Godly Wisdom Vs Worldly Advice
There is a marked difference in the divine and the secular. The divine starts with the love of Christ and the Christian principal of love. The secular relies on the goodness of one’s own heart and head based only on an individual moral principal.
In Philemon, Paul by Christianizing the master emancipated the slave.”[i]
Below is a letter by Pliny to his friend Sabinianus to intercede for an offending freedman, who with many tears and entreaties had besought his aid. That exquisitely natural and beautifully–written letter does credit both to Pliny’s heart and to his head, though it stands for beauty and value, it is far below Paul’s letter to Philemon. In the next place, it is purely individual, and wholly wanting in the large divine principle which underlies the letter of St. Paul.
- Paul has no doubt whatever about the future good conduct of Onesimus; but Pliny thinks that the young freedman may offend again.
- Pliny assumes that Sabinianus is and will be angry; Paul has no such fear about Philemon.
- Paul pleads on the broad ground of Humanity redeemed in Christ; Pliny pleads the youth and the tears of the freedman, and the affection which his master had once felt for him.
- Paul does not think it necessary to ask Philemon to spare punishment; Pliny has to beg his friend not to use torture.
- Paul has no reproaches for Onesimus; Pliny severely scolded his young suppliant, and told him—without meaning to keep his word—that he should never intercede for him again.
- The letter of Pliny is the letter of an excellent Pagan; but the differences which separate the Pagan from the Christian stand out in every line.[ii]
Pliny’s Plea for a Young Freedman
“Your freedman, with whom, as you had told me, you were vexed, came to me, and, flinging himself at my feet, clung to them as though they had been yours. He wept much, entreated much, yet at the same time left much unsaid, and, in short, convinced me that he was sincerely sorry. I believe that he is really reformed, because he is conscious of his delinquency. You are angry, I know; justly angry, that too I know; but gentleness is most praiseworthy exactly where anger is most justifiable. You loved the poor fellow, and I hope will love him again; meanwhile, it is enough to yield to intercession. Should he ever deserve it you may be angry again, and all the more excusably by yielding now. Make some allowance for his youth, for his tears, for your own kindly disposition. Do not torture him, lest you torture yourself as well, for it is a torture to you when one of your kindly nature is angry. I fear you will think that I am not asking but forcing you if I join my prayers to his; I will, however, do so, and all the more fully and unreservedly in proportion to the sharpness and severity with which I took him to task, sternly threatening that I would never say a word for him again. That I said to him because he needed to be well frightened; but I do not say it to you, for perhaps I shall say a word for him again, and again gain my point; provided only my request is such as it becomes me to ask and you to grant. Farewell!”[iii]
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
Philemon1.8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
Pliny’s letter is in such contrast of Paul’s letter to Philemon. Pliny the caring pagan and Paul the loving Christian speak their heart, and the heart speaks from their soul…Paul’s words of Godly wisdom and Pliny’s words of worldly advice.
[i] Farrar, F. W. (1879-80). Vol. 2: The Life and Work of St. Paul. (476). London; New York [etc.: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & co.
[ii] Farrar, F. W. (1879-80). Vol. 2: The Life and Work of St. Paul. (476–477). London; New York [etc.: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & co.
[iii] Farrar, F. W. (1879-80). Vol. 2: The Life and Work of St. Paul. (593–594). London; New York [etc.: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & co.
Published on Saturday, January 4, 2014 @ 4:25 AM CDT