Philemon 15 (ESV)
 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever,  no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Onesimus was a runaway slave. Philemon was his master, but also a personal friend of the Apostle Paul. Possibly Paul had led him to faith in Christ. We know that he was indebted to Paul in some way. Onesimus, having run away from Philemon, evidently connected with Paul somehow in Rome where Paul was under house arrest. Under Paul's influence Onesimus came to faith in Christ. Now comes the difficult issue of sending a runaway home to his master. What should Paul say? Should Onesimus be punished? How should he be treated by his master? These are the questions Paul addresses in this short letter to Philemon, but they are not the questions on my mind as I write this. I am fascinated by the related question of leadership.
What does a Christian leader look like? As Paul addresses this church, community and family leader, Philemon, what can we learn about biblical leadership? One of the key truths that undergird the answers to all these questions is the statement in Philemon 16 that Philemon is no longer to consider Onesimus a slave, but a beloved brother. Biblical leadership does not lord it over those under their authority.
Peter, in 1 Peter 5:3, instructs elders that as they shepherd the flock they are not to be domineering, but to lead by example. It is much easier to demand and command than to lead by example. In a Dilbert cartoon an employee complains about being forced to do something against their will. The boss responds, "That's why it's called leadership. It wouldn't be leadership if you wanted to do it." That may be the world's perspective of leadership but it is not God's. "Do as I say, not as I do" is not in God's vocabulary. Leadership begins by recognizing that those we are leading stand on level ground with us before God. We must never fall for the lie that we are leaders because we are better, nor that we deserve some level of respect just because of our positon. In God's economy leadership is always about serving not being served. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
The flip side of that coin is followership. Everyone is a leader in the sense that we each have influence on others. To be a good leader we must first be a good follower. 1 Peter 5 addresses the leadership of elders, but 1 Peter 2 addresses followers. Peter, in that passage, hones in on two attitudes in particular. To be a good follower we must first treat our leaders with respect even when they lead in a harsh and disrespectful manner. Secondly, to do that we must trust God. Whether the leader we are talking about is an emperor, governor, or any other human institution Peter instructs us to, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17" This can only be done when we believe that we are under God's watchful protecting eye, and that there is a higher purpose in our lives than our immediate comfort. To be a good follower takes respect and faith.
Father, today may I be both a good follower and a good leader. Mold me into the image of Christ.
By His grace,