Session 3

Foster “Win-Win” Situations - Philemon 1:10-11, 15-16


1.      It was one of those classic win-win situations.  During WW II in Europe the allied forces would recruit local people to slip behind the German lines to determine to report back such vital information the location of German gun batteries, the position and number of German troops, and any major movement of resources.  It was a very dangerous mission.  Any person believed to be a spy for the allies who was caught by the Germans was generally first tortured and then shot on the spot.  The Office of Strategic Services, known as the OSS which  was the Allied organization responsible for recruiting local people for this dangerous work, understandably often had a difficult time finding people willing to take on the risk.  However, Captain Ray Brittenham, a young lawyer from Chicago who worked for the Office of Strategic Services, had an ace in the hole.  Whenever he needed someone to slip behind enemy lines for a few days, Captain Brittenham knew exactly where to turn.  There was a Belgian man named Louis who was always ready to accept a mission.  Sometimes he would actually approach the Americans volunteering for the dangerous work.  When asked why he was always willing to put his life on the line, he had a rather unusual explanation.  Louis said that his mother-in-law lived in the house with him and his wife.  And to use Louis’ precise words, he said, “She makes life hell for me.”  And the truth was that he would rather risk being caught and shot as a spy than have to deal with his contentious mother-in-law.  Now that is a classic win-win situation.  The Allies would get their spy and Louis would get free of his mother-in-law. [Secret Missions of World War II, Bruener, pp.179-180]

2.      As we continue looking at some principles for building better relationships from Paul’s letter to Philemon in the New Testament, we are going to focus on the importance of developing “win-win” relationships with other people.

3.      If you’ve been with us the past couple of sessions you know the setting of this New Testament book.  Philemon, who lived in Colossae in the Roman Province of Asia Minor, had a slave named Onesimus who ran away.  Onesimus went to Rome and somehow linked up with Paul.  Paul led him to faith in Christ and then sent Onesimus back to Colossae to face Philemon.  Onesimus carried with him the letter that is called Philemon in the New Testament.  From Paul’s example in relating to Philemon there are some principles we for us to learn about building better relationships in our lives. 

·         From verses 1-7 we focused on the importance of being an encourager of others, of building others up.  We are just naturally attracted to people who affirm us.  We saw from those first seven verses that affirming people look for the best in others and bring out the best in others. 

·         Then, from verses 8-14 we focused on the importance of being gracious in what we ask of others.  The second principle for building better relationships has to do with how to make a request of others.  In this letter Paul asks a great deal of Philemon.  First, he asks Philemon to do something that was completely out of character for the culture in which he lived.  Instead of punishing Onesimus for running away, Paul requested that Philemon accept him back as a brother in Christ.  Second, there is some hint that Paul wanted Philemon to send Onesimus back to Rome to care for him during his imprisonment.  We saw that when we make requests of others, we are to ask in the right way (not “ordering” but “appealing”) and we are to ask for the right things (being reasonable in what we expect from people).

4.      In this session, we are going to look at a third principle of developing good relationships with others—fostering “win-win” situations. I want to re-read vv.10-11 which we read last week and then read vv. 15-16.  (Text - Philemon 1:10-11, 15-16)


T.S. – There are essentially three ways the relationships in our lives can play out.  Our relationships can play out as a—

·         Lose-lose situation, where both parties get something negative from the relationship...the relationship is not good for either party...

·         Lose-win situation, where one party gets something positive from the relationship and one party gets something negative from the relationship...the relationship is good for one of the parties but not the other...

·         Win-win situation, where both parties get something positive from the relationship...the relationship is good for both of the parties...

Of those three scenarios, obviously “win-win” is the best for all the parties involved. From these verses I want to point out a couple of things we can do to enhance the likelihood of creating win-win situations in our relationships.


I.    To create a win-win situation, we need to focus on that which is positive

1.      Paul certainly did that in terms of the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon.  He could have easily focused on the negative things.  For example, Paul could have—

·         Dwelt on how wrong it was for Onesimus to run away from Philemon, and if he took some money on his way out as the record seems to indicate, he could have loudly denounced that as well.  It would not have been difficult for Paul to heighten what Philemon had lost in his relationship with Onesimus.

·         Dwelt on the pain Onesimus suffered under Philemon.  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there is some indication that Philemon may have been an overly harsh master, mistreating Philemon and causing him to risk his life by running away.

  1. But instead of focusing on the negative, Paul says an incredibly positive thing in verse 11.  The name Onesimus was a common name for slaves.  That’s because the word means “profitable” or “useful.”  Obviously, there was a time when Onesimus was not very profitable for or useful to Philemon.  But Paul tells Philemon in v.11 that all that has changed.  Of the man named “profitable” or “useful” who had been neither, Paul says in v.11 that he “ is useful to you and to me.”
  2. What some would have viewed as a lose-lose event—a slave running away from his master—Paul was able to view as a win-win event.  Paul found something positive in the situation for everyone involved.

·         Paul won by having the privilege of leading Onesimus to faith in Christ and being cared for by him.

·         Onesimus won by becoming a believer and making amends for his failures in the past.

·         Philemon won by having a once useless servant returned to him, not just as a servant but as a fellow believer.


  1. And from how Paul approached this situation there is much for us to learn about building better relationships in our lives.  One way to make sure our relationships are healthy is to focus on what is positive for each person in the relationship.   For any relationship to endure, it must be mutually beneficial for both parties involved. 
  2. Think for a moment about the key relationships in your life.  Are you able to see something positive for everyone involved in those relationships?  For example--

·         If you are married, can you see ways that both you and your spouse benefit from the relationship?  If in a marriage one spouse always dominates the other, always wins and the other always loses, that marriage will eventually come unraveled.  Their must be a healthy give and take in marriage, and both partners must find positive things in the relationship for the marriage to last.

·         If you have children, do you see ways that you are a blessing to your children and your children a blessing to you?

·         When you think of your relationship with your friends, can you think of positive, encouraging things each of you get from the relationship?

  1. To develop win-win relationships, we must focus on the positive things all parties get from the relationship.


II.  To create a win-win situation, we must take the long-view of life.

  1. I want to direct your attention to verse 15 for a moment.  “For perhaps he was for this reason parted from you for a while, that you should have him back forever...”  There is a deliberate contrast in that verse between the phrases “parted from you for a while” and “that you should have him back forever.”  If effect, Paul was saying to Philemon, “Don’t take the short view of this event.  Don’t look at just what has happened or is happening now.  Look down the road.  See the good things that will come from all this.”
  2. And then in verse 16 Paul reminds Philemon of one of those good things.  He says that Onesimus left you as a slave, but in the future he will be to you “a beloved brother”...there are several significant things that need to be understood about that phrase...

·         That is the exact same way that Paul described Philemon in v.1.  Paul was saying, “As a result of all that has happened, the time will come when you will be able to think of and relate to Onesimus in the same way I think of and relate to you.  He will be you much loved brother.”

·         And this relationship of brotherhood between Philemon and Onesimus would not be a temporary thing, but as Paul put it at the end of v.15, “ should have him back forever...”

  1. And what I want you to see in all that is that Paul urged Philemon to focus on more than the immediate circumstances.  He told him to take the long view of these events, and doing so helped Philemon see how all this could turn out as a win-win situation for him and Onesimus.


  1. Sometimes we are much too quick to judge the events of life and what happens in our relationships.  We sometimes assume an event or a relationship is bad when in fact it may be good, and we sometimes assume and an event or a relationship is good when in fact it may be bad.  And judging too quickly can keep us from having a win-win approach to the relationships in our lives.
  2. Paul Powell, in the book The Great Deceiver, tells an ancient Chinese parable about the importance of taking the long view of the events of life.

An old Chinese man owned a beautiful stallion. However, one day the horse broke out of the enclosure and ran away. The neighbor moaned, “Oh, that is bad.” But the owner of the stallion responded, “I don’t know about that. It may be too soon to say.”

Sure enough, two or three days later the stallion came back with a dozen wild horses following him, and he led them into the enclosure. Again the observing neighbor commented. This time he ex­ulted: “This is wonderful. You had one horse and now you have thirteen.” But the owner of the stallion responded, “I don’t know about that. It may be too soon to say.”

Sure enough, the next day, the son of the man who now possessed thirteen horses tried to break one of the new stal­lions. Unfortunately, he was thrown off and he broke his leg. One again, the ever ob­servant neighbor commented, “Oh, how terrible. Your son will be stove up for months.” But the owner of the stallion re­sponded, “I don’t know about that. It may be too soon to say.”

Sure enough, the next week a Chinese warlord came through and conscripted every able-bodied young man and took them off to war. But he didn’t take the son of the man who owned the horses because he was laid up with a broken leg. [Paul Powell, The Great Deceiver. Nashville, TN:  Broadman Press, 1988, p. 69]

3.      Looking beyond the moment will help us approach life with a win-win perspective.


1.   We may live in the most competitive culture the world has ever known.  From our earliest days and in all sorts of ways, we who have grown up in the American culture of the late 20th and early 21st century have been taught that life consists of winners and losers.  The way to get ahead is to climb over someone else.  To be a winner you must create a loser.

2.   While that may be true when you keeping score in an athletic contest or some other game, it is not true in the arena of relationships.  It is possible to have relationships where all parties are winners.  And that is much more likely to happen if we follow Paul’s advice to Philemon—

·         Focus on that which is positive...

·         Take the long view of life...