Christians, may your use of power always be guided by love. We would do well to make it a practice of asking ourselves, “Am I being loving in this?” Or “Does the person I’m interacting with feel loved?” Even if we have to confront them, we can do so in love. Paul is about to confront Philemon, but take note of how he has communicated love to Philemon first. Paul has laid an extensive groundwork of love in verses 1-7, so that when he gets to the difficult part of the conversation, Philemon will know it comes from Paul’s heart of love. What a great example!