Further Applications for Leadership
Two applications remain. The first is how Philemon’s rights are (not) handled. Paul does address the injustice by expressing a willingness to make up any debt Philemon incurs. However, in the end, it is interesting how little time is spent with this issue. In many contexts today, this would be the issue to address. The fact Paul spends so little time with this and leads Philemon not to go in this direction is revealing about how recast relationships also shift what becomes important to consider and address.
The second application comes from what we do not know about the impact of the letter. A key element of leadership is being able to learn and deal with confrontation like that Paul just undertook with Philemon. We actually do not know what Philemon did with what Paul said to him. Did he listen and apply the advice or not? We do not know. However, what Paul’s approach shows is that leaders need to be able to learn. What this Scripture urges us to consider is that rank and power are not the key lenses through which to view relationships, even in social contexts where we might have rank. We are especially to consider the relational dynamics that we gain from God and from the example of Jesus when it comes to thinking about the relational dilemmas we often face. This can reconfigure how culture might teach us to react to such events. It gives us other lenses that might be more powerful in helping us grow and in helping others to grow as well. Leaders who truly lead also guide others into being better, not only in the tasks they perform but also in how they do it. When relating is central to how leaders lead, leaders learn and also produce growth both in themselves and in others. That in the end is what Paul calls real fellowship, real relating.