Daily Devotion, 5-19-2020 - Navigating Difficult Conversations

Pastor: Connie Belmore

DEVOTION: May 19, 2020
Reading: Philemon
Navigating Difficult Conversations

If you looked at the reading for today and initially thought “She forgot to put the chapter and verse”, you are at least considering reading the Scripture. The book of Philemon is the third shortest book of the Bible, containing only 335 Greek words, one chapter and 25 verses, depending on which version of the Bible you are using. However, in this short passage, Paul illustrates for us the way to navigate through difficult topics and conversations.

Because Paul was imprisoned at this time and a church starter for several churches, he largely relied on communicating with people and churches through letters. In this letter, he beautifully illustrates for us four tips for communicating with others on a touchy or difficult topic. This topic was about Philemon, the recipient of this letter, receiving back a former slave, Onesimus, who evidently had either escaped or was sent away because of difficulties with Philemon. The first tip Paul offers in how to navigate through difficult conversations is begin with grace and peace (vv. 1-3). Paul’s letter opens with a sense of calmness. Since Paul is writing and cannot pray with Philemon, he describes the second tip, which is prayer  (vv. 4-7). Paul prays for Philemon, giving thanks for their partnership in faith, and Philemon’s effective understanding of all that is good” and for the great joy, encouragement and love Paul finds in this relationship. Then Paul engages the third tip and appeals (vv. 8-21) to Philemon to make the right decision about receiving Onesimus back as a brother in Christ (and not a slave) and to do so willingly without pressure (although Paul cannot help but point out some unnamed debt that Philemon “owes” him). Paul is confident in making his case for Onesimus, reflecting on the past but looking forward to renewal for both Onesimus and Philemon who appear to have parted on unpleasant terms. In this appeal, Paul assures Philemon that any debt owed by Onesimus will be repaid by Paul to Philemon. Paul summarizes the appeal by clearly stating what he hopes to achieve: “I want this favor from you in the Lord!” and “Refresh my heart!” The closing comments are personal (vv. 22-25), as he passes on well wishes from a fellow prisoner and four co-workers and offers hope, grace, trust, and peace in the Lord in this and all situations.

In these days of conflict, concern and division we could all use this guidance from Paul on how to navigate our way through difficult conversations. The tips are to (1) begin the conversation with grace and peace, (2) pray, (3) appeal with confidence and recognition of the other person’s viewpoint, (4) and close on a positive and personal note. Let’s all give this approach a try and watch the Holy Spirit intervene in these situations.

Dear God, we thank you for the many examples you give us in the Bible such as this one from Paul of how to approach difficult conversations with other people. Help us to begin with grace and peace, pray, make an appeal that is considerate and respectful to the other person, and close with a reminder of how our relationship with one another are special because they are formed in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 
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