Monday, March 3, 2014

Philemon - Uselessful

Paul's letter to Philemon is short, but has a great message about relationships. The letter centers around three individuals:

  • Paul (a prisoner for Christ)
  • Philemon (a slave owner)
  • Onesimus (a slave)

Onesimus may have once had value to his owner, but verse 11 says that Philemon now considered Onesimus worthless. The irony is that Onesimus means useless or beneficial. So Paul was writing to his friend (and one whom he had led to Christ - v. 19) that Onesimus was now useful.

Another key aspect from this letter is the number of financial terms used. Obviously, Philemon was someone who had some financial savvy, and Paul wrote with that insight in mind. There are about twenty financial terms used in this short letter. Again, the word Onesimus means useful (i.e. profitable), but just looking at vv. 17-20 we find several terms such as receive, wronged (cheated/stolen), owes, charge, account, repay, owing, owe, benefit (profit).

Again, this goes back to the nature of relationships. There are three relationships that need a bit of focus here. The relationship with ourselves, with others, with God.

The reality is you are not worthy any more or any less than you were yesterday, or than you will be tomorrow. Every human has worth. Everyone human has value. Thankfully, God knew that and sent His Son to die for you and me. Nothing we have done or could do can change the fact that Jesus needed to die for us. He did so because we have value - regardless of whether we see it or others realize it.

Others often cast us aside as useless (like Philemon did to Onesimus) for any number of reasons. Because of this we often devalue ourselves as well. Too many people today derive their value based upon what others think or say about them. It is easy to do. Yet, ultimately it doesn't matter what others think, it only matters what God thinks. Don't misunderstand. This does not provide us freedom to ignore others or rudely interact with others. On the contrary, because what God thinks matters, and because we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must treat others with dignity and respect - valuing them - to fulfill God's command. However, the actions of others should not influence our personal value. Indeed, people wanted to make Jesus the king one day and five days later had him killed. But Jesus, finding His value in God (and as God), knew He would be King later.

Finally, when others project our value, the entirety of our story is not considered. No one knows our complete past, or even our present, because our present is influenced by our pasts. We do not know the details, but v. 11 clearly says that Onesimus is now useful, both to Philemon as well as to Paul. But would Philemon give him the chance? Paul said he was praying for Philemon to be effective (useful) by understanding "every good thing that is in us" (v. 6). Onesimus obviously had value, and while it may have been hidden, or repressed, Paul dug until he found it. Philemon gave up, and perhaps caused the once useful man, to now be considered useless.

The point for us is that because God has made us - and made us unique - our value is determined by Him. He did not make us the same so we are not to compare what we are (or aren't) doing compared with others - but compared with His expectations on our individual lives. And even though each of us falls woefully short of His perfect plan for ourselves, our value before our Almighty God does not change. In fact, our value to Him is proven in our failures - He died for us!

Therefore we pursue to have healthy relationships with others because God grants us the opportunity to have a healthy relationship with Him. He made the offer. It is our choice to accept, to receive, to believe, and to follow. The fact that God considers us useful even when others (or even we, ourselves) don't is truly remarkable. The question then is how do you respond?

Will you prove yourself useful, or waste the opportunity that God has provided through the blood of Jesus?

Or, if you have already made that leap of faith then,

What can you do to build up others, to mend a damaged relationship, or perhaps even receiving back someone you have cast out?

Of, if you have been the one cast out then,

What can you do to forgive those that have hurt you and begin to repair any relationships that need repair?

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