—Philemon 17 (NASB)
“Partner” is not a word often used in the Bible. In fact, this particular word is only used 4 times in the entire New Testament. Besides here, Paul uses it in reference to Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23a, “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you..” and twice in Luke 5:7 and 10 in describing the relationship of James and John to Peter, “…James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon…” In other words, it’s not a term lightly used. When Jesus uses it in Matthew 23:30-31, it describes a very strong theological bond: “and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.”
Paul is completely setting aside his office as apostle or any title of leadership in the course of communicating with Philemon. Paul is counting on the existence of a relationship that transcends mere “leader” and “follower” or even acquaintance or friend. He is hoping that he has sowed something much deeper that he may now reap something far superior.
Where are my relationships with others headed, and what will they return? Even in those times when I’m in charge, am I merely in the moment or cultivating something further down the road to a much greater benefit? Paul provides the personal example of developing equals, engendering partnerships. Am I?†††