There is an interesting lesson in how Paul began his epistles. In just about every one, he refers to him being an apostle to establish his authority:
• “Paul…called to be an apostle” (Rom. 1:1)
• “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God…” (1 Cor. 1:1)
• “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…” (2 Cor. 1:1)
• “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)” (Gal. 1:1)
• “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…” (Eph. 1:1)
• “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…” (Col. 1:1)
• “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Tim. 1:1)
• “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…” (2 Tim. 1:1)
• “Paul…an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (Titus 1:1)
Since many Judaizing teachers and other of his enemies constantly berated him and accused him of being an imposter and a second-rated apostle, he usually always had to defend his authority by defending his apostleship. He stated, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
Nevertheless, in his short letter to a man named Philemon, he does not state his authority as an apostle. In other words, he was not writing from the standpoint of an authoritative apostle. Rather, he began, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ…” (Philem. 1:1). Philemon was one of his four prison epistles (along with Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians). Yet, as I showed above, in two of these, he declared his apostleship, even from prison. Here, he did not. Why did he not write to Philemon from an authoritative perspective?
I believe the reason he describes himself to Philemon was to write from a humble perspective. He even stated himself,
Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Philem. 1:8-9)
He was humble in order to encourage one who also needed to display humility! Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, had run away, and Paul met him (Philem. 1:10). He was coming back, but rather than face mistreatment and abuse for his error, Paul encouraged Philemon to embrace and accept him humbly (Philem. 1:12), not in the manner as a slave, but as a brother (Philem. 1:16).
How much better would this world be if we would consciously respond to needs of humility with a humble spirit? It is far too easy to respond quickly and brashly rather than humbly. This would solve many of our relationship problems! May God bless us as we all strive to become humbler servants, as well as encourage humility in others!