The power of believing in someone

In his letter to Philemon, Paul asks his friend Philemon to do something extraordinary and costly. A man named Onesimus is with Paul. Onesimus is a slave who has run away from Philemon's house. He is a fugitive from the law who has found his way into Paul's sphere of influence and become a Christian. Paul is legally liable if he harbors Onesimus, but he doesn't want Onesimus to be executed. What will he do?

He sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a personal letter requesting that Philemon not execute or even punish his slave. What is more, Paul wants Philemon to make Onesimus a free man so he can spend his time serving the gospel.

We might notice that in his letter, Paul shows great confidence in Philemon. Paul doesn't play the pessimist, saying, "I know my request is probably too extreme. I would be shocked if you followed through." Rather, he stands as an optimist and prays that as Philemon follows through, he would experience God's blessings (v. 6).

Expressing confidence in others is critical. Here is what James Kouzes and Barry Posner say in their book The Leadership Challenge:
Positive expectations about other people and optimism about life pay hefty dividends. Research on the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecies provides ample evidence that other people act in ways that are consistent with our expectations of them. If we expect others to fail, they probably will. If we expect them to succeed, they probably will. (p. 123)
Paul expects Philemon to do the extraordinary. He tells Philemon this in his letter, and he tells God about it when he prays for Philemon.

You know how the story turned out? Philemon did the extraordinary thing and freed Onesimus. Philemon became a legend in the early church, and people preserved Paul's letter for inspiration. Paul's belief in Philemon and his confident prayers for him played a huge part.

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