Philemon: Leading in Love


Sunday, September 18, 2022

The letter to Philemon is one of the shortest of all the epistles and also stands out from many of the others as addressed to an individual rather than to a church. Not only that, but in Paul’s salutation, he identifies himself not as an apostle as he does in his letters to the churches, one with authority over Philemon, but as a prisoner and a coworker of Philemon. This letter is a masterclass in how to lead in love, rather than in authority. If you are in a position of leadership or desire to be a leader, then take to heart the lesson that Paul gives here.

Before we look at how Paul leads Philemon, let’s look at what Paul wants. While Paul is in Rome, he teaches and converts a slave who ran away from his master in Colossae, a man named Onesimus. This man was the slave of Philemon, a disciple at the church in Colossae. Paul becomes very close with Onesimus and considers him to be like a son (Philemon 1:10). After his conversion, Onesimus is willing to return to his master. It’s for this reason that Paul writes to Philemon: to request that Philemon accepts Onesimus back into his service, not just as a slave but also as a brother in the faith (Philemon 1:16).

Now Paul has the authority as an apostle to simply command Philemon to do the right thing here, to receive Onesimus even though Onesimus wronged him by running away. Paul could have written his salutation as he did in the letter to the church, as an apostle of Jesus by the will of God (Colossians 1:1). Instead, Paul humbles himself and approaches Philemon as an equal, as two coworkers in the same mission. This is such an important lesson for leaders. There is a time to exercise authority over people, but there is also a time for a leader to empty himself of his authority so that those you lead can step up and make a free will decision that comes from love rather than coercion (Philemon 1:8-9, 14). 

After his greeting, Paul warms up Philemon with some well-deserved praise. Philemon is praised for his love for the saints, for his faith toward Lord Jesus, for the refreshment of the hearts of the saints (Philemon 1:4-7). Paul tells him how encouraged that even he is just to hear of the works of Philemon. There’s a common teaching these days that for every criticism, you should also give five compliments. Here Paul is demonstrating that principle beautifully. He shares his praise and his personal encouragement in hearing of all that Philemon has done. In doing this, he is able to put forward a request and have it fall on welcoming ears. I have made the mistake before of leading my feedback with criticism and it is never well received. If you learn one thing from this letter, know that your encouragement has more power to make people change than your criticism alone ever will.

Now that Paul has opened with praise, he is ready to put forth his criticism, although to call it a criticism isn’t quite right. Paul knows that Philemon has every right to refuse to receive Onesimus. Philemon was wronged by his slave, and why should he take back an unfaithful servant? If Paul had just sent Onesimus back without sending a letter ahead of him, Paul foresees that Philemon might stumble and fail to receive Onesimus as a brother. If that were to happen, Paul would then have to criticize Philemon for his lack of love for his brother in the faith. So Paul gets ahead of this situation and gives Philemon the chance to make the right decision before he is put in that difficult situation. Paul is so wise. I doubt that I would ever have that insight and foreknowledge to turn a potentially sour encounter into a positive one. 

How can we take this lesson and make it practical? If you are in a position of leadership in your church, your youth group, your school, your job, whatever it may be, try to apply these lessons.

1. Give people the chance to make the right choice before you exercise your authority.

2. Praise people for their good works before you attempt to correct, guide or criticize.

3. Provide guidance before a situation arises. It is easy to recommend a course of action than to correct an error in action. The past is set in stone, but the future is still open.

Even if you aren’t in a position of leadership, I encourage you to heap praise on your leaders and your coworkers.

-Nathaniel Johnson


Genesis 35-37

Genesis 37 4 NIV

We are finally off Jacob!! I think I am super excited to not have to write about him anymore. Haha. Today we are going to start on the beginning of the story of Joseph and I am pretty pumped for Joseph. He is a really awesome character of the Bible. There are a ton of lessons that you can learn from his life.

Have you ever caught yourself being jealous of another person? It may not even be their whole life but just like parts of. I know I totally have areas where I’m jealous. My personal areas are intelligence, athletic abilities, leadership style, their writing ability or musical talent.  Here is the thing I like about me. I do. I think God made me great and I think through God’s grace and patience he is continually making me better in the characteristics that he will use to build his kingdom. You are great too and God made you with the strengths that you have for a reason; to build his kingdom and glorify him. Yet, 99% of us still have issues with jealousy and the other 1% have pride problems. Hahaha.

Let’s get started on Joseph though. The first mention we have of Joseph is Genesis 37 and it starts out with his dreams. You definitely should go read this chapter. It will help out tremendously with understanding this devotion. Joseph was the last born of Jacob’s children and because of that Jacob loved him more than his other sons. To demonstrate his love for his son Jacob gave him a robe of many colors. His brothers noticed that their father loved Joseph and hated him because of it.

When Joseph was older he had a dream that said that his brothers will bow down to him. Remember, Joseph was the younger brother. After a half second of contemplation you would totally understand why Joseph’s older brothers would not be blessed by this dream. This made them hate him even more. Then another night he had a dream that his whole family including his mother and father would bow down before him. In verse 11 it says “And his brothers were jealous of him…”.

I can empathize with his brothers at this point. I have totally been jealous of some people that I have seen being used by God. I don’t think this is the worst thing in the world. I just want to be able to glorify God like they are and that is not a terrible thing to want. What Joseph’s brothers choose to do next is definitely not good.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery when he was out in the field one day and then lied to their father and said that he had been killed by a wild animal.

Now, why do you think that his brothers did that? I am going to make a huge leap and say they were probably jealous. I know I am way out there on this one.

They were jealous of him for something small back in the beginning of the chapter and now their jealousy grew and grew and grew until they were selling their brother into slavery. They let it build and simmer under the surface until they did something crazy and harsh. I will go out on a limb here and say that if you were to tell the brothers that they would sell their brother into slavery at the beginning of chapter they would have called you a liar.

Have you ever noticed that if you are jealous of someone, you have a hard time being friends with them? Maybe there is a little extra hostility in your voice that you didn’t intend or you secretly wish they would make a mistake or some sort of small harm would derail them.

I don’t think that what happened to Joseph’s brothers was all of a sudden. They had been jealous of Joseph for a while and because they didn’t resolve this jealousy, they did something that they would come to regret. Love leaves no room for jealousy. It is impossible to love God, love people and be jealous of them. These feelings of envy and jealousy when unkept turn into anger. That is why it is impossible to love someone and be jealous of them.

So how do we keep jealousy from building into anger like what happened to Joseph’s brothers? None of us want unkept jealousy that will ruin our joy and make us do things that we don’t want to do. I am not the authority on this but I can tell what has worked for me. I have found it to be really hard to compliment people I was jealous of. So, I went ahead and complimented them and bragged about them and became a supporter of them. I would tell other people how great I thought they were and it did something weird in my heart. I was no longer jealous of them but I was happy for them and rooting for them.

Another thing that you will need to do is find your strengths, the good things about how God made you, and talk yourself up. Remind yourself that you are made in the image of the maker of heaven and earth and all good things dwells inside of you. If you need help finding your strengths ask a friend what they are and then ask God to help you find your value and worth in Him.

I do all of these things on a semi-regular basis. Let’s keep an eye on that jealousy and remind ourselves of who we are in God, so that we can stay joyful and love others.


Daniel Wall



Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at


Tomorrow’s reading will be Genesis 38-40 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan



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