Philemon 1:14 (KJV)
But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
I came to see the little epistle to Philemon as a lesson in pastoral ethics. Certainly Paul was not pastoring at this time, but he was always much more than a pastor and an example to all pastors. I do not believe Philemon is a pastor either but that a church did meet in his house. Onesimus was a slave belonging to Philemon who ran away, probably stole from him to pay for his flight and ended up in Rome where he met Paul. Paul led him to the Lord, discipled him for a period of time sufficient that Onesimus had the character to follow Paul’s instructions and return to Philemon. Paul admitted that Onesimus was profitable to him and that he would have liked to kept him with him.
Paul could have reasoned that he had done more good with Onesimus than Philemon did and the Onesimus was more likely to grow spiritually with him than with Philemon, who had not even won him to Christ. But Paul was not willing to keep him without Philemon’s approval. He trained Onesimus to return, sent him with a letter that did not actually request Onesimus return and perhaps Onesimus did not know the details of and offered to repay any damage Onesimus had caused.
Pastors could learn from this. When a member of another church comes to them, their job is to return them in better spiritual condition than they found them. Even if they would like to keep them in their own ministry, it is not appropriate for them to say so.
- They should work with them until they develop the character to return a better member than they were. They are not to judge the abilities of the other pastor.
- They would be wise never to express a desire that the member remain with them, even when they have that desire.
- They should contact the other pastor, not to tell them that a member visited in their church but to ask their pastor what his mind is concerning them.
That would be pastoral ethics.
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Philemon 1:14 Pastoral Ethics
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