Monday, April 2, 2012

"Why is Paul So Pushy?"

I have a 3 year old, so I know pushy.  The other day Sarah would have nothing to do with me.  It was an "I Love Mommy" day.  Then, all at once, everything changed.  I sat down on the couch for the evening, turned on a favorite show, and popped the top of a delicious mouthwatering can of Mountain Dew.  

The next thing I know my breath was knocked out of me as Sarah ran and jumped on my gut.  She took her two grubby paws and grabbed my cheeks and she said, "Dad . . . you my best friend."  I knew what that meant!  It meant, "Dad . . . that Mountain Dew looks good; give me some!!"  But . . . how can you say, "No," to your 3 year old best friend?

I am just wrapping up preaching through Philemon, and I still have one question that is nagging at me. I haven't answered it for myself satisfactorily.  Is Paul's pushiness something that we should imitate today or not?  Let me take a moment to clarify. 


The first word that actually comes to my mind is manipulative, but I have since discarded that word as too much for how Paul is acting here. You might still like that word and I wouldn't blame you. 

Paul is urging his friend, Philemon, to forgive his runaway slave and perhaps even to free him.  He gives him 8 reasons why he should do it:

Welcome And Forgive Onesimus (17) . . . BECAUSE . . . 

1.   . . . He became a believer (8-10)
2.   . . . He served me (11)
3.   . . . I have grown to love him (12)
4.   . . . He took your place serving me (13-14)
5.   . . . He is now your brother (15-16)
6.   . . . You can charge his debts to my account (18-19a)
7.   . . . You owe me one (19b)
8.   . . . You have to keep up your reputation (20-22)

Paul uses every technique he can to twist Philemon's arm.  For instance, he not only writes this letter to Philemon, he also writes it to his wife (Apphia), his pastor (Archippus), and to the entire church that meets in their home!  That means that this little letter would not only be read by Philemon, but also his entire spiritual family.  Paul does that to put even more pressure on Philemon to make the right choice. 

He also tells Philemon that he could command him to forgive Onesimus, but he would rather Philemon choose to do so on his own. 

And . . . finally, he promises to pay any debt that Onesimus owes Philemon. However, he wants Philemon to remember that he owes Paul.  Paul reached beyond his comfort zone and shared the gospel with Philemon and his life was changed forever. He owes Paul his salvation. The least he could do was forgive Onesimus.

So . . . Paul grabs Philemon's arm and twists it almost to the point of breaking it.  By the end of this letter, there is no decision that Philemon could make except the right one.  

Now . . . I think Paul did the right thing.  Philemon apparently needed to be pushed.   I am just wondering if this is the style of persuasion that we should use today.  And by we . . . I of course mean me.  Should I push this hard on people to live out the gospel?  I am not going to lie.   I have been this pushy before, occasionally.  But, on average, I am not this pushy.  I try to persuade people to do the right thing and to live the kingdom, but I also try to give them the space to make the choice for themselves.  

The tentative conclusion I have come to is that this is just Paul's style.  Paul's style doesn't have to be my style.  I think we often hold up one person who has a certain personality and gift set and say that everyone should be just like this person.  I have the spiritual gifts of shepherding and teaching; others have the gifts of evangelism, still others have the gifts of service.  God has created and gifted each of us uniquely. 

It wouldn't be right for me to suggest to the evangelist that he is shallow and only focuses on the gospel and needs to begin to grow people better.  Neither would it be right for him to say to me that you are too inward focused and that I need to sharing my faith with my dental hygienist.  We are uniquely designed by God differently, each of us with our own gifts and personality.  It is when we work together through the Spirit's empowerment that the gospel's impact is maximized.

God uses all sorts of different types of people in all sorts of different types of ways.  Thank goodness I don't have to be Paul to be effective.  Because I know one thing for sure, I am no Paul.  :) 

1 comment:

monica said...
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