In the book of Philemon, Paul asks Philemon to take into his team a man named Onesimus. It is clear in the letter that Paul has some convincing to do before Philemon is going to say yes. Paul is not onsite at the time. He is far away and he is having to do this through a letter. Have you every had your boss ask something that could be a little controversial to you through a letter, a memo, a voice mail or an email? Of course you have. We all have. And if we are a boss, we have done it ourselves. It is impossible for a boss to be in all places at once so there are times where there is no choice because of travel, distance, time zones, or the need for speed, that the boss has to make a request not face to face or even live on the phone. There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently by Matt Richtel who was lamenting that our forms of communication are so reliable now that it has become implausible in fiction to have something happen to the characters because they couldn’t connect or be late without updating each other. It is true, but even so, there are many times in the workplace where the communication doesn’t come live and we have to accept requests or do things we don’t want to do because the boss asks us from afar or through written communication. In the book of Philemon Paul does this but he does so in a way that gives Philemon the context he needs to understand why Paul couldn’t communicate live. In verse one he says, “This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus…” There is the context of why he can’t be there to talk this through with Philemon live and hear out his concerns, thoughts and questions. Paul was in prison. I have been the one, as the boss, who has had to make these kinds of requests over email or voicemail and there were times that I certainly felt like I was in prison in a meeting, a conference, on a plane, or multiple time zones away. The point is that as we ask, or when we receive these messages, we should consider that the reason why the request is coming like it is, is many times critical in the acceptance or rejection of the message. Paul provides Philemon a context and reason that can’t be argued. We don’t always have such a valid reason, but whatever the cause that we can’t be there, it is important to share it, and be honest. It might be that you as the boss had to put the priority of family first and you are sending an email from your son’s little league baseball game. That’s okay, just whatever, tell it like is is and the truth will be enough. Tough messages from afar are not easy to send or receive so take the time when you get one to consider the whole context, take a deep breath and then try and understand what is being asked or said. As we step through Paul’s letter to Philemon in the coming days, we will see that Paul goes on to explain even more why this request and what good can come from listening and taking the perspective of understanding the whole picture before responding.
Reference: Philemon 1:1 (New Living Testament)