Authority of Love
Paul had God's authority to speak the truth. But he was careful in applying that authority in pastoral situations. He knew that each individual's response must be out of personal conviction, based on a clear understanding of the facts. He had no wish to perpetuate the oppressive authoritarianism of the religious cults. So he appeals on the basis of God's sacrificial love which changes lives.
Onesimus, the run-away slave, had found Jesus through Paul's teaching while in prison. How, we do not know. But Paul wanted to prepare his master, Philemon, to welcome his truant back home without punishment - not just as a slave but also as a brother in Christ. This was not just a naïve and sentimental thought (Christians are sometimes rightly accused of that): there was real evidence of repentance. Instead of resenting God's Word and God's people in Philemon's home, he was hungry to be taught and loved other believers as a brother in Christ. Instead of refusing to serve, he was glad to attend to the old apostle's needs.
Reconciliation without repentance has no integrity. But where repentance is seen, the door should be open to forgiveness and reconciliation. This is no political or pragmatic business compromise; it is God's grace at work in the church of Jesus Christ. Repentance is the key. And part of that repentance is willingness to submit to the authority you once despised. When that is seen worked out in sacrificial service, we should welcome what God is doing and restore the sinner.
© Dr Paul Adams