Here's this week's "Opening the Bible" blog entry for i.ucc
When Paul wrote to Philemon, he had an agenda. He wanted Philemon to release Onesimus from his servitude. I think he also wanted to challenge Philemon to do more than simply do the right things in his life.
In the short chapter of Philemon, Paul’s clever use of words and phrases really drive home his agenda. He plays on Onesimus’ name, (it means “useful) by calling him formerly “useless” but now useful. He plays on Philemon’s sense of fairness, too. (“I preferred to do nothing without your consent.” and “If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. . . I say nothing about your owing me even your own self!”)
Paul masterfully manipulated this letter into one that seems to have no appropriate response except for Onesimus’ freedom and equality.
If the intent is good in the end, is it OK to use blatant manipulation of another person to achieve the results you want?
Sometimes I think we manipulate this letter into one that is anti-slavery. I don’t think that it is. I think the letter is one that recognizes the equality we have in Christ, but it also doesn’t address the power one class has over another in the marketplace and in society.
Is it OK to use this letter to manipulate others into thinking it is about something that it is not about – even if the results would be good?
Is my use of the term “manipulation” in the context of a letter that mentions slavery so offensive that we might miss the point of this post?
What are your thoughts?