handsAre we quick to write another off, or do we see the value in them?  This is the challenge that we find in today’s Life Lesson from Paul’s letter to Philemon.

This is part of a continuing series of life lessons found in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Paul demonstrates to us ways that we can connect with and value others.

For a quick recap:

  • Paul was first introduced as Saul — a man who wanted to destroy the church.  He meets Jesus on the road to Damascus and his life is changed forever.  Saul becomes Paul who becomes arguably the greatest Christian missionary and church planter ever.
  • Philemon is an friend that Paul made along the way in his journey.
  • Onesimus was a servant of Philemon who ran away. Under the law, Onesimus faces a severe penalty.

To catch up on the previous posts, click these links:

  • Paul shows us how to approach a tough conversation (click here).
  • Paul’s appeal to Philemon is less about commands and more about appeals to the heart (click here).

Today’s lesson comes from a single verse: He was useless to you before, but now he is useful to both of us. – Philemon 1:11

Have you ever written someone off?  (Maybe the other part of that question would be, “Has someone ever written you off?)

It’s a painful admission and, maybe, it comes when we feel as if we’ve exhausted every possible option in that relationship.  It’s not going to work out. The job’s not going to get done. The friendship is beyond repair.  That person can’t get their life together.  

So, we write them off.

Maybe those words aren’t so much about the other person as they are about us.  When we write someone off, we make a statement about how much we value another person.  It’s as if we are saying that this person has little value to us, or that the person is “useless” to us.

That is at the heart of the letter that Paul is writing to his friend Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, the servant who ran away.  We don’t see the reason that Onesimus decided to run from Philemon.  Was he angry?  Was he tired of working for Philemon?  

And, we don’t get the reaction of Philemon to Onesimus’ decision. Was Philemon angry? Did he declare Onesimus to be of no value?  Did he see Onesimus as being dead to him?

All that we know at this point in the letter is that Onesimus ran away and that, under the law, he faces a harsh penalty.  In fact, Onesimus could be facing death.

Paul makes an appeal to change the value that Philemon sees in Onesimus.  In a sense, Paul is saying, “Onesimu might have been useless to you, but now, he is of value to both you and I.”

We probably make those statements of value and usefulness about people all the time.  Have you ever been asked what you think about someone?  The person asking the question is seeking to find out about someone, about who they are and how you value them.   Oh, she is awesome.  I like him a lot.  It’s a statement that goes a long way in creating relationships.

Paul is challenging all of us to look at the way we see others.  Are we too quick to write another off?  Do we see someone as “useless” when we should be seeing that person as someone of worth?  

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