Serving Those “Beneath” Us - The Warrior's Journey®

Serving Those “Beneath” Us

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

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“If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self.” (Philemon 18-19) 

Philemon was a Christian believer in Colossae who owned slaves. One of them was a man named Onesimus. Onesimus, whose name means “useful” proved to be anything but. He stole from his master and fled to Rome where he ran into Paul. And through Paul’s witness this runaway slave became a Christian believer. 

It’s not clear when Paul found out about Onesimus’ past. But once Paul learned he was a runaway slave this knowledge placed him in a dilemma. For Onesimus was a fugitive from justice, guilty of a capital offense under Roman law. To harbor a runaway slave was an offence in itself. What should Paul do?  Well, fortunately, Paul knew Onesimus’ master, Philemon. Philemon was another of Paul’s many converts.  Therefore, Paul, decided to use his authority as an apostle and his friendship with Philemon to do a huge favor for the slave – to reconcile him to his master and avoid criminal prosecution. He sent Onesimus back to Philemon, asking Philemon to “receive him back as a brother.” 

But Paul’s request put Philemon in a dilemma. Philemon owned many slaves. If he allowed this runaway to go unpunished, or rewarded him with freedom because he was now a Christian brother, how would all his other slaves view this? They might view their master as a pushover, who’s unwilling to punish crimes against him. Or they might profess faith in Christ only to obtain their freedom. Order would soon break down in the Philemon household.  So Paul offered Philemon an honorable way out of the dilemma. “Allow Onesimus to be my helper in the Gospel.”  This would benefit all three men. Onesimus would be cleared of criminal charges, Philemon would contribute to Paul’s ministry, and Paul would get some badly needed help. 

But there’s another matter that rises to the surface in this situation. Why is an apostle, the highest authority in the church, busying himself with a task he should have delegated to an underling? The corporate executive doesn’t soil his hands with the problems of a janitor. Right?  Yet Paul understood that leadership in the Kingdom of God is all about serving others, not dominating them (Mark 10:43-44). Although Jesus was God, Paul said, yet He humbled Himself and became a servant (Philippians 2:5-9). Thus Paul commanded others to “associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16) and to “consider others as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3-4).  In the light of Jesus’ own humility and service for us, how can we do otherwise? 


  • Are you a leader?  Do you use your authority to rule over or to serve others? 
  • What would Jesus do in your situation? Put His soldiers’ needs before His own? Invest Himself in their professional development?  Ensure their needs were met? 
  • Is there any reason why you should not do the same?

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