What does it look like to be a leader who leads by and with grace? The Apostle Paul gives us a great portrait of this in his short letter to Philemon.
“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—” Philemon 1:8-9 ESV
In Philemon we see the effects of gospel of grace on the social norms of the 1st century. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to another Christian, Philemon, who had a runaway slave, Onenismus. This slave, Oneismus, became a Christian and a companion of Paul. Philemon must have had mounting anger and animosity towards Onenismus for leaving his responsibilities. Slavery was a social norm in the 1st century and Paul didn’t specifically address that social structure here but he did address how a Christian was to operate within that social structure, namely with love and forgiveness.
I so appreciate the Apostle Paul’s pastoral heart. His approach to leadership was one of grace and love, yet he wasn’t a soft pushover. He led with deep biblical conviction. Here we see Paul making a loving appeal to Philemon to do what is right. Paul had enough backbone to address the social issue by calling attention to what the Christian thing to do, yet he gave proper space to Philemon to respond in love willingly, not merely out of obligation. There is a great principle of grace here for the leader, whether it’s a parent aiming to shepherd the hearts of their children in showing love to their siblings or if it’s an employer seeking to build harmony and unity among their staff. The way of Jesus is one of grace and truth (John 1:18) and Paul walked that path, calling others to join. Let us do the same. The gospel of Jesus transforms our lives and brings about such beautiful effects of grace. In the NT we are not only commanded to love like Jesus, we are also empowered to do so by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within (Romans 5:5, 8:13-16, Galatians 5:22). The Lord not only shows us the right thing we ought to do, He also grants us the desire and power to do it (Philippians 2:13). The gospel of grace effects our social lives in how we treat others. It teaches us to treat people with dignity and love regardless of their social status.
Here is how the Apostle Paul taught the Colossians Christians to live in the grace of the gospel:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12-13 ESV
Because God has treated us better that’s we deserve we are to treat others with that same grace and love. This is fitting for us who are chosen, holy and beloved. This fitting for us who identify with Jesus as our Savior and Lord. He is the One who is full of grace and truth.
May the gospel of grace lead us to live in grace! May the “fellowship of [our] faith become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in [us] for Christ’s sake.” Philemon 1:6 NASB