Appeal out of Love

As a military officer I fully realized that the personnel assigned under me were obligated to follow my orders so long as they were lawful. In some cases unlawful orders had to be followed, too. Simply due to rank, my orders were to be obeyed. However, having a father who was an enlisted Marine, I knew that there’s a big difference between someone following an order because he has to and because he believes in the order. It was something my father made sure I understood very well before he allowed me to be commissioned an officer. He had seen too many officers come through who didn’t understand the difference.

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— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.  – Philemon v. 8-10, ESV

Paul wanted Philemon to do something. Because he was Philemon’s elder in the faith, Paul could have said, “For the sake of Christ, you will do this.” But that’s not the approach Paul took. Rather, he appealed to Philemon out of love’s sake. He wanted Philemon to see the value in his request and he wanted Philemon to agree to it because Philemon wanted to, not because he should. It is easy to use the “because I said so” line when we want people to do what we want and we’re in some sort of position of authority over them. Paul certainly could have but chose not and that tells us what our example should be. We should try at first to help others believe in whatever it is we want to do. This is good for a couple of easy to see reasons.

In order to convince someone to believe in something, we should believe in it, too. The process of trying to encourage another to take our point of view means we should understand it. We should know what it is we’re asking. Sometimes in the process of doing that we see a flaw in our request. Simply by going through this process we are more able to avoid issues or correct them before they hit us hard. If for no other reason, this is a good one to try and appeal to another for a request, rather than simply ordering it done.

Another reason is due to the willingness of the individual to honor the spirit of the request. I saw several cases in my Air Force career where enlisted personnel honored the letter of the order but not the spirit of it because the person giving the order was disrespectful, didn’t attempt to explain himself or herself, and treated the enlisted personnel like lower-class citizens. That order was fulfilled to the very letter, usually to the detriment of the one giving the order. This is what you get when you don’t get people believing in the order, when you don’t include them and make them a part of it. On the other hand, I can also recall multiple cases where I gave an order and an enlisted person, with more years of experience in the Air Force and certainly a great deal more wisdom, would pull me aside and say, “Hey, Lieutenant, let’s talk about what you’re asking for. I’m thinking you really want something else.” They saved my neck. It wasn’t because I was some kind of awesome leader. It was simply because I treated them with respect, I tried to help communicate my reasons behind any instruction I gave, and I was willing to take feedback and make a correction if necessary. Those were the things my father hammered into me. And that’s what Paul was doing with Philemon. Also, I saw cases where folks would go to execute the order I gave, hit difficulty, and find a way to accomplish what needed to be done. They didn’t do it because I was anything special. They did it because they understand the why. I appealed to them not based on rank, but based on professional respect and courtesy. Yes, if I needed my rank it was there but I found I got a lot better results appealing out of genuine respect to the folks I had charge over. Paul understood this. That’s why he made the appeal out of love.

We should take this approach in all of our interactions. We should try to appeal to our spouses out of love. We should do the same with our children. When it comes to fellow believers, ordering them around won’t get us anywhere. Appealing out of love will always be more effective. But we should take this attitude with everyone, even beyond this list: our co-workers, the person on telephone support, the teenager working drive through, and everyone else. It’s how we would want to be treated. It also gives them an opportunity to participate, to be included, not because they have to, but because they choose to. Think about the difference in how you approach things when you have to do it versus when you choose to do it. Appeal out of love and respect first.

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