Session 4

Pay the Price - Philemon 1:17-25


So far in our study of Philemon we have explored three principles for developing good relationships with others.

·         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.  In this letter Paul asks a great deal of Philemon, but he did so in a gracious way.  Instead of “ordering” Philemon to do what he desired, Paul “appealed” to him.

·         In the session last week, primarily from verses 15-16, we talked about the importance of fostering win/win situations with others where both parties get something positive from the relationship.


Tonight, from Philemon 1:17-25 we are going to focus on a fourth principle for developing good interpersonal relationships.  I am calling this principle “Pay the price.”


No doubt you have heard the old saying, “You get what you pay for.”  Like most truisms, that is not always true.  Sometimes you get less than you pay for and on rare occasions you may get more than you pay for.  But generally that is true, and it is certainly true in the area of relationships.  If we are not willing to pay the price of having good relationships in our lives, we almost certainly will not have good relationships. 


Look at Philemon 1:17-25.  From what Paul says to Philemon in those verses, I want to just list for you six things involved in paying the price in our relationships.


I.    Paying the price means being vulnerable, open with other people.

1.      Without openness and a willingness to be vulnerable, relationships never progress past the superficial level.  And the great enemy of being open and vulnerable with others is the fear of rejection.  We fear that if other people know us as we really are—if we share our true thoughts, feelings, and desires with them—they will reject us.  And, ironically, one of the things necessary for having good relationships—being open and vulnerable—we resist doing out of fear of losing a relationship.

2.      Verse 17 is the key verse in Philemon.  The entire letter is summed up in this one verse.  “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.” One of the striking things about that statement is how open Paul was to Philemon and how he made himself vulnerable to being rejected.  Paul did not hesitate to express openly his heart to Philemon.   He laid himself open to being turned down, rejected.  That is a risky thing to do.  But it was precisely because Paul was willing to take that risk that he had such good relationships in his life.

3.      I think I should add a word of caution at his point.  Being open and vulnerable does not mean that we tell everything to everybody.  It does not mean that we are compelled to reveal every detail of our lives to those with whom we are in relationship.  But it does mean being willing to let down the mask and the pretense and let other people into our lives.  And when two people connect in openness, honesty, and vulnerability, something wonderful happens in that relationship.

4.      Paul describes it with the word “partner” in verse 17.  That word, which is from the same word family as the word koinonia meaning sharing or fellowship, carries the idea of two people bound together in a mutually shared life.  When we learn to be open and vulnerable, a bond develops between us and others.


II.  Paying the price means being accepting of others.

1.      In verse 17 Paul asks Philemon to “accept” Onesimus, his runaway slave.  The word “accept” is one of those compound words made up of a verb meaning “to take” and a preposition meaning “by the side”...the word means to take someone by your side or alongside you...instead of pushing them away, draw them toward you...

2.      It does not mean to be blind to or ignore a person’s faults...instead, it means to accept a person in spite of his or her faults...and that spirit of acceptance is foundational to any healthy relationship...

3.      Johnny Lee Clary and Wade Watts could not have been more different.  Clary was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma.  Watts was the African American pastor of a church in McAlester.  They met in a radio station where they were going to debate each other.  When the Reverend Watts walked into the station he saw Johnny Lee Clary defiantly dressed in his white sheet.  And then Watts did an amazing thing.  He walked over to Johnny Lee, extended his hand, and said, “I love you.”  The Grand Dragon of the KKK was so caught off guard that he stuck out his hand and shook hands with the black minister.  That was in 1979.  Johnny Lee Clary never forgot that moment.  About 10 years later when he came to faith in Christ, the first thing Clary did was to call on Reverend Watts.  Watts invited Clary to speak at his church, and soon the two men began traveling together across the south preaching about racial reconciliation.  That simple act of acceptance in a radio studio in 1979 led to a deep relationship between two men who could not have been more different. [Randall, O’Brien, Set Free by Forgiveness, pp. 76-77]


III. Paying the price means being unselfish.

1.      Look at verse 18.  This is the verse on which some people base the belief that when Onesimus ran away from Philemon he stole some money as he left.  “But if he as wronged you in any way (obviously Onesimus had wronged Philemon by running away, so this statement is probably referring to something in addition to that), or owes you anything, charge that to my account...”  In the interest of restoring the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon and in the interest of keeping his own relationship with Philemon healthy, Paul said, “I am willing to pay anything Onesimus owes you.  Just charge it to me and I will take care of it.”

2.      And that attitude of unselfishness is one of the keys to Paul’s good relationship with Philemon.  Selfishness, self-centeredness are always barriers to healthy relationships.  You simply cannot be a selfish person and maintain good relationships. 

3.      It is not an exaggeration for me to say that the vast majority of the problems I see in relationships—whether it is between husbands/wives, parents/children, friend/friend—stem from selfishness.  When we insist on getting what we want no matter what the consequences to those around us, the key relationships in our lives will crumble.

4.      I love the little story that made the rounds several years ago about a mother preparing pancakes for her two sons.  The boys were fighting over who would get the first pancake.  The mother said to the boys, “If Jesus were here, He would say to his brother, ‘You can have the first one.’”  Upon hearing that, one of the boys turned to his brother and said, “Okay, you can be Jesus!”

  1. We’ll never build healthy relationships with that attitude.


IV. Paying the price means being committed to the relationship.

1.      It wasn’t unusual for Paul to dictate his letters and then write the last few lines in his own hand.  But in Philemon Paul begins writing a little sooner than he normally would.  Think there is a reason for that.  After telling Philemon in verse 18 to charge to him anything Onesimus might owe, Paul picks up the pen in verse 19 and writes, “I will repay it...”  It is like Paul is providing his guarantee or signing a note.

2.      And what we can learn from that is that meaningful relationships are built on commitment.  In the pre-marital counseling process, I tell every couple I marry that the glue which holds marriage together is not love; it is commitment.  Love is an emotion.  Sometimes you feel it very strongly, and sometimes you may not feel it at all.  On the other hand, commitment is an act of the will.  You don’t feel commitment; you decide to be committed. Commitment is doing what is right, even when you don’t feel like.  And amazingly, when we do what is right, our feelings will eventually catch up with that.

3.      To have a meaningful relationship you must be committed to the relationship.  Do what is right.  Don’t let your feelings shape your commitment; let your commitment shape your feelings.


V.  Paying the price means being willing to receive that others have to give.

1.      Sometimes relationships do not work because one party does not know how to accept graciously what the other party is able to give.  As I’ve said several times during this study, healthy relationships must involve both giving and receiving.  Just as it is not healthy for one person to be always receiving, it is also not healthy for one person to be always giving.  There must be healthy balance between the two.

2.      In verse 20, Paul expressed his willingness to receive from Philemon by saying, “...let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” We saw that word “refresh” back in verse 7.  I mentioned several weeks ago the word means to lift someone’s burden or to ease someone’s pain.  By using that word, Paul is saying, “I am willing to accept your ministry to me, to be blessed by what you are able to do for me.”

3.      Part of paying the price in relationships is allowing other people to minister to and care for us.


VI. Paying the price means being willing to hold others accountable.

1.   In verse 22 Paul tells Philemon, “...prepare me a lodging; for I hope that through your prayers I shall be given to you.”  Do you hear what Paul is really saying there?  In a not so subtle way he is saying, “I’m going to come personally and check up on you.  I want to see for myself how you and Onesimus are doing.”  In other words, Paul was saying to his friend, “I am going to hold you accountable for what you do.”

2.   Accountability is essential for healthy relationships.  Husbands/wives who don’t hold each other accountable for maintaining the integrity of the marriage relationship, father/mothers who don’t hold their children accountable for keeping the rules they have set, employers who do not hold employees accountable for their job performance are not strengthening but undermining these essential life relationships.


T.S. – To have healthy relationships, we must learn to pay the price--Be open, accepting, unselfish, committed, willing to receive what others give, and willing to hold others accountable.  Doing those things will help you build better relationships in your life.


1.   At the outset of our study of Philemon, I told you that one of the interesting things about this story is that we are not told how it ends.  The Scripture does not tell us how Philemon responded to Paul’s request concerning the runaway slave, Onesimus.  But there may be a clue about that from church history.  In the year 115 A.D. a man known as Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to the Bishop of Ephesus.  And the name of the Bishop of Ephesus was Onesimus.  Many scholars believe that is the same Onesimus referred to in the letter of Philemon.

2.   It is a wonderful thought that Philemon may have chosen to relate to Onesimus in the same way Paul related to him.  Affirming him, be gracious to him, seeking a win-win relationship with him, and paying the price to maintain a good relationship.  And as a result, Onesimus rose to a place of great prominence in the early church.

3.   Whether or not that is what happened, I cannot say for sure.  But I can say this.  If we practice those four principles for building better relationships in our lives, the people in our lives will be blessed and we’ll have better relationships with them.