Monday, December 22, 2008


Philemon 3 Develop Positive Relationships By Getting Past Resentment


Philemon 8  For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, 9 I appeal, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, 10  appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains—Onesimus. 11 Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 12 I am sending him—a part of myself—back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place. 14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps this is why he was separated [from you]for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave—as a dearly loved brother. This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.17 So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do 24 Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Paul's letter to Philemon is rich in advice on the practical “how to’s” of developing and maintaining positive relationships with others. So far we've examined the importance of affirmation.

"Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you . . . I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, . . . who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me" (vv. 8-11).

Paul knows this fact, and he is intent on helping Philemon understand his genuine desire for peace in this strained relationship. He wants Philemon to know that life doesn't have to be filled with anger and resentment toward others. Forgiving others of their faults is essential for healthy relationships. Nobody wins when we hold grudges. Everybody wins when we love and forgive.

The problem with most strained relationships is that people forget this fact. We forget that relating positively with others means keeping everyone's interest in mind--playing win-win in all of our dealings with others. One-sided relationships don't work. Mutually beneficial ones do.

Let's take a closer look at some of the many different ways of relating, many of which are unprofitable and damaging to everyone.

Competition: A Win-Lose Proposition

Some relationships are built on competition. This type of relationship has been popularly called a win-lose relationship. That is, some will stay in a relationship only where they always win and the other person loses.

Queen Jezebel of Israel tried to play this way. Her husband, Ahab, wanted a vineyard that was neither ethical nor legal for him to own. When Naboth, the owner, refused to sell, Jezebel lied and murdered to get it for Ahab. Naboth lost. He paid for the defense of his family's inheritance with his life. But Jezebel and Ahab lost, also. For their unconscionable actions, God promised and delivered their violent deaths.

Why won't relationships based on such heavy-handedness work in the long run? Everyone involved eventually ends up losing.

A husband and wife were driving down a country lane on their way to visit some friends.  They came to a muddy patch in the road and the car became bogged.  After a few minutes of trying to get the car out by themselves, they saw a young farmer coming down the lane, driving a tractor.  He stopped when he saw the couple in trouble and offered to pull the car out of the mud for $50.
      The couple accepted and minutes later the car was free.  The farmer turned to the husband and said, "You know, you're the tenth car I've helped out of the mud today."  The husband looks around at the fields incredulously and asks the farmer, "When do you have time to plow your land?  At night?"
      "No," the young  farmer replied seriously, "Night is when I put the water in the hole."
      There are some people who are always available to help solve problems, and there are others who spend their time making life more difficult for others (and sometimes the same person can do both!).  The New Testament is filled with warnings, though, about being a "stumbling block" to others, especially to children and young Christians.
      "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.  Woe to the world because of offenses!  For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" (Matthew 18:6-7)

Compromise: A Lose-Win Proposition

Some relationships are built on compromise. This type of connection could be referred to as a lose-win relationship.

Dr. David Seamands writes about such a person:

Ben was one of the most timid souls I have ever counseled. I couldn't even hear him. "What did you say, Ben?". . . He was so afraid to be a burden to people. It could make a person uncomfortable to be around him. You might look to see if he was wearing a sandwich board that read, "Excuse me for living."

Have you ever heard of the "Dependent Order of Really Meek and Timid Souls"? When you make an acrostic of its first letters, you have "Doormats." The Doormats have an official insignia--a yellow caution light. Their official motto is: "The meek shall inherit the earth, if that's OK with everybody!" . . .

Well, Ben could have been a charter member of the Doormats.

Complacency: A Lose-Lose Proposition

Other relationships are built on complacency. These are sometimes referred to as lose-lose relationships.

Living to be productive and happy is a struggle--full of tests, obstacles, and sacrifices. Those who have chosen junk standards, who have chosen not to be industrious, constructive, or honest, have chosen a loser's path to travel. They're not necessarily bad people, but they're keeping their lives like most of us keep our belongings--a lot of junk mixed in. This makes interaction with them uninspiring, if not unbearable.

At one point during a game, the coach said to one of his young players,  "Do you understand what cooperation is and what teamwork is all about?"  The little boy nodded in the affirmative.
      "Do you understand that what really matters is not whether we win or lose, but that we play together as a team?"  The little boy nodded yes.
      "Good," the coach continued.  "And, when a strike is called, or you're thrown out at first, you don't argue, curse, attack the ref with a cricket bat, or throw dirt in the opposing team members' faces.  Do you understand all that?"
      Again the little boy nodded, "Well, sure, coach.  That's what you taught us."
      "Good," said the coach.  "Now, please go over there and explain all that to your mother."

Why won't relationships based on complacency work in the long run? You guessed it! Everyone eventually ends up losing. Life loses its spirit of conquest and challenge. Complacency sets in and iron no longer sharpens iron (see Prov. 27:17). Relationships built on complacency never produce any real winners.

Still other relationships are built on capitulation.

The prophet Elijah was tempted to give up one day. He had gotten off to a great start, bringing a dead boy back to life and winning a contest with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel in an awesome and terrifying display of God's power.

But soon there came a threat from the murderous queen Jezebel, and Elijah tried to drop out of the game. He isolated himself from everyone he knew, sat under a tree alone, and asked God to take his life. When he got to the end of his rope, it happened: he met the Lord and went from there to the greatest mountaintop experiences of his career (see 1 Kings 18-19).

It seems that one day the devil decided to go out of business, and he decided to sell all his tools to whomever would pay the price. On the night of the sale, they were all attractively displayed. Malice, hate, envy, jealousy, greed, sensuality, and deceit were among them. To the side lay a harmless wedge-shaped tool, which had been used much more than any of the rest. Someone asked the devil, "What's that? It's priced so high."

The devil answered, "That's discouragement."

"But why is it priced so much higher than the rest?" the onlooker persisted.

"Because," replied the devil, "with that tool I can pry open and get inside a person's consciousness when I couldn't get near with any of the others. Once discouragement gets inside, I can let all the other tools do their work."

All of us feel discouraged from time to time and feel like quitting. Capitulation often seems like the easiest course of action in a desperate situation. But during those times, we need to look to God for the strength we need. Quitting is never the answer.

Cooperation: Everybody Wins

Many years ago I visited a couple who had a very cluttered house. There were three telephone exchanges in the hallway. After the introductions there was an awkward pause as I looked for chairs upon which to sit.  The lounge room had only two chairs.
     "I believe you need more chairs," I suggested .
     "That ain't it," muttered the old man.  "I got plenty of chairs -- just too much company!"
     Some Christians make it clear they don't want to spend too much time with other Christians, but how important is our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ!  Living in a hostile environment, we need the encouragement that comes from those who share the same hopes and goals that we do.

Is there a better way of forging and conducting relationships? Indeed there is! Life's most positive and productive relationships are built on cooperation. This is what we call a win-win relationship. Wise William knows how to play this game.

Paul was the captain of this team in the first century, and the game plan is woven throughout the fabric of the letter to Philemon. Paul said to Philemon about Onesimus: "[He] once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me" (v. 11, emphasis mine). Such relationships are mutually beneficial.

Therefore," he writes, "though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you" (vv. 8-9).

Paul knew that he could have pulled rank on Philemon, exerting his apostolic authority. It would have been the easy thing to do. It would have been the efficient thing to do. But he wanted to be sensitive and respect Philemon's rights as a person and a Christian. Paul wanted Philemon to do the right thing, but he wanted it to be his decision. So he didn't command; he encouraged.

In essence, Paul tells his friend, "I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do. But I refuse to do it. I want everyone in this situation to emerge a winner." Paul was sensitive to the fact that people cannot be bullied or coerced if the relationship is to be a positive one.

Sensitivity is essential to all successful relationships. But many people have a drill sergeant approach to relationships. They like to give orders and watch others squirm and jump. Some actually take pride in this method and think they are winning along the way. Some try and get their way through intimidation and coercion.

But Paul knew better. Had Philemon been compelled, with no say of his own in the matter, what kind of relationship do you think would have developed? It would have been built on coercion and guilt; ultimately, it would have had a damaging effect on all the relationships involved.

You Need To Make Things Right

With his careful choice of words, Paul appealed to Philemon in several positive ways. One was "for love's sake." Philemon's name meant "the loving one." Paul was asking him to live up to his name and to show the same loving attitude toward Onesimus that he had shown in the past to others.

Paul is not requesting that Onesimus be absolved of his previous wrongs without remorse or restitution. He will shortly offer to pay Onesimus's debt, but right now, he is encouraging Philemon to respond out of a commitment to treating others in a Christlike way and to do what he knows he should do.

How many of our own interpersonal problems would be solved if each of us would simply do what we ought to do? Most of us know how we should treat others, but we get stuck on the application of that knowledge. We know what it takes to make and keep friends, but we sometimes have trouble actually doing it.

Our kids need a great deal of our time and energy to grow into healthy, productive people. Yet it's often all we can do to tear ourselves away from the office to be with them.

We know that our spouses need love and affirmation from us, but we don't always do well at giving it. We know that we need to patch strained and broken relationships, but often we can't seem to find the time and motivation to do so. And we don't necessarily want to be the first to open those lines of communication.

Knowing what we ought to do and doing it are two different matters. It's the latter hurdle we need to work on the most. Paul knows how hard it is to do the right thing. And so he takes it upon himself to appeal to his brothers in Christ for reconciliation.

He encourages Onesimus to do what is necessary to make things right--that is, to face up to his mistakes and go back to Philemon in genuine remorse asking for forgiveness even though it won't be easy. And he encourages Philemon to do the right thing. He asks him to receive the repentant Onesimus, in Paul's words, "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother" (v. 16).

That is no small task for either of them. But it is important for them to address if the Spirit of love and unity is to reign among the fellowship of believers.

You Need To Make Things Right By Giving Up Your "Rights"

Many of us have lived our lives with few lasting relationships because of our desire to control others. The lack of sensitivity is rampant in all types of relationships today. Insisting on one's own "rights" is the order of the day. When we realize that we have given our rights over to the Master of our lives, we will be freed to be the sensitive people that He wants us to be.

Philemon must put aside pride and a substantial economic advantage for the sake of harmony and fellowship with a Christian brother. Are we willing to deny ourselves any rights for the same reason?

Paul used another interesting choice of words when he wrote, "Yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you" (v. 9, emphasis mine). The Greek word he used for "appeal" is a rather strong one. It appears 108 times in the New Testament, and it is translated as "plead" or "strongly urge" or "encourage."

In our own efforts to win friends and influence people, the way in which we make our appeal is of utmost importance. Some people waste valuable time attempting to appeal to others strictly on the basis of reason. Others state their cases on the basis of merit, who they are or where they are from. Still others do so on the basis of tenure.

How do you go about winning people to your point of view? Do you appeal in love? Do you encourage based on reason or logic? Do you simply pull rank and tell them what to do? Take a cue from Paul. Learn the value of a well-thought-out phrase presented with sensitivity and love.

You Need To Make Things Right By Overcoming Through Love

Paul also teaches us to appeal to others on the basis of love. The Greeks have several words that can be translated into English as "love." Paul chose the word that represents the highest level of love. It is best defined as "no matter what others may do to you by insult or injury, you seek for them only their highest good." This love is submissive and seeks the other's best.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a time when he, Dr. Bruce Waltke, who is a Hebrew scholar, and two other evangelical ministers arrived for a tour of the mother church of the First Church of Christ Scientist in downtown Boston. The elderly woman who conducted the tour had no idea who the men were or what their professions were. Swindoll described what took place:

She showed us several interesting things on the main floor. When we got to the multiple-manual pipe organ, she began to talk about their doctrine and especially their belief about no judgment in the life beyond. Dr. Waltke waited for just the right moment and very casually asked:

"But, Ma'am, doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible `It is appointed unto man once to die and after that, the judgment?'" He could have quoted Hebrews 9:27 in Greek! But he was so gracious, so tactful with the little lady. I must confess, I stood back thinking, "Go for it, Bruce. Now we've got her where we want her!"

The lady, without a pause, said simply, "Would you like to see the second floor?"

You know what Dr. Waltke said? "We surely would, thank you."

She smiled, somewhat relieved, and started to lead us up a flight of stairs.

I couldn't believe it! All I could think was, "No, don't let her get away. Make her answer your question!" As I was wrestling within, I pulled on the scholar's arm and said in a low voice, "Hey, why didn't you nail the lady? Why didn't you press the point and not let her get away until she answered?"

Quietly and calmly he put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, "But, Chuck, that wouldn't have been fair. That wouldn't have been very loving, either--now would it?"

Wham! The quiet rebuke left me reeling. I shall never forget that moment. And . . . in less than twenty minutes he was sitting with the woman alone, tenderly and carefully speaking with her about the Lord Jesus Christ. She sat in rapt attention. He, the gracious peacemaker, had won a hearing. And I, the scalp-snatcher, had learned an unforgettable lesson.

Do you know what she saw in my friend? A living representation of one of God's sons . . . exactly as God promised in his beatitude . . . "they shall be called sons of God."2

This type of love epitomized Jesus' actions. He could play win-lose with us. He could order us to obey Him. He could pull our strings like a puppeteer to force us to shape up and get in step.

But what does He do instead? He shows us with His own life how to be submissive for another's good. He appeals to us on the basis of love. He gives us an invitation: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28-29). This type of love breaks down barriers and cements relationships.

James 3:17 says, "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (emphasis mine). Paul had this wisdom, and it showed itself in the way that the broken relationships were reconciled.

Love has its own way of finding out what is right and doing it. It is not a passive word; it is always equated with action. Love is something we do! When we submit to love, we do what we ought to do much more quickly and completely than when we are forced against our will to do something.

Paul continues playing on the field of winning relationships by saying, "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains" (v. 10). Win-win friendships bring a bonding, a sense of family, and mutual support. By defending our friends, we bond ourselves with them.

Paul's description of Onesimus shows his unqualified support for him. He calls him "my own son." He carefully chooses a Greek word here that is a term of endearment. It means a small child. Thus, Paul is indicating to Philemon that Onesimus, who is on his way home, is still very young in the faith and needs support and love.

You Need To Make Things Right By Forgiving The Other Person

Paul is now coming to the purpose of his letter, and he is already nearly half through with it. This is the first mention of Onesimus.

Can you picture the wealthy aristocrat Philemon as he reads this letter for the first time? He is reading along and liking what he reads. This is good news! There is affirmation in every sentence. He is smiling and feeling very good about himself. And then a name appears in the middle of the paragraph and leaps off the letter toward him.

Onesimus! That scoundrel! he thinks.

And it's not hard to understand his surprise. How would you feel if someone in whom you had placed your trust embezzled your money, left town, and was never heard from again? Then one day, out of the blue, you hear from another good friend and mentor, and the fugitive's name comes up.

Onesimus! That was the name Philemon could have gone years without hearing again.

But wait a minute. Paul says, "My son Onesimus." What is this? Philemon reads on, "Whom I have begotten while in my chains" Philemon must have said to himself, "I cannot believe it. It cannot be!"

Do you see what is happening? A broken relationship is about to be mended, and the catalyst, Paul, is supportive to both parties involved. He has shown his support for Philemon earlier by saying, "For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother" (v. 7).

Now, he does the same thing for Onesimus by adding, "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me" (vv. 10-11).

Paul had shared with Onesimus in prison and was with him when he found a new life and a new beginning, when he was "born again." He was like a spiritual father to Onesimus, and therefore, he would stand for Onesimus like he would his own son.

Paul refers to Onesimus's previous service as "unprofitable." Another translation of this word is "useless": "Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me" (v. 11 NIV).

The Greek word Paul used to describe Onesimus as unprofitable or useless is the same word from which we derive our English word archaic. It portrays something or someone who has lost his usefulness and is therefore unserviceable.

But now, the old Onesimus is dead and buried. The swindling traitor that Philemon knew is long gone. In effect, Onesimus has become "serviceable" and "new." He is no longer outdated and "archaic." He has had new life breathed into him--the same new life that was breathed into Paul and Philemon. And in his body was a new creature in Christ, useful to everyone involved.

Paul wants Philemon to look at his former servant with a fresh eye and an open heart as if he were meeting him for the first time.

He wants him to forgive him/. Forgive, aphiemi. To release the debt.

We pray forgive us our ..trespasses ( Matt 6) debts (Luke 11). We need to release the debt we feel others owe us.

While most of us are familiar with da Vinci’s famous painting of our Lord's last meal in the Upper Room, few have ever heard the story behind the story. While in the process of painting his masterpiece, da Vinci had a bitter disagreement with a fellow painter. The master was so enraged that he began to plot an evil scheme. He would paint the face of his adversary into the face of Judas and thus portray him for all posterity as the traitor. As soon as da Vinci finished painting Judas, everyone immediately recognized him as Leonardo's former friend. He continued to paint the scene, adding each of the disciples into the portrait. It then was time to paint the face of Christ. As much as he tried, one attempt after another, he could not paint the Lord's face. Something was keeping him from it. His own heart revealed to him that his hatred for his fellow painter was the problem. So, he reconciled with his friend, and repainted Judas's face with another. Then with great liberty, da Vinci painted the face of Christ, completing the masterpiece admired down through the centuries.

Paul challenges his friends at Ephesus to "let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you" (Eph. 4:31-32).

When anyone gets connected with God, coming into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ as Onesimus did, it does not produce a nebulous, inefficient, ineffective, useless person. It produces people who are "useful" to those around them.

Everybody Wins!

Does Paul win? Yes! He has the joy of mending the relationship between two men whom he has personally led to faith at different times and in different places. Had he resorted to giving orders instead of appealing in love, it would never have happened. Now he enjoys the love and support of both of them. He wins!

Does Philemon win? Yes! He gets Onesimus back, and this time Onesimus is profitable and useful to him. And he gets him back with repentance and restitution as well.

Does Onesimus win? Yes! He gets to come home. And what is more he returns, in Paul's words, "no longer as a slave but . . . as a beloved brother."

There are no losers. These relationships are a model for successful reconciliations. They happen when we are sensitive and loving in our dealings with one another. They happen when we carefully choose our words in making a difficult request of a friend and when we treat people the way Christ would treat them.

Paul could have ordered the two to mend the broken relationship. He could have pulled his apostolic rank on them. But he was wise enough to realize there can be no true reconciliation that is manipulated or forced. It must be voluntary. It must come from a willing heart. Some persons want to orchestrate reconciliations with hidden agendas for their own self-profit and pride. Reconciliations that last, though, are not forced; they come from a heart with pure motives. Hatchets are never completely buried unless they are done so voluntarily.

Resentment has a depressing effect on us mentally. When it consumes us, it can warp our capacity to think right. Many people suffer from mental and emotional problems because they are bitter toward others and have never forgiven past wrongs, even though the transgressors have returned in genuine remorse.

But there is more. It also debilitates us spiritually. None of us can be in right relationship with God when we hate or resent someone else.


With special thanks to O.S. Hawkins

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