Last week we opened reflections on Philemon as we continue to enjoy the five one chapter books of the Bible.  We celebrated love as identified by Paul in the life of Philemon and grappled with the challenge to adopt Paul’s self understanding as a Prisoner of Christ.  Today we want to peer deeply into this appeal to love and the surrendered life as a template for resolving conflicts.      In this book we find what I believe is the result of prayerful contemplation on the difficult issue at hand.  We find there a template for conflict resolution.

We made mention last week of his entry point into Philemon’s higher self using commendation.  This can be adopted as a first approach to conflict resolution.  We would call this the compliment stage. We find it in the book between verses 4 and 7.  He celebrates his loyal faith and his reknowned love.  At verse 7 he makes a remarkable statement about this man. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.  Of course love in and of itself brings joy and encouragement so no surprises there.  What captures my mind and excites my heart here is the particular outworking of Philemon’s notorious love that Paul commends.  He has refreshed the hearts of God’s people.  Picture the last time you were really thirsty and then you got water… ahhhhh. Philemon had that kind of effect with his life of love.

I’m also forced to recall those who are just the opposite of this. Those who spout love with their lips but their actions and attitudes betray otherwise.  Such persons are repulsive. It is perhaps the worst indictment to hear someone refer to a member of the body of Christ as obnoxious, nauseating.  What kind of effect do you have on others? Of course you don’t expect to jump to answer that question yourself right? No, sit with some of those who know you best and those who you know to be objective and ask them to answer for you.  Can you imagine how different our churches and our work places would be if more of us modeled Philemon, living in love so that wherever we are we bring the invigorating refreshing that builds bridges and instills shalom.

When faced with a conflict between yourself and another that you have resolved in your own heart to take the initiative to resolve it’s a good idea to begin with affirmation, focus on the positive and the common ground.

Going further into Paul’s letter to Philemon we encounter what we could call a second stage in conflict resolution.   This is the compromise stage.  This is the stage where pride must be dealt a death blow.  It is perhaps the reason why most persons refuse to even consider making efforts at resolving conflicts to begin with.  Jesus makes it clear that the onus is on each disciple to initiate peace, even when you are the offended party.  In my time of full time ministry I have found this to be one of the demands of Jesus that persons struggle the greatest with.  Paul steps down in verses 8 – 13, he takes an approach of setting aside whatever rank and authority he could draw upon to meet invite Philemon to meet him halfway so to speak.   although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do,yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.  He leverages his age, the fact that he is literally in chains for the sake of Christ, he refers to Onesimus as his son, he declares how much he loves Onesimus (I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you) and how useful he has been to him.   Using a compromise approach as you meet to resolve a conflict shows that you are willing to take some responsibility for the conflict.  The key to remember here is appeal instead of authority.  I suspect that this becomes even more difficult to flesh out for those of us who are in position of authority right? Teachers, parents, pastors, lawyers and… you.


As the intervention progresses there must come a point where the options in terms of the way forward are presented clearly and simply.  This is referred to as the CHOICE stage.  Paul placed the choice before Onesimus initially at verse 14.  14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.   The preferred course of action was also described in vs.17, 21 and 22.    Through this stage Paul remains consistent basing his request on love and their mutual commitment to living the surrendered life.  Admittedly this particular specific approach to conflict resolution works where the parties at odds are already within the church circle.  There is still room though for adapting aspects of it for use with anyone.

conflictresolveThe next stage that offers itself to us from Paul’s peace letter is the Challenge stage.  In vs. 15 – 20 Paul lays down a pointed challenge to Philemon.  He puts himself out on a limb for Onesimus, states clearly his own commitment to aiding the process and he issues a clear challenge and awaits Philemon’s decision.  It suggest to us that we must enter such a process with a clear sense of what it is we want as the outcome.

We can’t help but admire Paul’s mind as we see him closing the case so to speak with a touch of class. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.   We need to develop a way to express confidence in the other party as a person, validate them as one who you trust to do the right thing.  Unswerving love is being communicated here. As we show the maturity that is able to separate the issue from the person.  Our goal must not be to win the argument for we may win that and lose the battle. Relationship above rights should be our mantra.

It is to our great discredit if an when we are unable to resolve conflicts as the people of God and worse if we propagate divisions. Who do you need to go to today to resolve a conflict? Dig deep into the letter to Philemon and draw from the teamplate for conflict resolution it offers.

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