As Pastor, there are many opportunities to minister as mediator in the lives of others. Disputes can take place within the pastor’s family, or within church member’s families, or even within the church assembly as a whole. In many cases, the Pastor is looked to as the individual that is best equipped to bring the disagreeing parties to peace.
Although mediation has become more frequently used in today’s time, mediation has been used throughout history as an avenue leading to peace. Even in Bible times we find many examples of mediation taking place.
In our blog entry today, we will be looking at an example of mediation being performed by the Apostle Paul. Let’s see what we can learn about the act of mediation and the Biblical principles that should regulate all acts of mediations….
For this study the entire book of Philemon will be our text. Philemon is a very small New Testament book found between the books of Titus and Hebrews. If you are like me, when I was starting to study the Bible, I used to confuse Philemon with the book of Philippians. Philemon is made up of only 1 chapter and has three main characters. It is extremely important to understand these three characters for us to get a clear picture of the content, and teachings, of the book of Philemon:
- Philemon – He was a very rich man, a Christian, and a beloved acquaintance of the Apostle Paul. He owned servants and loved them and cared for them as if they were members of his family. Possibly, Philemon was saved under the ministry of Paul.
- Onesimus – He was a spiritually lost individual who is described as an “unprofitable” servant of Philemon. Perhaps, he had stolen from Philemon; perhaps, he was a slacker; or maybe, he was a complainer, stirring up trouble among the other servants; we cannot know for sure. He had illegally run away from Philemon. During his flight, he met the Apostle Paul. Under Paul’s ministry, Onesimus had been saved and desired to go back to Philemon and serve under his authority once again.
- Apostle Paul – Paul takes upon himself the ministry of mediation between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul writes the letter of Philemon, asking His beloved acquaintance (Philemon) to accept Onesimus back and forgive him of any wrongdoing Onesimus had committed against Philemon.
In our study today, we will find many different aspects to Paul’s mediation techniques that set him apart from the mediators of today…
1-3) Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy [our] brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, And to [our] beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s greetings to Philemon and the church that met in his house. Throughout Paul’s writings we find him wishing other Christians to have grace and peace. (Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Col 1:2 etc) It is as if this was Paul’s “signature” greeting. If we have experienced the Lord’s grace in our hearts, and if we have peace and communion with Him we are being blessed indeed.
4-7) I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
Philemon’s testimony of faithfulness and service to the Lord had reached the ears of Paul. Here, Paul is thanking Philemon for his faithfulness and trusting the Lord to give Philemon fruits for his faithful labor (“that the communication of thy faith may become effectual”). Paul also tried to encouraged Philemon to continue his faithfulness by explaining how Philemon was a blessing to others.
Paul, now, begins his ministry of mediation on behalf of Onesimus….
8) Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,
Mediation principle number #1: We must always make sure that our mediation is upholding the principles of God’s Word. We should NEVER lead others to act, or make agreements that of against the Word of God.
First, Paul reminds Philemon that Paul has a Biblical basis for commanding Philemon to forgive and accept back Onesimus. Paul makes it clear that he could pressure Philemon to forgive.
Here, the word “convenient” is translated from a Greek word meaning “to be proper” or “to be fitting”. As a Christian, it is only proper or fitting for us to forgive others. Since we have been forgiven for so much by our Lord should we not be willing to forgive others for the little they have done against us? (Matt 18:23-35)
9) Yet for love's sake I rather beseech [thee], being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Mediation principle #2: We should always seek a willing agreement to bring peace, not an agreement that is forced or manipulated.
Paul realized that Philemon should not be forced to forgive Onesimus. A forced forgiveness is really no forgiveness at all. To forgive, we must willingly choose to show our compassion to the offender. Paul continues by stating that instead of commanding forgiveness based upon the commands of Christ, Paul is now appealing to Philemon’s love for the Lord, Paul, and even Onesimus. In other words, Paul is asking Philemon to forgive and accept back Onesimus, because Philemon loves Paul and out of appreciation for what Paul has done for Philemon. Paul was asking this favor of his longtime friend Philemon.
10-11) I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
Mediation principle #3: the Mediator must be honest and open with both sides, revealing any “hidden agendas” or relationships the mediator has with either of the two parties.
Paul makes clear that he is working on behalf of Onesimus. Please notice Paul was “up-front” with Philemon telling him of Onesimus and the purpose of his writing to Philemon.
Mediation principle #4: the Mediator should only speak using information he knows is true. He should not use information based upon assumptions, nor guesses, when he is trying to bring the two parties to peace.
Paul then makes it plain that Onesimus has changed. The one who used to be an unprofitable servant was now profitable as a aide of Paul’s, and would be profitable to Philemon if he accepted him back. Paul knew this from his experiences with Onesimus. Paul knew that Onesimus had changed and, therefore, would be profitable to Philemon.
12 - 13) Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:
Mediation principle #5: the Mediator should willing to live under the same agreement that he is asking the parties to agree to. If the Mediator isn’t willing to live under either side of the agreement there is a question whether the agreement is fair or not.
Paul tells Philemon that he would be willing to accept Onesimus as his servant. He sincerely believed that accepting Onesimus back would be of benefit to Philemon. If Philemon refused to accept Onesimus back, Paul would be glad to fill Philemon’s role as master of Onesimus.
14) But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
Mediation principle #6: the Mediator must take into account the legal, and moral, rights of both parties of the dispute.
Paul did not simply allow Onesimus to stay with him and serve him. Paul recognized that Philemon had the legal, and moral, right to Onesimus. So Paul sent Onesimus back to his rightful owner,Philemon.
15 -17) For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
Mediation principle #7: The Mediator should seek an agreement that allows both parties to benefit. Their purpose should be to accomplish the purposes of both the parties of the disagreement.
Paul had previously said that, if Philemon accepted Onesimus, he would benefit from Onesimus’s service. Paul now makes sure that if Onesimus is accepted back, it will be for Onesimus’s welfare also.
Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus, not as a servant, but as a physical and spiritual family member. After all, Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul were beloved of God, they were saved and all a part of God’s family. As spiritual brothers they should be loved of one another as well.
18) If he hath wronged thee, or oweth [thee] ought, put that on mine account;
19) I Paul have written [it] with mine own hand, I will repay [it]: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.
Mediation principle #8: A Mediator should be unselfish and willing to make sacrifices to make bring peace between the two parties.
In this case, Paul was willing to repay any debt that Onesimus owed to Philemon, if the debt stood in the way of Philemon accepting Onesimus back. Paul was being very gracious to both parties; to Onesimus (Paul was willing to pay the debt Onesimus had incurred); to Philemon, because He was willing to pay Philemon (even though Philemon owed Paul his very life). Paul certainly was willing to “bend over backwards” to see this attempt at mediation be a successful attempt.
20) Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
Mediation Principle #9: Mediation should not simply “a job”, it should be looked upon as a calling, and an opportunity to glorify the Lord through the mediator’s actions
Paul recognized this mission of mediation had spiritual repercussions. Seeing Onesimus with Philemon, would bring joy and spiritual strength to Paul, knowing that he had successfully obeyed the Lord and fulfilled His will for the life of Paul.
21) Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.
Mediation Principle #10 – The Mediator must always approach the mediation with a positive attitude, believing that both parties will sincerely negotiate and, in the end, do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
Paul knew Philemon and trusted him to do what the Lord desired of him. Paul believed that Philemon would be willing to go above and beyond to please his Lord and be kind and gracious to Onesimus the disobedient servant who was in need of forgiveness and grace.
22) But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
23) There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;
24) Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
25) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit. Amen.
Paul then closes his letter to Philemon, making preparations to visit Philemon soon and see him face to face.
Not only is Philemon a wonderful book illustrating many principles for Scriptural mediation, nut more importantly, it also presents to us a picture of Christ’s mediation before the Father on behalf of sinful mankind. In our next blog entry, we will be studying this aspect of the book of Philemon. May the Lord be blessed in your study of His Word.
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