Sermon Outlines

Ever wish you had paid more attention in seminary? Struggling with preparing a sermon? GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins wants to help pastors with useful resources to help them as they serve the Lord.

With more than a quarter century of pastoral leadership, Hawkins makes available some of his most popular sermon outlines for pastors, Sunday school teachers and other Bible study leaders. These free resources can help you as you prepare your sermon or lesson each week.

In addition to these sermon outlines, Hawkins offers his video Weekly Staff Meetings with insights on some of the most common issues pastors and ministers face as well as a Podcast.

The power of positive, productive, interpersonal relationships

The power of positive, productive, interpersonal relationships

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:02 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:02 PM


Philemon 1-25

Philemon 1-25

The letter of Paul to Philemon is about relationships in the church. Following his salutation, Paul lists five vital elements for interpersonal relationships.

I. Affirmation of one another (vv. 4-7)

Affirmation is the greatest motivational factor in interpersonal relationships.

II. Accommodation of one another (vv. 8-11)

Here is the synergistic principle of a win/win relationship.

III. Acceptance of one another (vv. 12-16)

True reconciliation requires a repentant heart and a receptive heart.

IV. Allegiance to one another (vv. 17-21)

True commitment is one of the missing elements in many relationships today.

V. Accountability to one another (vv. 22-25)

We all need accountability in our relationships with one another.

We will never be properly related to one another until we are properly related to ourselves and this will only happen when we are properly related to our Heavenly Father.

The Lord's Supper

The Lord's Supper

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:02 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:02 PM


1 Corinthians 11:23-28

1 Corinthians 11:23-28

Every time you partake of the Lord's Supper, you are retelling the story of the cross.

I. A word of explanation (v. 23)

Christ's broken body and shed blood is pictured in the taking of the bread and the cup.

II. A word of exaltation (vv. 24-25)

We take the supper to remember Him. We are a thankful people, full of praise and exaltation unto Him.

III. A word of expectation (v. 26)

The Lord's Supper is taken in anticipation of His promised return.

IV. A word of examination (v. 28)

We should only come to the Lord's table after we have examined our lives before Him.

This is the Lord's table. He invites us to preach a sermon every time we eat the bread or drink the cup. We are proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes.

The family secret

The family secret

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:02 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:02 PM


Romans 8:28

Romans 8:28

Every family has their family secrets; those things we know about ourselves that others outside our family do not know about us. Did you know that in God’s family we have a family secret? There is something we know that those not in the family of God do not know.

Our family secret is found in Romans 8:28. Think about the way it begins—For WE know… Yes, Romans 8:28 is a family secret. This verse has given more comfort to Christians than perhaps any other single verse in the Bible. How many of us in time of need have climbed upon this verse and stood there and found comfort? Our family secret is:

I. Confidential

For we know

The lost world doesn’t know this truth but “we” do. Only those of us born into the family of God can comprehend it.

II. Constructive

Things work together for good

How many times in our own experience have we looked back over our Christian lives and in retrospect observed something that at the time seemed to be so disastrous but ended up working for our good?

III. Comprehensive

All things

Can we believe this? Had Paul said, “Some things” or “Many things” or even “Most things”, we might be better able to grasp it. But he says, All things! God can take even our mistakes and messes and work them together in the tapestry of the cross so that all things can work together for our good and His glory.

IV. Conditional

To those who love God and are called to His purpose

When quoting Romans 8:28 many of us leave off this last phrase. The love spoken of here is agape, the highest level of sacrificial love. Thus, this promise is to the one who longs to see Christ lifted up and exalted through his or her life and experiences.

We have a family in the family of God. It is confidential, constructive, comprehensive, and conditional. Yes, God has a way of working all things together for our good when we love Him and long to see Him glorified through our lives.

The Empty Tomb and the Second Chance

The Empty Tomb and the Second Chance

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:01 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:01 PM


Mark 16:7

Mark 16:7

In Mark’s account of the Resurrection, we see the gospel expressed in just two words. He says in Mark 16:7, “But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” The two words are “And Peter.” In the midst of this angelic message we do not find words of antagonism such as, “Go and tell the disciples and Pontius Pilate or Herod or Cephas.” We do not find words of appreciation such as, “Go and tell the disciples and John.” Instead we find words of affection, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.” Our Lord knew of Peter’s failure and of his brokenness. He knew Peter needed encouragement, a new beginning, a second chance. On this Easter many of us stand where Peter stood, in need of a second chance, in need of the gospel.

These two little words – “and Peter” – reveal that the second chance is possible, it is personal, it is private and it is profitable.

I. The second chance is possible

How is the second chance possible? Because of the Resurrection. If there was no Resurrection, there would be no gospel, no good news, no second chance. The Bible is full of stories of men and women who have been give a second chance: Moses (a murderer); David (an adulterer); Jonah (who ran from God in disobedience). But remember, before his second chance that Peter was broken hearted and “wept bitterly” in repentance. The second chance is possible, but it is not automatic. Judas, the rich young ruler, Pontius Pilate did not get it. The second chance is for men and women like Peter who have repented, recognized their sin and wept bitterly over it.

II. The second chance is personal

The love of Christ singles us out by name. He “calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3). Jesus used Simon Peter’s new name “Peter.” After all Peter had been given a new nature, even though he was living here by his old nature. It is one thing for us to believe in Jesus, it is another for us to know he believes in us. God still uses ordinary people, like Peter and like us, to change the world. Sin can wreck our lives, but it can’t keep God from loving us.

III. The second chance is private

In 1 Cor. 15:5 it tells us that when our Lord arose from the grave He “was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.” After the Resurrection one of the first things our Lord did was to meet privately with Peter. We do not know what took place, but here we see the tenderness of our Lord. Denied in public, he first restores Peter in private before doing so publically. Do we know anything of this private encounter with the Lord in our own lives?

IV. The second chance is profitable

This meeting transformed Peter’s life. He went on to Pentecost and after that to become the undisputed leader of the early church. We have a way of remembering one’s failures and often forgetting their strong points. Not so our Lord. He enables us to get up again, and to live profitably because of the second chance he extends to us. Look at the prodigal son, at Abraham, at Moses, at David, at Peter. Thank God he can use us, and make our lives profitable even when we have messed up in the past. He is the God of the second chance.

The Deacon Ordination

The Deacon Ordination

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:01 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:01 PM


Acts 6:1-7

Acts 6:1-7

One of the beautiful gifts the Lord gave the early church is the ministry of the deacon. In Acts 6 we find the birth of the deacon — its instigation, its initiation, its integration and its inspiration.

I. The deacon's instigation (vv. 1-2)

The instigation of the deacon was to maintain unity in the early church.

II. The deacon's initiation (v. 3)

Certain qualifications were needed to be designated as a deacon.

III. The deacon's integration (vv. 3b-4)

The deacon's primary task was serving and meeting the physical needs of the members.

IV. The deacon's inspiration (vv. 5-7)

The coming together of the pastors and the deacons inspires unity, the spreading of the gospel and the priority of the pastors giving themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

The church in touch with a hurting world

The church in touch with a hurting world

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:00 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:00 PM


James 5:13-18

James 5:13-18

We live in a world of hurts. Hearts are hurting, homes are hurting, and hopes are hurting. The church must touch the world with the message of hope. In addressing this issue, James dealt with the situation, the solution, and the secret.

I. The Situation (vv. 13-15)

People find themselves in all kinds of situations. Some people are in pressure situations, others are experiencing pleasure and some are in pain.

II. The Solution (v. 16)

There are two parts to the solution. The horizontal solution involves us in confession and restoration with our fellow man. The vertical solution requires that we pray for one another.

III. The Secret (vv. 16-18)

Effective prayer will help us make a difference in our hurting world. This type of prayer is approached with integrity, asked with intensity and answered with immensity.

For a more complete treatment of this passage, please see Getting Down to Brass Tacks by O. S. Hawkins.

The Call of God

The Call of God

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:00 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:00 PM


Acts 13:2

Acts 13:2

Recently a leading seminary educator lamented the fact that so many applicants to a particular educational institution were simply searching for a vocation and few were speaking of any sense of divine calling into the gospel ministry. When, as a young man, I was hearing God’s “call” to my heart for ministry, my pastor, Dr. W. Fred Swank, said to me, “Son, if you can do anything else in life and find joy and contentment, go and do it; for if you can, you have not been called into ministry.”

The Apostle Paul did not see himself as someone who had chosen the ministry as a career change but as a “sent” man (Acts 13:3-4). In Acts 13:2 there are four important elements related to the call of God upon our lives.

I. The call of God is personal

The Holy Spirit said to those believers at Antioch, separate Barnabas and Saul for the particular task He had in mind. There were many others in the church at Antioch but it was only Barnabas and Saul who received God’s call to a specific task. He did not call Lucius or Simeon or Manaen or any of the others named in this church. The call of God is personal. He still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes.

II. The call of God is purposeful

The Lord said, “Separate” for me Barnabas and Saul. The same Greek word is used in Galatians 1:15 when Paul says, God set me apart from birth and called me from my mother’s womb. God has purpose for each of our lives. We are set apart by Him for that particular purpose which no one can perform quite like we can when we are called and empowered by His spirit.

III. The call of God is practical

The Holy Spirit said that these two individuals were set apart for the work to which He had called them. Not only did God choose the man, He chose the work the man was to do. The ministry is work. When we are walking in the spirit, we do not wear out the seats of our pants but the soles of our shoes. There is a very practical part to the calling of God.

IV. The call of God is providential

Note. They were set apart for the work to which I have called them. This Greek expression is in the perfect tense indicating that this was something in the mind of God completed in ages past. There is a very real sense in which churches do not “call” the servant of God. Resumes and recommendations do not place us in divinely appointed positions. The call of God is providential.

Some churches today have forgotten that what we are about is supernatural. Some act as if the pastor was to be a “hireling” of the church. The God-called pastor does not work for the church. He has a higher calling. He loves the church and gives himself to her and for her, but he recognizes a higher calling.

Yes, God still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. The call of God is personal, purposeful, practical, and providential.

The Bible: God’s inspired Word

The Bible: God’s inspired Word

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:00 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:00 PM


2 Timothy 3:16-17

2 Timothy 3:16-17

I. The defined extent of an inspired Bible

All scripture… (v. 16a).

II. The detailed evidence of an inspired Bible

Is given by inspiration of God… (v. 16b).

III. The divine effect of an inspired Bible

And is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness… (v. 16c).

IV. The desired end of an inspired Bible

That the man of God may be perfect (complete), thoroughly furnished unto all good works… (v. 17).

The Art of Connecting: Win-win...the only way to play - Part 3

The Art of Connecting: Win-win...the only way to play - Part 3

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:58 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:58 PM


Philemon 8–11

Philemon 8–11

Most of us have a private spot somewhere around the house where we keep letters from the past. Perhaps a letter of affirmation or a letter of apology written in days gone by from someone dear to our heart. Or, perhaps, an old love letter that has yellowed and grown tattered by the years and is stuck back in a dresser drawer. Some of us even frame letters from prominent people and display them on our office walls. I am thankful we are in possession of a copy of this two-thousand year old letter to Philemon preserved for all posterity. It is a case study in the art of connecting, managing our interpersonal relationships. After all, this is the secret to success in our home life, our work life, and in the social arena as well.

This ancient letter under consideration is extremely practical in the “how-to’s” of developing and maintaining productive relationships with others. We have already examined the importance of getting off to a good start through affirmation. A pat on the back has a disarming effect. Now, this master motivator of men builds upon his foundation by showing the importance of what many are calling today the “win-win” philosophy of relationships. His letter to Philemon continues, “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love…formerly he (Onesimus) was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (Philem. 8–11). Paul appeals to his friend on the basis of an ongoing relationship in which there will be no losers. Everyone can win and prosper. Playing win-win with others in the game of life is the only way to play.


Relationships take on many different forms and sizes. Some relationships are built upon competition. This type relationship has been popularly coined a win-lose relationship. That is, some will only stay in a relationship where they always win and the other person always loses. “Bully Bob” plays the game of life on this particular turf. As long as he is always on top, always the star attraction on center stage and always in control he will continue in a relationship. But let the other party win just once and the relationship is in serious trouble. Bully Bob has to win every argument and always be right. In fact, it is not even enough that he always wins, he is not fully content unless the other side loses. Have you ever tried to relate to someone like Bully Bob who always has to win at someone else’s expense? He is always in competition.

Why won’t relationships based upon competition work in the long run? It is because everyone involved eventually ends up losing. Take, for example, a husband and a wife in a competitive win-lose relationship. He constantly orders her around the house. He coerces and controls. After a while, resentment begins to take root and inevitably reaches a boiling point. All these years he thinks he has won. But he wakes up one day only to find she has finally had enough and she leaves never to return. And, in the end, they both end up losing!

Need another example? Take Bully Bob’s relationship with his son. Since he only knows how to play win-lose he keeps his thumb on the boy. He manipulates, controls, gives orders and even uses blackmail with the use of the car. Resentment builds in the lad with every passing year of adolescence. As soon as the son is old enough to leave home he hits the door, never comes back and seldom calls. Tragically, it is not uncommon for him to spend a lifetime without any relationship with his dad. They both end up in the losers column because Bully Bob never realized that a relationship built on competition will not produce any winners in the long run.

Bully Bob meets the same tragic end in the business world. He is a salesman who never lets his purchaser get a “good deal”. He doesn’t think he has done his job unless he wins and his customer loses. He jacks up his wholesale prices and after awhile leaves his customer with such a low profit margin that he is forced out of business. Thus, when all is said and done, once again they both end up losing. A lot of men and women try to relate to others through competition. But the win-lose approach is no way to play the game. When the final whistle sounds everyone ends up a loser!


Some relationships are built upon compromise. This type connection could be referred to as a lose-win relationship. “Loser Larry” tries to relate to others on this playing field. He is the fellow with the martyr’s complex. He possesses such damaged self-esteem and low self-worth that he feels the only way he can maintain a relationship with someone is to always put himself down and let the other person win. Have you ever known anyone like Loser Larry? He is to be pitied. He is always walking around on egg shells artificially patting the other party on the back and constantly lifting him up in the hope that, in turn, he will then be accepted. He is a compromiser.

Why won’t relationships built and based upon compromise, the lose-win philosophy, produce long term, lasting results? Again, it is because, in the end, everyone involved ends up losing. Loser Larry gives the store away until there is nothing left. And in the process, his “friends” lose all respect for him and they eventually discover that his acquaintance has only given them a false sense of self-worth. Relationships based on competition or compromise have never produced a real winner in the game of life.


Other relationships are built upon complacency. These are commonly referred to as lose-lose relationships. “Miserable Marvin” can be found on this court. He is the guy who is more interested in seeing you lose than seeing himself win. Yes, misery loves company. He is complacent. He never puts anything into a relationship and never expects anything out of one. Miserable Marvin in basically a loser like Larry Loser. However, what makes him different is that he will only relate to you as long as you are a loser too. As soon as some good fortune comes your way he will cut you off at the pass. “Miserable” is not his middle name, it is his first name. Sadly, he has lost in life and his low level of self-confidence only enables him to find a comfort level with other losers. Thus, he spends his life playing lose-lose.

Why won’t relationships based on complacency work in the long run? You guessed it! Everyone eventually ends up losing. Life loses its spirit of conquest and challenge. Complacency sets in and “iron no longer sharpens iron”. Relationships built upon complacency never produce any real winners in the game of life.


There are other relationships which are built upon capitulation. “Flake-out Fred” plays on this field. He is a quitter. If things don’t go his way he takes his ball and goes home. He quits. He capitulates. He gets started but then he stops. Have you seen him around? He has been involved in a hundred different relationships and every new one is “the one” he has been waiting for so long. He plunges into it with uncontrolled enthusiasm…for a few days or weeks…and then he quits and immediately starts looking for the next one. He is a flake. It is easier for him to just walk away and quit than to hang in there and make it work. Flake-out Fred usually preys relationally on the Loser Linda’s of life, those who like to play lose-win. Relationships based upon capitulation never produce lasting results. Once again, the reason is obvious — everyone ends up losing.


A fifth way people seek to play the relationship game is on the field of cancellation. Here we find “Absent Alan”. He simply forfeits! He never shows up and the relationship never gets off the ground. Actually, there is no relationship because Absent Alan forfeits the game. Do you know him? He is the guy who is totally passive. For whatever reason, he never makes the slightest effort to begin a relationship. Obviously, it is then impossible to sustain one since it has never been started in the first place. Absent Alan never wins because he never puts on the uniform and takes the field. And sadly, he keeps others from winning in the process. Cancellation gets us nowhere in the game of life.


Is there a better way than basing relationships on competition (win-lose), compromise (lose-win), complacency (lose-lose), capitulation (quitting) or cancellation (forfeiting)? Indeed there is! Life’s most positive and productive relationships are built upon cooperation. This is what we call a win-win relationship. “Wise William” knows how to play this game. Paul was the captain of this team and the game plan is woven throughout the fabric of the letter to Philemon. Win-win relationships are mutually beneficial. Wise William knows that when the other party wins in a relationship he ends up winning too. Paul said it…to Philemon, about Onesimus… “He has become useful both to you and to me.”

Have you ever been acquainted with anyone like Wise William? He is the man who wins himself by seeing others win. As a husband, Wise William is not in competition with his wife. He seeks the best for her because he is smart enough to realize when she wins and is happy, he ends up a winner too. As a dad, he always wants the best for his son. He knows that if junior has a positive self-image and wins in the game of life, he will share in that victory as though it were his own and he will be a winner as a dad. Over at the office, Wise William is the businessman who wants his customers to win so he can stay in business himself. The most productive friendships in life are win-win relationships based upon cooperation.

Cooperation works! It is the only game plan for the game of life. It is the only type of interpersonal relationship that ends up with everyone who plays on the winning team. There are no losers. In every other type relationship everyone ends up an eventual loser. Not so in the game of win-win. Cooperation is the key to victory and success. For, at the end of the game of interpersonal relationships, if we do not both win, we lose. Win-win is the only realistic approach to mutually beneficial friendships. This is true whether you are a housewife at the kitchen table, an executive at the conference table or a diplomat at the peace table. Let Wise William put you on his team and you will be well on your way to the winner’s stand.

Now, how do we play the game? Paul reveals four critical steps to playing win-win in his letter to Philemon. Step one: Be sensitive. Step two: Be submissive. Step three: Be supportive. Step four: Be sensible. We will see more about this four step approach in some detail in a moment. But first, a question — How does all of this work?

Relations based upon competition (win-lose) do not get very far before they eventually disintegrate. Zaccheus tried to play this game. Most of us remember his story from childhood. He was a rip-off and played win-lose with everyone in Jericho. But one day he saw the light and began to play win-win. It gave him a new lease on life. He began to develop more productive relationships than anyone in town. He restored what he had cheated from others and ended up being the most popular guy at the party.

Relations based upon compromise (lose-win) do not get very far either. the woman of Sychar played that game. She possessed such low self-esteem and such a damaged self-image she thought the only way she could get any attention was to continue in the loser’s bracket while allowing the men of the town to win by using her. But one day she met Jesus of Nazareth at a well and learned how to play win-win. She went back to the very people with whom she had played her games of compromise and introduced them to this One who had changed her life. He spent a couple of days in their village and when He left everyone of them became a winner because of it.

Relations based upon complacency (lose-lose) are equally doomed. The man known only as the “Dying Thief” spent his life playing on this field. Talk about a loser…he wrote the book on it. He lost at life and waited until it was almost too late to do anything about it. But, on a Roman cross of execution outside the city walls of Jerusalem he connected with his Maker and learned how to play a new game. He won! In fact, they both ended up on the winning team.

Relations based upon capitulation are, likewise, headed for defeat. These are the quitters who start and then stop. Elijah of old played on this team. He got off to a great start. He won the big prize on Mount Carmel. The next day he got into an interpersonal relationship spat with a Queen named Jezebel (doesn’t that name bless you?) and he dropped out. He capitulated. He quit. He isolated himself from everyone he knew, sat under a tree alone and started to contemplate suicide. When he got to the end of himself it happened…he met the Lord, learned how to play win-win in life and went from there to the greatest mountain top experiences of his entire career.

Jonah didn’t play any of these relationship games. Cancellation was the name of his game. God wanted to use him to build some relationships in the city of Nineveh. But he didn’t show up. He forfeited. He took off in the opposite direction. However, one day in the belly of a fish he learned how to play win-win and he went to Nineveh and enjoyed incredible results.

The point I am making is that it doesn’t matter how you have played the game thus far, you can get on the winning team today. It is never too late for a new beginning! Jesus of Nazareth is not some musty smelling character from bygone days who is but a figment of the imagination and totally irrelevant to our lives in a twenty-first century world. He is alive and can do for us today what He did for so many back when. Each time He would meet a man or a woman He would place them in a win-win relationship. He walked around lifting people up from their boredom, causing them to feel good about themselves and to begin to positively and productively relate to those around them. Paul got on the team and in his personal letter to Philemon he passes him the ball. He enlightens us to the four steps to win-win relationships. Let’s look at them and learn from them.

Step 1: Be sensitive (Philemon 8)

Sensitivity is essential to all worthwhile relationships. In his letter Paul reminds his friend, “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do” (Philem. 8). But he is sensitive to the fact that people can not be bullied through coercion or compulsion. The best way is to win them through consideration and cooperation. Learn from Paul. Be sensitive. He is saying, “I could play win-lose with you. I could be bold and give you an order. But I refuse to do it. I want everyone in this relationship to emerge a winner.”

In place of being sensitive in our interpersonal relationships many of us approach the situation with a “drill sergeant” approach. We like to give our orders and watch others squirm and jump. Some actually take pride in this approach and think they are winning along the way. I think Paul actually wrestled with this. The easy thing to do would have been to go ahead and “order” Philemon to receive Onesimus which was, indeed, the right thing to do. But he resisted this approach. There was no command and no coercion. He “appealed on the basis of love” (Philem. 9) with a high level of sensitivity. Had Philemon been ordered and had no say of his own in the matter, what kind of relationship do you think would have developed? It would have been built upon compulsion and coercion, guilt and grudge and would have ultimately resulted in a damaging effect on all the relationships involved.

When sensitivity becomes a lost word in our relational vocabulary we have eyes for only our side of the issue. We seldom try to walk in anyone else’s shoes nor are we sensitive to their needs. Paul is being extremely sensitive to Philemon here. He desires a long-term, continual relationship with his trusted friend. Consequently, he is sensitive enough to realize that although he could get his way with an order, he, like Philemon and Onesimus, would only end up an eventual loser in the end.

Paul does remind Philemon that he could order him to “do what you ought to do” (Philem. 8). This is the end Paul has in mind. That is, for Philemon to simply do what he ought to do about his broken relationship with Onesimus. The question is, “How could this be accomplished?” The answer? Step one: Be sensitive. Paul is not requesting that Onesimus, the runaway rip-off, be exonerated for his past mistakes and previous wrongs without remorse or restitution on his part. He is encouraging Philemon to respond out of a commitment to the win-win principle and simply “do what he ought to do”.

How many of our own interpersonal problems would be solved if each of us would simply do what we ought to do? Paul has encouraged Onesimus, the offending party in the broken relationship, to do what he ought to do. That is, to face up to his wrong and go back to Philemon in genuine remorse asking for forgiveness. Now, Paul is encouraging Philemon, the offended party, to do what he ought to do. That is, receive the repentant Onesimus, in Paul’s words, “No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother in the Lord” (Philem. 16).

Let’s get up close and personal for just a moment. Is this too much to ask? That we “do what we ought to do”? Are you doing what you ought to do to build positive relationships in your home? At the office? In your social circles? The first step in developing win-win relationships is to be sensitive. Walk in the other person’s shoes for awhile.

Many of us have lived a lifetime with few long-term and lasting interpersonal relationships because of our desire to command or control others. The lack of sensitivity is rampant in all types of relationships today. Anyone in a relationship with someone who only plays win-lose should wake up. If you are becoming involved with someone who wants to command you and control you, you are headed for trouble no matter how good looking he or she may be nor how much money they may have in their account. Be on the lookout for someone who is sensitive. This is the first step in building mutually productive win-win relationships.

Step 2: Be submissive (Philemon 8–9)

A submissive attitude is indispensable to all worthwhile relationships. Paul continues this paragraph on the importance of win-win relationships by saying, “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love” (Philem. 8–9). We become winners in the game of interpersonal relationships by being submissive. Love always seeks the other person’s highest good. Paul could have called in some chips. He could have exerted his apostolic authority or appealed on the basis of his elder statesmanship and directed Philemon to obey him in the receiving of Onesimus. But Paul was wise in that he knew that lasting relationships are never built upon competition, the win-lose approach. Therefore, he was not only sensitive, but submissive in his appeal.

Hear him say to his friend, “I appeal to you on the basis of love.” Writing in Greek he uses a rather strong word which we translate into our English word, “appeal”. This particular word appears 108 times in the Greek New Testament and is translated in different ways. It is translated “plead” or “strongly urge” or “encourage”. Paul is not barking out orders like a drill sergeant at boot camp. He is asking, appealing, pleading, strongly urging, encouraging his friend, Philemon. He is submissive in his approach.

In our own efforts to win friends and influence people the manner in which we make our particular appeal is of utmost importance. How do you go about winning others to your persuasion? Some of us waste valuable time attempting to appeal to others strictly on the basis of reason. Others make their appeals on the basis of merit, who they are or where they are from. Still others do so on the basis of such things as tenure. Paul teaches us to appeal to others on the basis of “love”. Our English language is so restrictive. The Greeks have several words that can be translated into our English “love”. Paul chose the one that represents the highest level of love. It is best defined as “no matter what someone may do to you by insult or injury, you seek for them only their highest good.” This love is submissive and seeks the other’s best. It is the win-win type.

This is the type love which epitomized Jesus of Nazareth. He could play win-lose with us. He could order us to obey Him. He could pull our strings like a puppeteer to force us to get in step and love Him. But what does He do? He appeals to us on the basis of love. In fact, when the Bible sets out to define Him it simply says, “God is love.” When demonstrated in a win-win fashion, this type of love breaks down barriers and cements relationships. There can be no long-term constructive interpersonal relationships without their being based on an appeal of love.

Think about it. What motivates and appeals to you the most…an order from your superior or an appeal from your superior? For example, take the father who says to his son, “I am telling you right now to get your grades up and that is an order. You have no choice!” What kind of motivating effect do you think that has on the young man? How much better it would be if, in love, the father makes an appeal that results in a win-win situation. And what about husband and wife relationships. The man who orders his wife around loses big-time in the end. Those who appeal to their spouse on the basis of love with a submissive spirit always win at the finish line. And, what about the office? The best of bosses do not order their workers to do this or that. Instead, they appeal with words like, “Let’s see what we can do together to solve the situation in a way that everybody is mutually benefited.”

Love has its own way of finding out what is right and doing it. In fact, it is not a passive word. It is always equated with action. Love is something we do! When we submit to love we “do what we ought to do” much quicker and more completely than when we are forced against our volition to “do what we ought to do.” Cognizant of this, Paul is both sensitive and submissive in appealing to Philemon “on the basis of love”. This is a worthy model for us. We can excel ourselves and motivate others in the process by being sensitive and submissive, not by continuing to insist on our way with a win-lose mentality. There would be so much more harmony in the home and order around the office if men and women would stop trying to control each other and begin appealing to one another on the basis of love. The win-win philosophy produces positive relationships when we are sensitive and submissive.

Step 3: Be supportive (Philemon 10–11)

Mutual support is essential in building lasting friendships. Paul continues playing on the field of win-win relationships by saying, “I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains” (Philem. 10). Win-win friendships bring a bonding, a sense of mutual support. By defending our friends we bond ourselves with them. Taking up for one another is a part of the cement of relationships. It is the win-win technique in action. In short, we should be supportive of one another.

Paul’s very characterization of Onesimus shows his unqualified support for him. He calls him, “My own son.” He carefully chooses a Greek word here that is a term of endearment. It means a small child. Thus, Paul is indicating to Philemon that Onesimus, who is on his way home, is still very young in the faith and needs support and love.

Paul is now coming to the point of his letter and he is already nearly half through with it. This is his first mention of Onesimus. Can you picture the wealthy aristocrat, Philemon, as he reads this letter for the first time? He is reading along and liking what he reads. There is a pat on the back in every sentence. He is smiling and feeling pretty good about himself. This is good news. And then a name appears in the middle of the paragraph and leaps off the letter toward him. Onesimus! “That scoundrel!” Well, how would you feel if someone in whom you had placed your trust embezzled your money, left town and was never heard from again? Onesimus! But wait a minute. Paul says, “My son, Onesimus.”What is this? He reads on, “He became my son while I was in chains.” Philemon must have said to himself, “I cannot believe it. It cannot be!”

Do you see what is happening? A broken relationship is about to be mended and the catalyst, Paul, is not only being sensitive and submissive, but supportive as well. And, of both parties involved. He has shown his support for Philemon in his preceding paragraph by saying, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” Now, he shows his support for Onesimus by adding, “I appeal to you for my son, Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (Philem. 10–11). Paul had shared with Onesimus in prison and was with him when he found a new life and new beginning, when he was “born again.” He was like a spiritual father to Onesimus and therefore, he would stand for him like he would his own son.

Cooperation, win-win, is the only way to play the game of friendship. True friends are not only sensitive and submissive to one another, they are, without question, mutually supportive. Think about your own relationships for a moment. Are you sensitive? Or, do you most generally think only of yourself and what is in the relationship for you? Be honest. Are you submissive? Or, do you generally have to have your own way to be happy? Do you give as much or more than you take in the relationship? Are you supportive? Do your friends and family know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are quick to rise to their defense. Or, do you sometimes let them down? Start playing win-win with others. It is not to late to get in the game. Step one-start being sensitive of other people’s needs and feelings. Step two-start being submissive and stop insisting on your own way all the time. Step three-start being supportive by letting others know you are a faithful friend who can be trusted. There is one final step.

Step 4: Be sensible (Philemon 11–16)

Being sensible, using plain old common sense is vital to positive, productive, interpersonal relationships. Paul concludes his paragraph on the win-win principle by reminding Philemon that, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (Philem. 11). What is the best way to play win-win? Just be sensible. If the other party wins in your relationship you win also. One of the reasons so many fail in so many friendships is simply because they are not sensible about them. Some think the only profitable way to play in the game of life is with win-lose relationships. No, Paul is showing us a much better way. He appeals to Philemon to be sensible and realize that although in the past Onesimus didn’t contribute much to the relationship his friendship is now mutually beneficial to them both.

Paul refers to Onesimus’ previous experience as “useless.” Now, there is an understatement. Remember, this was the guy who had ripped him off and then ran off. The Greek word Paul used to describe him as useless is the same word from which we derive our English word, “archaic”. It portrays something or someone who has lost his usefulness and is therefore, unserviceable. Then, on the heels of this honest confession, Paul wrote down two words — but now! Oh, I love those two words… “But now”. He does not try to justify Onesimus’ previous actions. Quite the contrary, he readily admits the guy was useless. But he doesn’t leave it there. He goes on. “But now, he is useful to both of us. It is a win-win situation for all involved!” Now he is useful. When anyone gets connected with his source and comes into a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Onesimus did it does not produce a nebulous, inefficient, ineffective, useless person. It produces people who are “useful” to those around them.

Be sensible. It is time for a word of warning. Some mistake a win-win relationship for what is, in actuality, a win-lose relationship. Take the parent-child relationship, for example. Often when a loving parent executes discipline upon a child the child thinks in the short term and on the basis of a win-lose relationship. But the parent is not attempting to pull rank in a win-lose fashion. He is building a win-win relationship with the child and is looking long term. Loving parents have their child’s end in mind (no pun intended!) and desire them to come out winners. In the end, they want to see their child go through life with respect for authority and become a better and more productive person because of it. What the child may see as a win-lose proposition is in actuality, a win-win. But we must be sensible to see it.

The same sense applies on the football field. When on the practice field the coach is hard-driving and demanding, some of his players might think he is only interested in a win-lose proposition. And they are the losers in the deal. But, all the while, the coach is looking long-term to the championship game several months away and he is a win-win man. He is not pulling rank on his players. He is hard-driving and demanding because he has a dream of winning the championship and seeing his players turn out to be winners themselves. And, if they will be sensible they will see it.

And, what about around the office. Often workers confuse the office manager’s intensity as a win-lose affair when all the while he or she may be reaching out in a win-win way. Good managers are sometimes perceived to be hard-driving when their underlying motive is to motivate the worker to produce more. In so doing the company stays in business and the worker keeps his job. It turns out to be win-win if people have eyes to see it and are sensible about the situation. Being sensible, using good old common sense, is a must in developing positive, productive, interpersonal relationships.

Now, how does this all work? We must be sensible. The art of connecting is very practical. We must have the common sense to see that in win-lose relationships both parties end up losing. There are no winners in the end. However, when we begin to put the win-win principle into play there are no losers in the end. Everyone ends up on the winning team.

How does it work? Look in the home. Here is a husband and a wife in a win-lose relationship. He orders her around. He controls her. He barks out his commands. There eventually comes a day when her resentment reaches a boiling point. He thinks he has been winning all these years by being the “king of his castle”. But she finally finds the courage to walk out the door and she leaves, never to return. And, the end result? They both lose. There are no winners in the game of win-lose.

How different it is for those husbands and wives who play win-win together. Here is a husband who is sensitive to his wife’s needs. He realizes the need of being mutually submissive to one another. He appeals to her on the basis of love. The Bible is on target when it says that love “covers a multitude of sins”. He is also supportive of her and she never has to wonder if he will come to her defense at any issue which might arise. And, he is sensible. Now, how do you think that wife is going to respond to her husband? She has no problem submitting to love because it has her best interest at heart. He wins. She wins. They live happily ever after.

The same approach will work wonders in parent-child relationships. For example, take the father who knows nothing more than playing in a win-lose relationship with his son. He has to win every argument. He has to be right all the time. Thus, he barks out orders to his son, often in the presence of his peers. He controls his life. He makes all his decisions. He keeps his thumb on him and uses a form of parental blackmail to get his way with the lad. Over the years the resentment continues to build and there comes the day when the son leaves home for college. And he leaves home alright…never to come back and seldom to even call during the ensuing years. Both the dad and the boy lose in the relationship when all the while the father was sure he was winning. How much better and more beautiful when a father and his son are in a win-win relationship. It takes place when the father is smart enough to be sensitive, submissive, supportive and sensible enough to discipline his son in love and keep the lines of communication open and clear along the way. They both can end up on the winning team and enjoy a lifetime of positive and productive fellowship.

If these principles are good for marriage, they are also good for management. Think about it. Here is a salesman and a purchaser in a win-lose relationship. The seller tries to always get an unfair edge and he controls the buyer. He jacks up his price. After awhile, the profit margin shrinks, the company goes out of business and the salesman loses the account in the process. What he thought was a win-lose relationship turned out like they always do — a no-win for anyone situation. On the other hand, here is another salesman who plays the win-win game with his account. He is smart enough to look long-term and understand that if the other party stays in business they have to make a profit. Consequently, the wise salesman is sensitive to what is happening with his accounts. He has a genuine interest in how they are doing and not just in how he is doing personally. He is submissive and still believes that “the customer is always right.” He is supportive. And, he is sensible enough to see that he will prosper in direct relationship to his account. He wins when they stay in business, make a profit and win themselves. It is a win-win deal.

In his letter to Philemon, and to us, Paul is calling upon us to be sensible. He is challenging us to have enough sense in our relationships to see that playing win-lose and thinking we are always winning in the process will, in the end, find us on the loser’s heap.

Paul reminds Philemon that Onesimus is now useful “both to you and to me.” There you have it! A win-win relationship that is mutually beneficial. Think about who the winners are in this game. Does Paul win? Yes! He has the joy of being a channel of blessing to get two men he has personally led to faith at different times and in different places back together in a mended relationship. Had he resorted to giving orders instead of appealing in love it would never have happened. Now he savors the love and support of both of them. Yes, he wins!

Does Philemon win? Yes! He gets Onesimus back and this time he is profitable and useful to him. And, he gets him back with repentance and restitution to boot.

Does Onesimus win? Yes! He gets to come home. And what is more he returns, in Paul’s words, “No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Philem. 16). There are no losers when the game of win-win is played. Do you see it? Win-win relationships are the secret to life. They are obtained and maintained when we are sensitive, submissive, supportive and sensible in our dealings with each other.

Let’s rewind again for a moment and go back to the basic premise of our book. We will never be properly related to others until we are properly related to ourselves and we will never be properly related to ourselves until we are properly related to God. Some have the idea that to put on the uniform of the Christian life is to play on the field of a lose-lose proposition. Ted Turner, television magnate and baseball owner, made headlines with his comment that “Christianity is for losers.” He is not the only one who shares this belief. People who go through life playing win-lose with others think Christianity is about religion. A dead, lifeless and archaic religion at that. And in many places and in many ways it is sadly true. “Religion” has basically been a win-lose game. It has coerced, controlled, oppressed, obsessed and virtually enslaved people through the centuries. It has been at the root of many world conflicts and continues today to be the cause of much confusion in places such as the Middle East.

Paul is not about “religion” in his letter to Philemon. He is about “relationships” and there is a world of difference. Many people misunderstand Jesus of Nazareth for the same reason. He was not about religion. In fact, He openly rebuked its excesses and perversions. He was, and still is today, about relationships. There are only three relationships in life. There is the outward expression, the relationship with others. There is the inward expression, the relationship with self which produces self-esteem and self-worth. And, there is the upward expression, the relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And the only way to play the game is win-win.

How does this eternal connection with Jesus Christ work experientially? He plays win-win in His personal relationships with us. Like Paul, He is, first of all, sensitive. He doesn’t order us nor compel us nor coerce us nor command us to relate positively to Him. He appeals on the basis of love. Secondly, He is submissive. His love for us submitted Himself to a vicarious execution in order to demonstrate His love and make a way out of no way for us. He is also supportive. Like Paul, He will stand by our side and call us His own son. He will never leave us nor forsake us and if we will come into relationship with Him. He will one day stand in support of us before His Father’s throne of judgment. Finally, He is sensible. We should be too. It just makes sense to put our faith and trust in Him. For, until we do we will never know how valuable we are and we will never develop the highest level of self-worth and self-love. And, it is only when we are properly connected with ourselves through finding our identity and self-worth through Christ above that we can live with others in positive and productive interpersonal relationships. Win-win. It is…the only way to play!

Practical pointers:

Remember, it is better to do one chapter of a book than to read a hundred of them. We did not learn to ride a bicycle by reading the manual only. We learned by trial and error. We climbed on and fell off a few times before we learned to ride. We did not learn to play the piano by listening to the teacher play for a half hour each week. We only began to learn when we started pounding out the notes ourselves and missing several along the way. The same holds true in our interpersonal relationships. We have to be vulnerable and take a risk to make them happen. The following are some practical pointers to put into practice with someone this week on the field of the win-win principle.

  1. Be sensitive…Try and put yourself in the other person’s place today. Seek to deal with their struggles, to think like they are thinking. Be sensitive to their particular needs. Do not bully them to your side by coercion, compulsion or command. Win them through consideration and cooperation.
  2. Be submissive…We are not suggesting becoming a doormat here. But it never hurts to lose a few little skirmishes here and there in order to win the war down the road. Resign yourself to the fact that you do not have to win every little argument and point of contention. You might be surprised how this truth could set you free. Be submissive. Begin appealing to others on the basis of love which seeks their highest good. If they win, you win too. And, big time!
  3. Be supportive…Let others know where you stand and leave no doubt in their minds that when the chips are down they can count on you and your support. When the win-win philosophy is applied in our relationships it brings a bonding and a sense of mutual support we never knew existed. Find someone who is down this week and come to their aid with a word of support and encouragement. They will never forget it.
  4. Be sensible…Use some good old common sense in your relationship. Get smart. If the other person is a winner in your relationship, then you win too. Forget forever the erroneous idea that you always have to win and the other party always has to lose for you to be on top of the relationship. Wake up! Be sensible. Win-win is the only way to play the game.
The Art of Connecting: Part 1

The Art of Connecting: Part 1

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:57 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:57 PM


Philemon 1-3

Philemon 1-3

I have always been an early riser. It doesn’t matter whether I go to bed early or late, rested or worn-out, I am automatically awake usually by five o’clock every morning and never past six. You can set your watch by it. A few years ago when I was living in Florida, I flew from my home in Fort Lauderdale to the west coast where I was to speak at a convention in the San Francisco Bay area. And sure enough, I awoke the following morning before six o’clock. The only problem was I was three hours behind east coast time and the little red numerals on the clock radio in my hotel room greeted me with the news…2:55 a.m.! With zero success, I tried my best to go back to sleep. Finally, I reached for the television remote control and flicked on the tube. Now, it doesn’t matter where you are in America or what time of the day or night it might be, there are always two things you can get on television…world-championship wrestling and religious programming. And there they were in living color at three in the morning in Oakland. And, I might add, the world is asking the same question about them both — “Is it real or fake?”

Quite honestly, I could not take either one at that hour, so I got up and went to the little desk by the window to work on some things I had in my briefcase. I reached for the switch on the desk lamp, turned it on, and nothing happened. I don’t usually give up very easily, so I began to do a little detective work. I came to the brilliant conclusion that the lamp had only three possible points of connection. I began my investigation. First, I checked the source. It was plugged in alright and snugly fit. Next, I checked the switch. It was turned on. Now, the process of deduction was coming to fruition. If the lamp was connected at the source and at the switch there was only one other possibility. I then checked the socket. Bingo! The bulb was not screwed down tight enough into the socket to make a connection. I gave it a couple of turns and there was light.

Life is a lot like that lamp when we really think about it. We have all known people in our interpersonal relationships who seem to have little sparkle or shine about them. And we have all been connected with others who, by their very presence, light up our lives and the lives of all those with whom they touch. What is it about these people? Most generally, they have three points of connection. They are connected at the source, the switch, and the socket. There are only three connections or relationships in life. Add up all your relationships but they only boil down to three. We have a relationship with others, whether it be in the home, the office or the social arena. This is the outward connection, the socket, if you please. Here we make contact and touch the lives of others. Secondly, we have a relationship with ourselves. This is the inward connection, the switch. Here we connect with ourselves in order to have proper and positive self-respect, self-esteem, self-worth and self-love. Finally, we have a relationship with God. This is the upward connection, the source. This is what makes us different from all the other created order. We have the innate capacity to connect with our source, to be plugged into the power. And there we have it in a nutshell.

There are only three relationships in life…the outward connection, the inward connection and the upward connection. And the bottom line? We will never be properly related to others until we are properly related to ourselves and we will never be properly related to ourselves until we are properly related to God. In short, in order to shine and light up the lives of others in positive, productive interpersonal relationships, we need to be connected at the source, the switch and the socket. I like to call it the art of connecting. There is power in productive relationships.

We are made to communicate positively with each other. We are made for companionship. We are made to be connected to one another relationally. Way back in the beginning of the created order there was a phrase that continued to be repeated over and over. The Creator God paused for a moment at the conclusion of each part of His creation to say, “That’s good!”. He said it about the sun and the moon and the stars and the land and the sea and the vegetation and the fish and the birds and all His creation. Until, He made a man. And the next words we hear are, “Not good!”. “It is not good for man to be alone.” So He made him a companion, one with whom he could connect in interpersonal relationships. We are social beings who were created to be connected at the source, at the switch and at the socket. By our very nature we are made to relate with one another and much of our success in life is not determined by how much we know nor how high we may have climbed in material circles but in our ability to build positive, productive interpersonal relationships with others in the home, in the marketplace and in the social arena.

Two thousand years ago Paul of Tarsus laid hold of this threefold principle of relationships and cleverly used it in the initial paragraph of greeting to his friend, Philemon. He viewed himself as connected to the source. He was plugged into an unlimited outside power supply. He also saw himself as connected at the switch. He was turned on and felt positive about himself. He exuded self-worth, self-respect and self-confidence by finding his identity in the person of Jesus Christ. And the result of being plugged in and turned on was that, when he touched the lives of others, he brought a light which not only brightened their road but had a unique way of lightening their load at the same time.

The problem with so many interpersonal relationships today is a breakdown at one of these points of connection. Some of us have a very difficult time relating to others primarily because of the fact that we do not feel good about ourselves. Some have such low self-image and such fear of rejection that contact is never made with others and the light, which could mean so much to so many, is never turned on. Others of us continue to self-destruct in our relations with others because of how we really feel about ourselves. We often “project” what we really feel about ourselves into the lives of those around us. Still others seem to go from one relationship to another never escaping the short-term. Allow me to rewind the tape a moment and say what I have already said (and what I intend to repeat throughout this volume). We only have three relationships in life…the outward connection, the inward connection and the upward connection. The truth is, we will never be positively and productively related to others until we are properly related to ourselves. And, we will never be properly related to ourselves until we are properly related to our Source and understand how indescribably valuable we are to Him! This is the thrust of Paul’s ancient, yet up-to-date, letter to Philemon. Let’s begin the journey in the art of connecting. Where do we begin? We begin with:

I. The eternal connection: Touching our Source

In Paul’s own words of salutation, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Philem. 3). The writer reveals much about his own connection with the Source in this initial greeting. As he penned these words he was writing in Greek, the universal written language of his first-century world. To indicate his own connection with the source he used the Greek word, patros, which we translate, “Father”. He saw himself in a father and son relationship with his source of power. The same word is used to describe the father in the old and oft-repeated story of the prodigal son. It is the heart-warming story of the boy who took his inheritance and left home for the bright lights of the big city. It didn’t take him long to lose it all, including his dignity and self-respect. What had promised to be a good time brought nothing but rip-offs, back alleys and eventually, unemployment lines. But the story has a happy ending. He decides to get up and go home. What will his father say? Or worse yet, what will his father do? The same dad who had earlier said, “I release you”, now says, “I receive you and what is more, I even reward you.” The boy’s dad didn’t have to release him. He could have blackmailed him with the inheritance money. He could have refused him. But there are times when a father knows what is best and still lets us go. He released him, but he never gave up on him. When the boy returned with a repentant heart, the father received him with open arms and rewarded him for finally doing what was right. All of that is wrapped up in this word “patros” or “father” which Paul uses to describe his own connection with his source in his letter to Philemon.

Father…that is a tough word for some people. In fact, for many it is the very word that is at the root of so many unresolved problems in interpersonal relationships. It is an all too common fact that many have a very difficult time relating to others due to their own feelings of inadequate self-confidence and self-worth, which are a direct result of unpleasant relationships with earthly fathers. But Paul is not talking about an earthly father here. He is visualizing himself in a relationship with his source of power like that of a loving and supportive father and son. This is a good time to pause a moment to ask a rather personal question — “How do you view yourself as being connected to an outside source of power?” Positive and productive relationships begin when we see Him as a father. He releases us to do our own thing. We are not puppets. We are people. Though this power source releases us, He never gives up on us. The very moment we are ready to connect with Him, He receives us with open arms and allows us to start all over again with a brand new beginning. He will become a father and a source of strength to all who come to Him, especially those of us who might not have had a positive experience with a father in the earthy realm. The eternal connection, touching the Source, begins when we, like Paul, see Him as the paternal one and view ourselves as sons and daughters.

Paul continues in his greeting to Philemon saying, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philem. 3). With these words, he now brings in an added dimension in his relationship with his source of power. Again, writing in Greek, he gives his source the name, “kurios”, which is translated into the English word “Lord”. He not only sees his source as the paternal one but now the prominent one. That is, the Lord. And, he not only views himself as a son but now a servant. Remember, he is writing this letter on interpersonal relationships to Philemon in regards to his relationship with a former servant, an employee, by the name of Onesimus. With these words Paul is subtly showing Philemon that we are all sons and servants in relationship with our Source. This awareness helps to bring our inward relationship with self and our outward relationships with others into proper perspective.

Having alluded to his relationship with his source as that of a paternal one to a son and a prominent one to a servant, Paul now goes a step further by referring to his source of power as a promised one. Indeed, in his language he calls Him “Christos” which we translate “Christ”. For Paul, a learned and aristocratic Jew, he found his source in the long awaited and anointed one, the promised Messiah, to whom the world had been looking and for whom it had been waiting. Throughout his life he had celebrated that high and holy day of atonement, Yom Kippur. In Hebrew, Yom Kippur means “the day of covering”. It was on Yom Kippur that the sins of the previous year were covered by a blood sacrifice. Today our Jewish friends have abandoned their blood sacrifices and seek their “covering” through “mitzvot” (good works). Paul, in referring to his source as “Christos” identifies Him as that promised one who came to become a “covering” for all our faults and failures and to bring us purpose, peace and a proper self-image.

What is Paul saying here about interpersonal relationships by revealing that his source of power is not simply some unknown, unnamed “force” or some positive mental attitude but the person of Jesus Christ, Himself? Perhaps this can best be illustrated with a mental trip back to my hotel in Oakland mentioned earlier. When it came time to check out of the hotel I did not pay cash upon my departure. I used a credit card. Think about that. The credit card in your wallet has no real intrinsic value in and of itself. It is simply a piece of plastic. But the hotel clerk accepted my credit card as if it were cash. Why did she do that? It was a forerunner of the true payment that was sure to follow. The actual payment came a few days later when I received my statement in the mail and paid my bill. Until then the credit card simply “covered” the purchase. As such the old covenant between God and man with its sacrificial system “covered” the faults and failures of those who believed in the Promised One who was coming. And He came! He made the final payment for our “covering” with the sacrifice of His own life and the shedding of His own blood on a Roman cross of execution. Consequently, through Him our relationship with the Father has been purchased and secured. It is no wonder our Jewish friends have abandoned their sacrificial system for the last two thousand years. There is no need for a credit card. The bill has been paid.

Paul could speak with authority to others about interpersonal relationships because he was well connected. He related well with others because he possessed a positive self-image and he had a positive self-image because he related to God. He saw his source as a paternal one and himself as a member of the family. He saw his source as a prominent one and thus he viewed himself as one under a higher authority. Also, he saw his source as the promised one and this set him free to find in Him his true identity. This brought him indescribable value as an individual and a high sense of self-worth. Bottom line…if we are not properly plugged in at the source the light will never shine for ourselves or others.

Remember, there are only three relationships in life. There is the upward connection where we touch our source, the inward relationship where we touch our self and the outward relationship where we touch our society. It is time to rewind once more. We will never be properly related to others until we have a positive relationship with ourselves. And, we will never have a positive, productive self-image until we are properly related to our Source of power, the Lord Jesus Christ. With this thought in mind Paul continues his initial greeting to Philemon by addressing:

II. The internal connection: Touching our self

Paul recognized the importance of possessing a positive self-image in his relationships with others. What is self-image? We are not referring to such things as self-centeredness, self-exaltation or selfishness. Self-image has to do with the way we see ourselves. It has to do with such things as self-acceptance, self-worth, self-love, self-appreciation and self-respect. It is the way we image or view ourselves. In my opinion, this is the very core of many of society’s ills. Everyday we read in our newspapers about problems brought on by such things as mental illness, drug addiction, violence, prostitution and other types of social disorders. These are most often merely the fruits of a much deeper root of low self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth. A large segment of a generation of young people have now been raised with little self-esteem and it is no surprise when they image themselves in such a low fashion that disastrous results occur. It is impossible to relate positively with others if we do not feel good about ourselves.

In his own words, Paul refers to himself as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Philem. 1) and in so doing reveals much about his own connection with himself. As he penned these words in Greek, he chose an interesting word (desmios) to describe himself as a prisoner. Indeed, he was, at the time of his writing, an actual prisoner of Nero and the Roman Empire. But, in actuality, he saw himself first and foremost as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ”. It is of note, that in writing to Philemon he does not say he is a “prisoner of Rome”. Yes, indeed they are the ones who incarcerated him. They kept the watch over him. They locked him in his cell. But they had only a small part in the drama. Paul saw himself as a prisoner of his Source. He was not there by accident. His life had been placed in God’s care and control and while everyone else thought he was a prisoner of Rome, he knew better.

Don’t misunderstand what Paul is saying about himself here. This is no self-defacing statement reflecting the writer’s low self-image. No! Read the letter carefully. He does not refer to himself as a “prisoner for Jesus Christ” but a “prisoner of Jesus Christ” indicating he is one whom the Source of all power has brought under His authority.

Proper, positive and productive interpersonal relationships develop from the inside out. They not only have an eternal connection but an internal connection. Like a lamp that gives light, they are not only plugged in at the source, they are turned on at the switch. This process of developing our relationships from the inside out is a process I refer to as “being comes before doing” for what we do and how we act are determined by who and what we are. For example, if you want to have a more fulfilling marriage, be a more considerate husband or wife. Begin with yourself. If you want to have a more cooperative teenager, be a more consistent, understanding and loving parent. If you want to have a mom or dad you consider to be more fair with you, be the kind of son or daughter you ought to be. Dust off those old words about honoring and obeying your parents. If you want to have greater opportunity for advancement in the workplace, be the most efficient, hardest working and the most pleasant and cooperative worker in the office. In short, if you want to have a true friend, be a true friend. Paul realized that in order to have Philemon as a friend, he must first be a friend to Philemon. It is a two-way street.

When we speak of being in touch with the self or being connected with the self we are not referring to a new-age concept of self-improvement or self-awareness. Quite the contrary and just the opposite! Jesus of Nazareth put it like this, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it” (Matt. 10:39). A powerful and positive self-image does not come from a pseudo, pumped up mental attitude. It results from being connected with our source in such a way that we realize how valuable we are to Him. Now, what does all of this talk about self-image have to do with Paul’s statement about being a “prisoner of Jesus Christ”? There is a sense in which all of the creation should see itself as “prisoners” of the Creator. When we are held captive by His love it has a liberating effect upon our own self-image. By the way, everyone of us is a prisoner of someone or something. Some are prisoners of their own passion. Others are prisoners of their own popularity. Still others are held captive by pride. Some are prisoners of success and others of a particular person. The way to positive feelings of genuine self-worth is to become, in the words of Paul, “a prisoner of Jesus Christ”.

This idea of losing ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to really find ourselves is in diametric opposition to most world views today. This is why so many are living such confused and complicated lives. Many have “bought into” the superficial and deceptive message of new age awareness in their quest to “find themselves”. There is only one way to find ourselves and many miss it because it is paradoxical. In the words of the one who changed not only the calendar by His presence but the course of human history itself, “Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” All of this is in this Greek word Paul chooses to describe himself “a prisoner of Jesus Christ”. Paul was the single most successful people-strategist of his day and it was because he was overflowing with self-confidence. He felt good about himself. He had purpose in life and a spirit of conquest about him. He was positively connected with his inner being. How? He was connected with the source. He was plugged into power and turned on so that this supernatural winsomeness and warmth flowed into him and through him into the lives of those with whom he came in contact.

Everything finds the strength to go on in its source. Paul, like a river, flowed from his source. If we are only connected with our self, if the self is our source, then we have nothing more than a shallow self-awareness and must constantly be meditating monotonously or pumping ourselves up like some old-fashioned surface pump well behind an old farm house. Some people today go from one self-help guru to the next, one tape to the next, one book to the next, one seminar to the next. Pump. Pump. Pump. But when we find our proper self-image at our source it is like an artesian well. You do not have to pump an artesian well. You just turn it on and it flows because it is dug deep into the ground and has tapped into an underground river as its source. This is what Paul is saying to Philemon and to us as he talks about the internal connection, touching the self. The truth is we are all prisoners of something and how much better to be a prisoner of the source of all things Himself. This is where true self-image and self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect are found, not in the emotional or the physical realm but in the spiritual.

In subsequent letters to other individuals Paul said such things as “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” He once said, “Nothing is impossible, only believe.” In a letter to his friends in Rome, he reminded them that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” How could he make such statements? He was connected at the source and thus he was confident in the self. He lost his life in the love of his source and consequently, he found it. It was a growing experience. In his earlier years he wrote some friends in Galatia in 49 A.D. and referred to himself as “an apostle”. I can see him now as he sat in his chair and penned those words. Five or six years later he wrote some friends in Corinth and in the salutation of the letter referred to himself as “the least of the apostles.” Five years later in 60 A.D. he wrote some other friends in Ephesus and referred to himself as “less than the least of all God’s people”. A year or so later he wrote our letter to Philemon referring to himself as “a prisoner of Jesus Christ”. And finally, a few years later and near the end of his life, he wrote a moving letter to his young associate and understudy, Timothy, and called himself “the worst of sinners”. Most of the world would not recognize this as much of a proper self-image but most of the world does not look beyond the surface. The more this man lost his life in the love of his source of strength the more he found it.

Much of our low self-esteem comes from the influence of those around us. In some cases our parents and in other cases our peers. But what is most important in recovering damaged emotions and low self-esteem is not what others think about us but what God, the ultimate source of all power thinks about us. And He loves us…just like we are! When we, through faith, become His child He says the same thing of us He said of His own son, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased”. God’s son did not leave His throne to come down to die for someone of no worth or little value. You are indescribably valuable to Him. And, when you awaken to this realization you will be well on the road to a productive and positive self-image which, incidentally, is only found in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Moses, the ancient Jewish leader, was singled out to become the emancipator of his people he responded with a question, “Who am I?” No question could be any more pointed in coming to the heart of the matter. I am a spirit made in the image of God Himself and the only way to really touch myself is to know God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is Himself the “express image” of the Father. What is the bottom line in the art of connecting, this power that comes in positive relationships? We will never have self-worth until we see how valuable we are to the Father and get connected through the “new birth” with our source of life Himself. Having dealt with the importance of being plugged into the source and turned on at the switch, Paul now continues with the necessity of being well connected at the socket so the light can shine.

III. The external connection: Touching our society

We are social beings who, by our very nature, are made to interact and relate with one another. Like a lamp, we receive expression when we are connected with our source. When we are in touch with ourselves in a positive and productive way, this power begins to flow through us and then out of us touching others and lighting their way. It is not enough to be plugged in and turned on if we are not connecting with others. We need each other. God made us to relate to one another in mutually beneficial ways. Because Paul was properly related to his God and to himself, he related to others in four ways. In the salutation to his letter he begins by saying, “To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home” (Philem. 1–2). He sees himself in these external relationships as family, friends, fellow workers and fellow soldiers.

We need to see each other as family. Paul did. And this was one of the secrets to his success. He built a family consciousness and family cohesiveness with those who were in his inner circle. He speaks of his associate, Timothy, as a “brother” and refers to Apphia (most probably Philemon’s wife) as a “sister”. Paul thought of these as not merely friends but members of the family. In fact, a careful reading of the letter reveals the constant repetition of the personal pronoun “our”. For example, “our brother…our dear friend…our fellow worker…our sister…our fellow soldier” and so on. This was not by accident. It is vitally important in our relationships to build a spirit of community and camaraderie. True friendships are really family affairs.

Following Paul’s example, we need to see each other as friends as well as family. He addresses Philemon at the outset with much affection and calls him a “dear friend”. Genuine friendship is like a beautiful flower. Our relationship with others is the fruit. Our relationship with ourselves is the shoot. Our relationship with God, our source, is the root. It is simply another way of saying what we have been saying all along. We will never be positively and productively related with others until we develop a proper self-image and we will never have a confident self-image without being properly related to our Source of power, the Lord Jesus Himself.

Paul referred to Philemon not only as a dear friend but also as a “fellow worker”. As he penned his letter in Greek he chose an interesting word, synergos, to describe this unique relationship with his friend. It is a compound word that literally means to “work with”. We get our English word, synergism or synergy, from this identical Greek word. Synergism is the combined action of different agents producing a greater effect than the sum of the individual actions. In more common terms, it simply means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Take two pencils for an obvious object lesson to grasp this amazing truth. If you hold them together and try to break them it takes a significantly greater amount of pressure than would be exerted in an effort to break each individually. With synergism one plus one does not necessarily equal two. It equals three or more. In using this word we translate “fellow worker,” Paul is showing us how much we really do need each other and how valuable we can become to one another when we are together. This dynamic power in interpersonal relationships is spoken of in the Bible when it says, “One can chase a thousand but two can chase ten thousand.” This is synergism in action. Yes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Jesus of Nazareth once said, “If two of you shall agree on touching anything you can have it.” The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, put it like this, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9–12).

Paul was a people-person and realized the importance of working together with others toward a common goal. Effective interpersonal relationships are not the result of competition but cooperation. “Fellow-workers” share each other’s dreams, work together in unity toward the same goal and share in each other’s victories as though they were their own.

There is a dynamic spiritual power released when two people work together synergistically. Synergism is what takes place when a father and a mother connect in parenting. This is a vital principle in our effort to raise positive kids in a negative world. If parents are not together in discipline significant damage can be done to the upbringing of a child. However, when they connect and stand together, when one always speaks and acts in unison with the other, the child soon gets the message and powerful and positive results take place. Synergism is what takes place when a teacher and a student connect on an assignment. They become “fellow workers” and learning takes place. Synergism is what takes place when a quarterback and a wide receiver connect on a pass pattern on the football field. It takes place when fellow workers brain-storm together and new ideas and plans begin to take shape. The epitome of synergism takes place when a bride and a groom leave the wedding altar to become one. Paul’s idea of being a fellow worker synergism in our more modern vernacular) is an indispensable principle in managing and maintaining positive and productive relationships with others whether they be found in the home, office or social arena. When we are truly connected to the source and the self we can be connected to the society in which we live by not only relating to those in our sphere of influence as family or friends, but as fellow workers.

Paul goes yet a step further in his description of interpersonal relationships by referring in his letter to Philemon’s son, Archippus, as a “fellow soldier”. Again, he uses a very descriptive Greek word sustratiootees) which carries with it the connotation of a fellow combatant, a comrade in arms, one who faced the same dangers and fought in the same fox hole in the same conflict. As believers who are connected to the same source we are all in the same “army”. Problems develop in some relationships due to the fact that many do not relate to one another as fellow soldiers involved in the same struggles and looking toward the same victory. There are a lot of one man armies in the marketplace today. Far too often when someone gets wounded in the battle, it is his “friends” who are quick to finish him off with criticism, gossip or judgment. Positive, productive long-term relationships are the result of seeing those with whom we come in contact not only as friends or family or, even fellow workers, but also as fellow soldiers in the fight.

Life, from beginning to end, is about relationships. It is about our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, and our relationship with others around us. God, our very source, is the initiator of all our relationships. In order to connect with us, He laid aside His glory, humbled Himself and came to where we are. He clothed himself in a garment of human flesh and walked among us for thirty-three years in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He walked with us, talked with us, ate with us, slept with us and yet He was not contaminated by our sin. Why did He come? In order that we might be connected through Him to our Source. And the result? A relationship with God Himself, a positive self-image and productive interpersonal relationships with others.

Thus, as is the case so often, the greatest lessons of life are in the small, seemingly insignificant and often inconvenient “interruptions” of life. In retrospect, I’m thankful the desk lamp did not come on in my hotel room in Oakland at three o’clock that particular morning. If it had I would have missed a magnificent lesson that has enabled me to relate better to my wife and children as well as those with whom I work and play. We are made to shine. But until we are plugged into the source we do not really live, we simply exist. Turn on the switch and let God’s love and power flow through you in order that you might brighten the road of all with whom you come in contact. The art of connecting begins with a simple carpenter from Nazareth who went about doing good and positively relating with people from all walks of life. He is our source. He reaches out to the rejects. He defends the dejected. He loves the lonely. He challenges the contented. He possesses a supernatural self-confidence. As He walked among us He knew He was important as a person and had important things to do. And the miracle He called the “new birth” is the fact that He wants to take up residency in our hearts and impart that same supernatural God-confidence to us that we might see how important we really are and realize that we, too, have important things to do. There is no genuine positive self-image nor productive self-worth apart from Him. We can come into a relationship with our Creator through Him today and thus begin the great adventure in…the art of connecting!

Practical pointers:

1. Inspection…Make a personal inspection of the points of contact in your life. Are you productively connected with others in the external connection? How many on-going, long-termed relationships have you maintained? Are you positively connected with your own ego in the internal connection? Do you feel good about yourself? Do you possess self-confidence and a sense of character? Are you connected with your Source in the eternal connection? Are you related to Him in such a way that He imparts a supernatural purpose and peace to your life? If inspections are good for automobiles and physical examinations, they are also beneficial for interpersonal relationships, for we will never be properly related to others without a sense of positive self-worth and this only comes in being properly related to the Source of all power.

2. Rejection…Many of us reject others in our interpersonal relationships because, in reality we are rejecting ourselves. Is it possible that your problem is not at the socket of external relationships after all, but, at the switch of the internal relationship? Self-rejection can spring from the circumstances of our birth. Some blame their relational failures on their heritage and heredity. How many times have we heard someone say, “I lose my temper because my dad did. And besides that we both have red hair! It is in my DNA I inherited it.” And consequently, some of us resign ourselves to self-rejection because of our birth. Self-rejection can also result from our beginnings. That is, the manner in which we were raised as children. Indeed, child abuse, whether physical or emotional, is at the root of much self-rejection and low self-image. Some of us began life with emotionally ill parents who never touched or showed love or who, perhaps, demanded more than we could ever deliver. Self-rejection can also arise out of the premium our society places on beauty. Physical attractiveness is at a premium in American culture today. Since so much pseudo value is placed on good looks, many reject themselves because they do not have them. So much of our modern culture tells us in a thousand ways that self-image is built around being beautiful and many of us have bought into this lie. And the result is self-rejection. Anyone who tries to find self-worth in outward appearance is headed for trouble. Think about it. Sags and wrinkles are just around the corner. Bake your body on the beach and jiggle it in the gym all you want, it is not going to matter for very long. Self-esteem is not to be found in the physical. It is only temporary. Self-rejection can also be the result of brains, or lack of them. Some of us feel dumb or stupid because our I.Q. is not as high as others and, thus, we develop a low self esteem because of it. Rejection is a problem in the art of connecting. Could it be when you inspect the matter that self-rejection is more at the heart of the matter than you would like to admit?

3. Projection…As we continue with our inspection we discover that projection logically follows rejection. When we suffer from self-rejection we are prone to “project” our own feelings of low self-worth into others resulting in the destruction of relationships. The fact is, the way we really feel about ourselves will greatly influence the way we relate to others. Psychologists call this “projection”. It is the faulty projecting of our own life qualities and shortcomings into the lives of others. We are all prone to do this whether we realize it or not. How does it work? If I possess insecurity and a low degree of self-confidence, I can become threatened by others and project this attitude into them. If I live in self-pity I project a martyr’s complex always portraying myself as the innocent victim. If I am unethical and thus have little self-respect, I project that into my relationships with others in such a fashion that I am suspicious and feel someone is always out to rip me off. If I possess a feeling of uselessness with little self-worth, I project that into others and begin to think they are of little value. If I am filled with self-anger and have no self-respect or self-love, I project that into others and frequently lash out at them in uncontrolled anger. Many of us give our true selves away through projection. Think about it and face up to it. If you make a pattern out of putting others down, most generally, the root cause is low self-esteem. If you make it a practice to always be critical of others, the root cause is low self-esteem. You show me a man or woman who makes it a habit to continually build others up and encourage them and I will show you someone who possesses a positive self-image because they have discovered the art of connecting.

4. Correction…Genuine inspections always lead to corrections. How is it possible to correct a lifetime of faulty interpersonal relationships? Once someone asked Jesus of Nazareth, “Of all the commandments in Torah, hundreds of them, which is the greatest of them all?” And His reply? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself!” And with this answer He reveals to us the secret to the art of connecting, building positive and productive, interpersonal relationships. It is impossible to love our “neighbor” in the same way we love ourselves if we have no self-love, self-respect or self-worth. In this greatest of all commandments the Lord Jesus speaks of three points of contact. We are to be connected with our source. In His words, “Love the Lord God with all your heart”. Secondly, we are to be connected with our self. In His words, “Love yourself”. Finally, we are to be connected with our society. Again, to use His own words, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. So, how can we begin to correct an improper self- image? We must become proactive. And what does this modern “buzz word” mean? It is the opposite of being reactive. In other words, we must cease blaming our relational failures on others and begin to take personal responsibility. Someone has said that the word “responsibility” comes from two words: response and ability. It is the ability to choose your response. You have it and correction begins when you begin to use it. You do not have to go on in life without positively relating to others around you. You have the ability to choose your response. People with positive and productive self-image recognize that ability and become proactive by refusing to continue blaming other people and other things for interpersonal relational problems. Some of us spend an entire lifetime simply “reacting” to outward circumstance and situations. Correction does not take place with most of the self-help volumes on bookstore shelves. Many of them simply manipulate the circumstance into short-term solutions.

Long-term positive and productive interpersonal relationships result from being connected not only to others, but to ourselves and our Source, the Lord Jesus. We will never be properly related to others until we are properly related to ourselves possessing self-worth and self-respect. And this does not take place until we are connected to our Source through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is…the art of connecting!