Reading: Gently remind them of what they owe you

STEP THREE: Commitment - Do it!

Philemon 1:19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self.

3. Gently remind them of what they owe you.

Never start a negotiation by talking about how much the other person owes you. Paul tells Philemon what Philemon owes him way at the end of his letter, after a lot of relationship building.

No one likes to be indebted to someone else. No one likes the word "debt.”

And yet most of us have all kinds of debt. House, car, Internet, phone, and cable, just to mention a few. Anything that requires an ongoing monthly payment is debt.

Why do we have debt? Because we want to enjoy something before we have all the money for it. We are like children who cannot wait until Christmas to open our presents.

So we bring on much of the debt we struggle with, and what does this debt do to us? It enslaves us. The bank owns us. The cable and Internet companies own us. We now have to spend most of our time working, perhaps doing a job that does not inspire us, to pay our debts. This debt is negative debt.

But there is positive debt.

How have you seen good debt connecting you to the people in your life?

Jesus died on the cross to set you free from sin and death. You owe him your life. You are indebted to Him. If you are married, you promised to love, cherish and respect your spouse no matter what. You owe these things to your spouse. You are indebted. Children owe their parents. Friends do things for you, and you owe them. You are indebted to all these people.

The alternative is that you don't owe anybody anything, and nobody owes you. You are an island. Debt between friends is a good thing. It keeps us connected.

So Paul brings up the debt connection to Philemon. You can tell it is a risky thing to bring up because he says, "... not to mention that you owe me your very self.” He says "not to mention,” but then he goes on to mention it.

What is Paul talking about when he mentions Philemon's debt to him? Most scholars believe that either Paul brought Philemon to faith in Christ, or that Paul brought Epaphras to the faith who then brought Philemon to faith in Christ. Either way, Paul is responsible, from the human point of view, for the salvation of Philemon.

Paul is establishing his authority here and is in effect saying to Philemon that he should consider Paul's request because Paul is the elder to Philemon.

Respecting one's elders is or perhaps was a worldwide phenomenon. I am writing this chapter from Quito, Ecuador. My wife and I are visiting our son who married a girl from Ecuador. We have participated in several extended family celebrations, and at each one, the adults eat first. In the culture I live in, the kids eat first.

Did you grow up with this tradition?

Paul, in a sense, uses the elder card with Philemon, but he does so in a culture that understands it. And even as he does this, he only does so after a whole lot of relationship building.

So what should you do? Someone owes you.

You have two options. One is to just be wronged. People, in general, will always think that they are owed more than they owe. We hate being indebted to someone so much that we will either do something about it to get rid of it or justify it (rethink all the events so that we do not owe but are owed). So, sometimes the thing to do is to accept the injustice and do what is best in the big picture.

The other option is to say something. This is not easy. How do you tell someone who thinks you owe them that they, in fact, owe you? One approach is to humbly bring up the subject in a "let's make sure no one is being taken advantage of” manner.

You share your point of view, which you readily admit could be way off. Then they share their view in the same humble spirit. Hopefully, you can meet in the middle somewhere. The key to this approach is humility, and the willingness to admit you did not see things accurately.

Do you think you can do this?

Another approach is to tell them how you feel. For example, I might say to a co-worker, who is not pulling his/her weight regarding the work that must be done, something like this: "I want to share some frustrations that I am having in my relationship with you.” (Notice I am not assigning blame). "I feel like I do quite a bit of the work around here, and then when I ask you for help, you never have the time, or you act like I am placing some incredible burden on you. Then I get angry, and I just do the work without you. I think you are a talented, gifted person, and so I just don't understand why this has become a problem for me.”

Let's look at what I am doing. First, I am expressing my frustration and unhappiness. Then I am explaining why I feel this way. And finally, I end with saying something positive about the person and my confusion as to why this has become a problem.

One more thing. Notice that I am saying exactly what I think, but I am not assigning blame.

If you start blaming them, they are more than likely to respond in anger and won't hear a thing you say.

I have used this approach in many difficult situations, and it rarely fails to lead to a positive outcome.

So, when it comes to reminding people of what they owe you, do so only after a lot of relationship building, do so as humbly as you can, and do so as directly as you can. Or, decide not to do anything at all.


Philemon 1:18-19I, Paul, am writing this with my hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.

Notice this step is at the end. What would happen in a negotiation that you are having with someone you know if you started the conversation with what you think they owe you?

Paul is asking for what is owed him, but notice that Paul, in the verse preceding, offers to pay what Philemon may think is owed him. What does this fact tell you regarding your strategy with your relationships?

Reminding people of what they owe you is hard. Why is that?

When someone owes you, and they don't seem to be aware that they owe you, how hard is it to keep "anger” out of the conversation?

When is not reminding people of what they owe you the right thing to?

What debt do you have, and how are you dealing with it?

Whom do you owe, and what do you owe them?

Is it possible to owe someone who also owes you?

Last modified: Monday, August 13, 2018, 9:08 AM