Session 2

Philemon 8-14 – How to Make a Request of Others


1.      No doubt you have heard the old saying, “It is not so much what you say as how you say it.”  That is certainly a true statement.  More often than not, our demeanor, tone of voice, general attitude communicates much more than the words we choose to use.  Carol and I see that in relation to our dog, Zoe.  If weI say to Zoe, “You’re a bad dog” in a kind voice, she will wag her tail and think she is being complimented.  If we say to her, “You’re a good dog” in a harsh voice, she will think she is being reprimanded.  It’s not so much what we say as how we say it.

2.      In this session, as we continue our study of the letter to Philemon in the New Testament, we’re going to see an example of how to speak to another person… specifically how to make a request of another person.  I told you last week that Philemon is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a man named Philemon who was a member of the church at Colossae, in the Roman Province of Asia.  Onesimus, a slave belonging to Philemon, had run away, made his way to Rome, and had become a Christian under the influence of Paul.  When Onesimus became a believer, Paul sent this runaway slave back to Philemon carrying the letter that we are currently studying.

3.      Philemon is a case study on building better relationships.  In Philemon are some basic principles that, if followed, will help us build better relationships in our lives.  Last week, from the first seven verses in this letter, we focused on the principle building others up.  We are just naturally attracted to people who affirm us.  We saw from those first seven verses that affirming people look for the best in others and bring out the best in others.

4.      The second principle for building better relationships has to do with how to make a request of others.  In this letter Paul asks a great deal of Philemon. 

·         First, he asks Philemon to do something that was completely out of character for the culture in which he lived.  Instead of punishing Onesimus for running away, Paul requested that Philemon accept him back as a brother in Christ. 

·         Second, there is some hint that Paul wanted Philemon to send Onesimus back to Rome to care for him during his imprisonment. 

      Look at vv.8-14 (text).


T.S. – Lasting relationships always involve give and take.  If in any relationship, one party is always giving and another party is always taking, that relationship will not last for long.  That is true whether the relationship is between two individuals, or between an individual and an organization such as a business or church, or between two organizations.  No relationship can endure if it is all one-sided.  There must be a healthy give and take.  And one key to developing a healthy give and take dynamic in a relationship is knowing how to ask for what we desire.  And in his letter to Philemon, Paul provides us an excellent model for how to make requests of others.


I.    We need to learn to make our request in the right way

  1. Paul realized that there were two ways he could approach Philemon with his request concerning Onesimus.  And, knowing what we do about Paul, it is reasonable to assume that he strongly considered both approaches.
  2. On one hand, Paul could have simply pulled rank on Philemon and told him what he had to do.  If Philemon chose to refuse, no doubt, Paul could have had him put out of the church at Colossae. 

·         In verse 8 Paul refers to this approach by saying, “...I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper.”  The word translated “to order” is a word used to describe a command given by a superior to an underling.  The exact word is used in Mark 6:27 where the Bible says that King Herod “commanded” or ordered an executioner to bring back the head of John the Baptist.  Paul was saying, “If I choose, I can just tell you what to do and if you fail to comply, you will suffer the consequences.” 

·         But Paul rejected this approach.  Why?  Not because it would not have achieved its intended purpose.  The truth is, Paul could have probably gotten Philemon to do what he wanted by ordering him.  But Paul rejected that approach because he knew it would do damage to the relationship between him and Philemon.

  1. The other approach Paul considered, and the one he chose to take, is spelled out in verse 9...”...yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you...”

·         The word “appeal” is a wonderful word.  It is the word parakaleo from the verb kaleo (to call) and the preposition para (alongside).   By using this word Paul was, in effect, inviting Philemon to walk alongside him.  The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to convey the idea of pleading or strongly urging or encouraging. 

·         When Paul used the word “appeal” he was signaling to Philemon that he was not speaking to him with the authority of an apostle.  As a matter of fact, in this letter Paul does not refer to himself as an apostle, but only as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”  He describes himself that way in verse 1 and again in verse 9.  Instead of placing himself in a position of authority over Philemon, Paul approached Philemon as a brother, pleading with him to do the right thing.


1.   And whenever we make requests of those around us, we always face the same choice that Paul faced in relation to Philemon.

·         We can attempt “to order.”  We can demand, threaten, bully, push, manipulate, and insist on getting what we want.  And while that may result in people giving in to us and our getting that which we demand, it certainly does not do anything to strengthen the relationships in our lives.  Instead, to does just the opposite, weakening and damaging relationships.

·         We can “appeal.”  We can invite people to walk alongside us, to try to see our perspective as we see their perspective.  And while the process may take a little longer and the results may not be as immediate, our relationships are strengthened and deepened.

  1. As we weigh the choice between ordering and appealing, we would do well to ask ourselves, “Which is more important—the thing for which I am asking or the relationship I have with the person from whom I am asking.”  For example is it more important to—
    • Maintain a good relationship with your spouse or to get you way in every little thing? 
    • Have your children love and respect you or for you to dominate every minute aspect of your children’s lives?
    • To keep your friends or to get your friends to conform to what you want?
    • Be accepted and admired by your co-workers or to intimidate your co-workers into accepting your ideas?
  2. It is significant that God has chosen to relate to us not through coercion or force or intimidation, even though He certainly could.  Instead, He appeals to us.  He graciously calls us to Him and gives us the option of saying yes or no.  And learning to approach the people in our lives that way enhances the possibility of having meaningful relationships with others.  To ask with class means to ask in the right way—not ordering others but appealing to others.


II.  We need to make sure we are asking for the right things.

1.      As we relate to the people in our lives, it is important that we not “over-reach.”  By that I mean, we should be sensitive in what we ask of them.  Just as it is possible to be boorish and demanding in how we ask, it is also possible to be that way in what we ask.  We need to make sure that we are reasonable in what we expect from people in the key relationships of our lives.

2.      Paul was careful to be that way in relation to Philemon.  In verse 13 Paul makes it clear that his preference would have been to keep Onesimus with him in Rome.  But he felt that was too much to ask of Philemon.  So, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, asking only that Philemon would accept Onesimus back and not mistreat him.

3.      There is an important principle in that about maintaining healthy relationship. One sure way to destroy a relationship is to be unreasonable in what you ask or expect of another person.  I have seen—

·         Husband/wife relationships in shambles because one or perhaps both of the spouses demand nothing short of perfection from the other.  It is amazing how someone who seemed so perfect before the marriage can become so flawed after the marriage.  Cut your spouse some slack.  Don’t be overly demanding.  It will do wonders for your marriage.

·         Parent/child relationships deeply damaged because parents expect the child to be the smartest person in the class or the star player on the team.  Everyone cannot be the valedictorian or a super-star.  Encourage your child to reach his/her full potential, but don’t be unreasonable in what you expect.

·         Relationships between Christian irreparably harmed because of knit-picking over things that in the larger scheme of life don’t really matter.  Don’t expect perfection from the people around you.  Just like you, everyone else has weaknesses and faults too!

  1. The point I am making is that asking with class means that we ask for the right things.  Don’t expect more from people than they can reasonably deliver.


1.   Speak to people in the right way and don’t be unreasonable in what you asked of them.

2.   That is what Paul did in relation to Philemon.  And that is what the Lord expects us to do in relation to each other.