In Philemon verse 13-14 we can learn a great deal about how to handle other people’s possessions. I would venture to say that more hurt feelings and more broken friendships are caused by taking liberties with out asking than anything else. This can refer borrowing items, using property, or simply assuming it’s ok without ever asking. How we treat the property of others says a lot about who we are.
In out text the Apostle Paul had led Oneisimus (a run away slave) to salvation in Christ while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul knew his owner Philemon personally, and was sending Oneisimus back the be repent and be forgiven. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Philemon to accept Philemon as his brother in the Lord. Lets look at Paul’s view of taking with out asking.
13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
Paul’s Destitute Condition v13 Paul’s first thought was to keep Oneisimus in Rome as his servant till he could be released. He also implies that if Philemon were in Rome, he would have providing this service himself, hence “in thy stead.” Paul is “in the bonds of the gospel.” Literally imprisoned for preaching the gospel. In first century Rome many people died in jail because food and clothing were not always provided. So could he have used a servant at this time? Who needed this servant the most? Imprisoned Paul or wealthy Philemon? Surely Philemon wouldn’t care considering the circumstances? We often use our circumstances to justify taking liberties with someone else’s stuff. We think we need it more or since we are friends, they won’t care.
Allow me to give you some guidelines for taking liberties with out asking.
- 1 Only in an emergency. If it is not an emergency, then ask first and wait on their response. Anything that can be put off, should be, untill permission is granted.
- 2 Is it a matter of life or death? If it is, don’t ask, just act! Nothing is more precious than saving a life.
- 3 Look at the value of what you are taking. Risking a $1000 item that doesn’t belong to you to save a $10 item that does, is never a good idea. However, I’m sure any friend wouldn’t care for you risking his $10 to save your $1000, in a pinch.
- 4 Is this really an emergency? We tend to over exaggerate, so ask yourself again. BTW 4 missed calls to a cell phone in under 5 minutes is NOT waiting patiently. Don’t try to justify not asking first.
Paul’s Duty To Consult v14a “Without thy mind” doesn’t imply that one of them was crazy. Paul is waiting for Philemon’s consent. Paul would not take a liberty that did not belong to him. So he sent Oneisimus on a 1300 mile journey to Colosse rather than keep him in Rome with out Philemon’s approval.
You may say “He’s chained to a Roman soldier! This is a pretty serious situation.” Yes, it’s a bad situation, but not an emergency. According to verses 1, 23 and 24 there were at least six other men with Paul to take care of his needs. “But Paul was on a mission trip. He is doing the work of God.” some will reason. What we are doing and the cause it goes to support does not give us the right to take what is not ours. Many will say “They are such good friends. Surly he wouldn’t care. Why even ask? Just send him back later.” The closeness of your friendship can easily be destroyed by actions like that. However, your friends are sure to grow closer by treating them the way Paul treated Philemon. We should always respect their property.
Philemon’s Decision To Consent v14b When Paul referred to “thy benefit” he was referring to the reward Philemon would receive for his aid in spreading the gospel. Had Paul kept Oneisimus it would have been to Philemon’s benefit. But that was not Paul’s decision to make. That is why he wants Philemon to make his own decision “willingly” and not out of “necessity.” Paul was not seeking acceptance for his actions. He was seeking permission to act.
This is hard for people to take some times. If I have seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. A friend asks a favor and the other friend says no. Just because they are friends does not require the other party to comply with their request. They have a right to say no. We have a responsibility to accept their answer, even if it’s not what we expected to hear. Remember, this is not an emergency or a matter of life and death, it is a favor.
Here are three words to take away from this study:
- Condition: If it’s not an emergency, you are in a position to wait.
- Consult: Take the time to ask permission. Your relationship with them or the good cause that this will support should not matter.
- Consent: Accept their decision and thank them regardless of their answer.