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I’ve noticed the tendency in myself–sadly.

I reflect on my interaction with other friends and followers of Jesus and I realize that I have a tendency to think the worst of them. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement. But I do tend to think that others will often not make good choices, will often not follow through on commitments, will not give themselves fully to what Jesus wants for us, will settle for something a bit less . . . less than what I think I would do in the same situation. I have this tendency to think poorly of others. As if Murphy’s famous “law” (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”) has a corollary that plays out in the lives of Jesus’ followers (“If they can respond in a less-than-Christ-like way, they will!”).

I don’t think I typically come out and say that I think others will disappoint me, fall short of my expectations, and generally not live up to what I think they should in Jesus (as if I had been appointed the arbitrator of what should be done!), but I do find myself thinking that way. And I am sure that such an attitude impacts the way I relate to others . . . whether I want it to or not.

That is what struck me as so refreshing and healthy in reading Paul’s words to his friend, Philemon.

Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. (Philemon 21)

Paul seems to have the very opposite tendency. He has the expectation that Philemon will “go above and beyond” what Paul might expect. Paul’s view is that Philemon is even a better man than he, Paul, imagines him to be. Paul seems convinced that the reality of Jesus’ work in his friend, Philemon, will result in Philemon living in ways that exceed what Paul might want for him.

This thinking is reflected in Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he writes:

I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. (2 Corinthians 7:3-4)

Paul is so confident in the Corinthians willingness and ability to live well in Christ that he doesn’t write to condemn them but goes so far as to insist that he boasts about them to others.

I do not think that Paul is just “rosy-eyed” when he thinks of Philemon or the Corinthians. I do not think he is subtly manipulating them telling them of his confidence as a backwards way of applying subtle pressure to get them to live well. I think that Paul appropriately expects even more from them than he can think.

And I believe that this confidence is not anchored in Philemon, himself, or in the Corinthians and their ability. I get a hint of the grounds of such confidence in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13).

Paul is confident in how the Philippians will live–and how Philemon will live and how the Corinthians will live–because he is certain of God’s faithful work in the lives of others (to both enable the growth and provide the “willing” for the work) and he is certain that what God has begun in the lives of others He will bring to a full and complete end.

He is appropriately expecting even more because he is so sure of the work God is doing in the lives of others. And that kind of confident expectation is appropriate . . . and healthy in our relationships with others who know Jesus.

One Comment

  1. It is so comforting to know “that what God has begun in the lives of others He will bring to a full and complete end”. I am so glad to know this for my friends and loved ones and for myself!


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