But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced.
Paul appeals to Philemon to receive back Onesimus even though he had been hurt and betrayed by him. Paul had taken Onesimus under his wing and restored him to integrity and discipleship. The final step of his restoration back into the fold would be reconciliation between him and his previous mentor Onesimus. Paul’s wording here is very specific and intentional. He is honoring of Philemon’s position and aware of the past hurt, but is refusing to let that be a hindrance to the reconciliation that needs to take place. Paul knows that in order for both Onesimus and Philemon to move forward in their walk with Christ they must move forward together. Here’s the key, they must want to want to move forward together. It wouldn’t do any good for Paul to assert his authority and force Philemon to forgive. Forgiveness must be an act of the will and by faith. The key to restoring Philemon’s “want to” is a surrender of his will to the Lord. So, Paul gently and firmly reminds him that we must put generous our actions towards others because everything he has comes from the “good things we have in Christ.” (v6) In other words, our God wants to generously bless us, shouldn’t we want to generously bless others.
Quite a few years ago a lousy movie came out called “The Break Up” with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. It was mostly dismal look at a couple who fell in love and then broke up with very little redemptive or hopeful thought introduced to the narrative. There was, however, a very accurate exchange between the two that sounded eerily close to conversations my wife Cyndi and I have had over our 21 years of marriage. They are getting ready to have company over and Vince is playing a video game while Jennifer is cleaning up in the kitchen. See if you can relate:
“Babe, can you help me with the dishes?”
“Sure… just let me finish this (level, quarter, inning, afterschool special)”
“Please, honey? Let’s just do this real quick and you can get back to your thingy.”
“Ok, just give me a minute.”
“If you help me now, it won’t take as long and you’ll be back before you know it…please?”
“Yeah… why don’t you get started, and I’ll pop in when I’m done.”
“Fine. (sigh) Forget it.”
“No, I’ll be right in, ok?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“No, really, just one minute.”
“Ok fine, I’ll do the dishes…”
“No. I don’t want you to do the dishes.”
“You just said you did.”
[wait for it…]
“I don’t want you to do the dishes. I want you to WANT to do the dishes.”
Guys, at this point, just shut your mouth. This was a Lose-Lose scenario the moment you chose your thing over her thing which is really our thing. The damage is done. You cannot possibly win this argument. It’s true, I’ve never really wanted to do dishes just like Philemon never wanted to see Onesimus again. But what she’s asking is for bigger than dishes.
What God is asking for is bigger than your convenience. She’s asking you to care about her enough to want to make her happy. It’s a big-picture thing that applies to the big things as well as the little things. God was using Paul to challenge Philemon to surrender his will to the Lord, to see the big picture. That when there is reconciliation between two wounded parties the Gospel is made real to them an everyone involved in that fight. Where there was a ‘break up” there is now a breakthrough!
Forgiveness, like doing the dishes, isn’t about whether I feel like doing it or not! It’s about the fact that God has forgiven me through His generous love and I want to show everyone that same generous love. Also, like doing the dishes, it will never be convenient or fit with my schedule or be found in the “top five things I want to do right now”. It’s always at the top of God’s list, so I choose to make it always at the top of mine. Quick to forgive, quick to ask for forgiveness, quick to scrub those dirty dishes like the Lord has scrubbed my heart. Now I want to want to… just don’t tell my wife ;-)
Lord, thank You for your generous love that forgave me. You found me in my most selfish and self-centered and You wanted to die for me anyway. I will never understand this love, but I give my life to show this love. Whether it’s through washing the dishes or reconciling with someone who has hurt me it’s not about me anyway. Not my will, but Your’s be done. Let my “want to” line up with your “want to” in service to others!