The Art of Connecting: Accountability: Don't leave home without it! - Part 6

Philemon 22-25

I am an All-American boy. Part of the proof is in the fact that I drive American-made automobiles. One of the reasons I do is because of the super service department at my local dealership. Periodically, I take my car in for a check-up. The service manager makes certain my automobile is properly maintained so that it will continue to run smoothly with minimal mechanical maladies.

Like many of my readers, my wife and I are fortunate enough to own our home. Or, I should say the mortgage holder owns it. Periodically, we give it a check-up. Recently, we made some repairs on the roof. It wasn’t leaking…yet! Some wood was rotting around one of the eaves and it was only a matter of time before big problems would ensue. So, we did some preventive maintenance.

I have a body. Not much of one, some might argue! But, a body never-the-less. Every year I go to my physician, Dr. Ken Cooper, for a check-up. I get a complete physical in order to make certain everything is in proper working order and to, hopefully, detect any possible problems. Along with a physical exam I watch my diet and try to take good physical care of myself. It is called preventive medicine.

Much of what goes wrong with my car or my home or my body does so because of one word…neglect. No checkup. No maintenance. No accountability. Accountability. Now, that is an important word. If it is good enough for cars and homes and physical needs, why shouldn’t it be good enough for interpersonal relationships? It is good from time to time for husbands and wives to sit down with each other and “check-up” on their relationships to one another. It is good from time to time for parents and their children to sit down and hold each other accountable in the relationship. It is good from time to time for friends to stop long enough to do some preventive maintenance with their interpersonal relationships.

Paul closes his letter to Philemon by letting him know he will hold him accountable in the relationship and will come by later for a check-up. He writes, “And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers” (Philem. 22). Philemon knew what this meant. Paul was going to come by later to checkup on the relationship! Philemon knew he would be held accountable. Paul was a wise man. He knew much of what goes wrong in relationships does so because of neglect. No accountability. No check-ups. No maintenance in the relationships.

Accountability is a part of life. We all need it. We need accountability in the marriage relationship. Marriages that last are those which have some preventive maintenance. When accountability goes, relationships go with it. I am accountable to my wife. I do not just go my own way telling her that where I go and what I do is none of her business. It is her business. We are one. We have a unique relationship because we are accountable to one another for what we do, where we go and how we behave.

We all know about accountability. We have it at the office. We do not just show up at work on Monday morning whenever we so desire. We must be there at a certain time and work a certain number of hours if we expect to get paid. Some of us are accountable for quotas and the like. Profitable businesses are successful in large part due to the insistence upon accountability at the office.

Look at our national, state and local governments. We have accountability here. As citizens we need laws to govern and protect us. We need to be held accountable if we run through stop signs and break speed limits. Without accountability in government there would be total anarchy. Accountability is a part of our everyday life. We are faced with it in some way at every turn of the corner.

We have accountability in our schools. Teachers hold students accountable with their studies. They must turn in homework assignments, write certain papers and take scheduled tests. No one graduates or earns a degree without being held accountable for the required assignments. Accountability is a way of life for all of us.

What about the athletic arena? We have accountability there also. If an athlete refuses to attend practice sessions, he or she doesn’t play in the game. And, for example, in basketball, when a player commits five “fouls” in a single game he is taken out of the game by the official. Athletes are accountable to officials, umpires and referees on the playing field.

Accountability is all around us. We see it in the business world. Many of us have mortgages with scheduled monthly payments. We are held accountable to pay them promptly and on time. If we fail to do so we are in danger of foreclosure.

Accountability is a significant part of everything we do. It is strange that, although we have accountability in every aspect of life, when we come to our own interpersonal relationships with our friends we do not see the need of it. Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of short-term relationships today? If accountability is necessary in government, athletics, education, business and the like, it is also essential in developing lasting positive and productive friendships.

When I was a teenager a friend by the name of Jack Graham and I began to take note of what was happening around us. We watched some of our peers disintegrate and destroy their young lives through such things as alcohol, drugs and illicit sex. Jack and I became accountable to one another. We didn’t know what to call it, but we made a promise to God and to each other that we would help one another to stay clean. We checked up weekly on one another and held each other accountable. To this day, although we began almost forty years ago, he is still my best friend and we still have a relationship that involves personal accountability to one another.

What destroys relationships? Think about it. The answer is found in such attitudes as self-reliance, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and self-centeredness. Accountability is an absolute necessity in the building of long-term friendships. Over the long haul it is one of the most important factors in a relationship. The lack of it has been the downfall of a lot of potential and promise. Accountability is the “ability” to be open and allow a small number of trusted, loyal and committed friends to speak the truth in love to us. We should only be accountable to those who have our best interest at heart. We all are in need of someone from whom we can receive concerned counsel and correction.

Accountability is a word many of us fear. It is not in our nature to want to be held accountable for our attitudes or actions. Some of us fear it because we misunderstand it. We think it means only “put-downs”, criticisms or rebukes from those who take delight in sitting in the judge’s seat. Remember, we are talking about the accountability that comes from a very select few trusted, loyal and committed friends who want only the best for us. Relationships are doomed to defeat without the element of accountability. We all need it.

Accountability in interpersonal relationships calls for three things. First, insight. Paul closes his letter to Philemon by reminding him he is coming by to checkup on how things are going between him and Onesimus. Hindsight also plays a major role in accountability. It involves an investment of time and interest. We need the hindsight to see that every area of positive relationships (affirmation, accommodation, acceptance and allegiance to one another) are important. I am not going to make myself accountable to someone who is not a trusted friend and who does not have my best interests at heart. Accountability also calls for foresight. Paul concludes his letter with the hope that “grace” might rest upon his trusted friend. We need the foresight to see that we all need a little grace to make any relationship positive and productive. Accountability. We all need it. Don’t leave home without it!

Insight

We now arrive at the final paragraph of this enlightening letter on interpersonal relationships. I can almost see Philemon now, with chin cupped in hand, as he reads, “And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers” (Philem. 22). Paul is a bit subtle here. But the message is loud and clear. “I am going to come by to check up on you. Get the guest room ready! I am coming by to see how you and Onesimus are doing in your relationship.” Here is accountability in capital letters.

How do you think this motivated Philemon? The prospect of Paul’s upcoming visit no doubt speeded up the process of his doing the right thing in his relationship with the remorseful Onesimus. We all need accountability to help us do what we ought to do. When we speak of holding each other accountable we are not speaking of making threats. Some confuse the two. Paul does not say, “Unless you do what I have asked you to do, I am not coming by to see you anymore. “Men and women who endure relationships built upon threats base their friendships upon performance. Not Paul. He builds relationships on such things as affirmation, forgiveness, commitment and accountability.

There is a subtle insight into this letter that is only apparent when it is read in its original Greek form. He requests that Philemon, “Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.” The “you” and “your” are both plural. This is both subtle and significant. Paul is reminding Philemon that others will be watching. Consequently, we discover the insight that accountability calls for us to become transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful.

Accountability with one another calls for the insight to see we must be transparent with our true friends. Everyone needs someone with whom they can be genuinely open, honest and transparent. This vulnerability carries with it the risk of being wounded. But, transparency is imperative to accountability.

Those who are accountable must also be touchable. Everyone needs someone whom they can touch. That is, someone who is accessible and approachable. To his Roman friends Paul later wrote, “You are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” To his friends in Galatia he wrote, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another…carry each other’s burdens.” To be accountable to someone demands that we become not only transparent, but, also, touchable.

Relationships which profit from accountability do so because the parties involved are also teachable. None of us should ever stop learning. We have so much to learn from one another. It is a dangerous time in any interpersonal relationship when someone feels they know it all and no longer possesses a teachable spirit. This insight implies a spirit of humility. We can teach each other. We can learn from one another. We need each other. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

Those who are accountable to one another must not only be transparent, touchable and teachable, they must also be truthful. Many never allow themselves to enter an accountable relationship because of deception. They are so deceived in the thinking process that they are convinced it is always someone else’s fault when a relationship becomes bruised or broken. Many people have left dozens of broken relationships in their wake and, in their minds, they have not been responsible for the break-up of a single one. They are deceived. Without truthfulness there can be no accountability in our relationships.

Some men and women are never accountable in their relationships because of denial. Some simply live in a state of denial. Still others are never accountable because they live in defeat. Everyone needs someone with whom they can be truthful. It is extremely therapeutic to be able to be genuinely truthful with a faithful friend without the fear that he or she will reveal your innermost secrets of the heart. It is impossible to become accountable to one another unless we are both committed to the truth, whoever or whatever it may hurt. We never have to be afraid of the truth. It liberates. It sets us free.

For example, take the well-known case of King David and his mistress, Bathsheba. Like so many today, he tried his best to cover up his affair with her. He did not want his family or friends to know about it. David was fortunate in that he had a trusted friend who held him accountable. Nathan cared enough to confront his friend who was on a collision course. And, he did so in confidence and in love. David came clean. When he was confronted with the truth, it hurt. But, it also healed. Nathan held his friend accountable and it kept the king from greater hurt and heartache. It worked because in their relationships with one another they were transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful.

Many of us have personal friends we see heading down a road that has a dead end. But we let them go. We do not really care enough to confront with compassion. We have little accountability in relationships today. Real friends hold real friends accountable. How? By being transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful with one another.

WARNING! We are not talking about open season here. We are not advocating opening up our lives to anyone and everyone. And, in particular, we are not talking about becoming accountable to those who boast of the gifts of criticism, gossip or judgment. Stay away from those folks. They do not have your best interest at heart. They will end up hurting you a lot more than they will help you. We are talking about accountability between a small number of loyal, affirmative, forgiving and committed friends who, like Paul, have earned the right to ask some hard questions. Solomon also said, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6).

Accountability calls for insight. Paul lets Philemon know he is coming by to check up on him. We all need a measure of accountability. There is something about knowing that we will one day have to give account of ourselves that motivates us to be more conscientious about our task. We all need someone with whom we can be transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful.

Hindsight

Accountability becomes possible when we have the hindsight to see we have made an investment of time and interest in another’s life which earns us the right to hold them accountable. And, to be accountable ourselves. Paul continues his closing paragraph by sending Philemon greetings from five of their mutual friends, a somewhat subtle reminder of those with whom he and Philemon have had solid and mutually beneficial relationships in the past. He writes, “Epaphras sends you greetings and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.”

Paul, in hindsight, mentions five individuals here. They are not recalled at random. They are each mentioned for a definite purpose. He is a genius at the art of connecting. He has dealt with five major contributions to positive interpersonal relationships…affirmation, accommodation, acceptance, allegiance and accountability. Each of these men is mentioned, in hindsight, to illustrate what he has been driving home throughout his personal correspondence to Philemon. Each man is representative of a paragraph in the letter and of a chapter in this book.

For example, he began the letter with the importance of affirmation, a pat on the back. It is no coincidence that he now brings up the name of Aristarchus. He was Paul’s traveling companion on his third missionary journey throughout the Mediterranean world and was arrested when they were in Ephesus. He had been through thick and thin with Paul. He went all the way to Rome with him affirming him all along the way. Paul reveals they had a synergy together that was strengthened by their affirmation of one another.

Paul also mentions a man named Luke. Dr. Luke, we might call him. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul refers to Luke as his “dear friend and doctor.” Paul brings him up in hindsight to Philemon to remind him of the win-win philosophy of relationships mentioned earlier in the letter. Paul and Luke played win-win with each other. Luke was a Gentile. In that day most Jews, like Paul, would have had no dealings with him. But Paul and Luke had something to offer each other and found their friendship to be mutually beneficial. Luke accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey and tended to his physical needs which were many. There is no doubt that Luke’s health skills added years to Paul’s life. They traveled a lot of miles together. On more than one occasion Paul was stoned and left for dead. He had a physical malady many believe was either epilepsy or failing eyesight. Luke was always there by his side. They needed each other. If there ever was a win-win relationship in life it was the one between Paul and Luke. Philemon knew about this and the moment he read Luke’s name he thought about Paul’s words a few paragraphs earlier, “He is now profitable both to you and to me. We all can win.”

Paul has also made much of the necessity of forgiveness in our relationships. Thus, he mentions a man named Mark. It was young Mark who was with him on the first journey departing from Antioch. But, he failed. He quit. He went A.W.O.L. when the going got tough. Twelve years have now passed and this is the first mention of Mark in any of Paul’s writings. Obviously, they have buried the hatchet and he is back. And, in case there is any doubt in anyone’s mind whether their new relationship flourished, Paul mentions him in a later letter to Timothy saying, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me.” Mark knew what it meant to be accountable and he knew what it meant to be forgiven. Paul’s forgiveness and insistence upon accountability paid off in the end. Mark is the author of the Gospel which bears his name. Oh, the mention of his name spoke volumes to Philemon’s heart as he continued to read this letter. In hindsight, he had no option but to restore his broken friendship with his former friend who was on his way home.

Paul has also talked about the need of commitment in our interpersonal relationships, the need to cross the Rubicon. Therefore, it comes as no surprise he mentions Epaphras. This man’s life was characterized by a total commitment to his friends. In the Colossian letter Paul says, “Epaphras…sends his greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicia and Hierapolis.” He so crossed the Rubicon of relationship with Paul that he went to Rome and voluntarily shared Paul’s imprisonment with him there. He was also a well-known friend of Philemon coming from the same city. His very name is synonymous with commitment. Philemon knew where Paul was coming from the moment he read his name.

Finally, Paul reminds Philemon, and us, that accountability plays a vital role in any long-term positive and productive relationship. Therefore, he mentions a man named Demas. Demas’ own story ends on a lamentable note. Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” Demas is a sad commentary on the fact that without accountability long-term relationships have little hope of survival. By mentioning these five mutual friends, each representative of an area of positive relationships, Paul is reminding us all that we need each other. We not only need to be connected with our Source and with ourselves, but, we need to be connected with each other. We need support and strength.

In hindsight, we see this principle of accountability was what Paul effectively and continually used to develop his productive and mutually beneficial relationships. It takes hindsight to see that accountability is based on loyalty to one another. I do not intend to make myself accountable to someone who does not have my best interest at heart. Paul had a small group around him who were committed to one another and bent on affirming one another daily. This is not only what the world needs now; it is what you and I need now. To understand accountability we need insight and hindsight. We also need foresight.

Foresight

Paul concludes his letter to Philemon with a benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” What is his point? We must have the foresight to see we need grace and without it there is no hope of accountability in interpersonal relationships. Too many never become accountable to anyone else because of a warped idea of what it really is. Some equate accountability with judgment when it is intended to be equated with grace. Paul is not talking about judging one another’s faults here. He is talking about mercy and grace issuing out of mutual love and respect among friends.

Grace…that is what is needed in so many relationships today. Grace can be defined as unmerited favor. While mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we do not deserve! And, if it is good enough to receive from our Source of love and power, the Lord Himself, it is good enough to pass on to those around us. This is the key that unlocks the door to accountability. We all need the foresight to see that we need grace in our relationships for without it there is no hope of building positive interpersonal relationships with anyone. If I make a mistake in my own relationships I always seek to err on the side of grace and mercy rather than on the side of judgment.

Paul is making it plain to Philemon that if he is going to do what he is being called upon to do with Onesimus he is going to need an extra portion of grace to accomplish it. It is really not in us to forgive and forget. Onesimus is on his way home. Philemon knows he must receive him and forgive him and now he is reminded that it will take the grace of God to do that. God’s grace…that is what we all need in our interpersonal relationships. We need the grace to go forward and the foresight to see we cannot do it in our own strength. Yes, until we are properly connected at the source we will spend a lifetime trying to build relationships without grace. And it cannot be done.

Paul asked that the grace of God be with Philemon’s “spirit”. This is by design and not by accident. We are made of body, soul and spirit. My spirit is the real me. It is that part of me that makes me different from all the other created order. It is that part of me that can connect with God. It is my inner self. We need the foresight to see that if we are not connected with our source in the spiritual realm we will never be properly connected with others in the emotional or physical realm. We need this grace to live in long-term interpersonal relationships. Husbands and wives need grace in their accountability towards one another. Friends in the marketplace need grace to get through the week. From time to time we all need grace, we all need to get what we do not necessarily deserve. Accountability cannot exist without a measure of grace.

With this reminder about grace Paul closes this most intimate and personal letter on interpersonal relationships. It is a word for us although it is removed by two millennia and 8,000 miles. It is as up-to-date as any best-selling book on relationships in the marketplace today. It calls to mind the life-changing method of a simple pat on the back. It brings us into win-win relationships with our friends. It speaks of the necessity of burying some hatchets along the way. It calls upon us to cross the Rubicon of relationships by making a life commitment to each other. And, it concludes with the importance of accountability to one another. We need each other.

If a periodic check-up is important to the maintenance of my automobile, my home and my physical body, why isn’t it good enough for my interpersonal relationships? Much of what goes wrong with my car, my home or my body does so because of one word… “neglect!” No accountability. No check-up. No maintenance. Accountability is a part of life. We all need it desperately. The knowledge that someone is going to hold us accountable motivates us to do the right thing. Paul is coming by to check up on Philemon. The anticipation of this would spur Philemon on to obey the wishes he found in his personal letter from his trusted friend.

We come to the end of the letter. And, the end of the volume in hand. What happened? Did Philemon do what Paul asked? Did he receive Onesimus with open arms as a “dear brother”? Did he forgive? Did he forget? The answer to these questions is shrouded in silence. Quite honestly, we do not know. But, these are not really the pertinent questions for us. The question is not, “What did Philemon do?” The question is, “What will you do with the Onesimus in your own life?” The issue has been left unanswered so that you may finish the story. It will take grace to do that. We conclude as we began. We will never be properly related to each other until we possess a positive self-image and self-respect. And we will never be properly related to ourselves until we discover how indescribably valuable we are to God by becoming properly connected to Him. This has always been, and, will always be, the bottom line in…the art of connecting!

Practical pointers:

Be honest…with yourself. How many long-term relationships do you have? Think about it. How many friends have you kept across the years? Do your relationships suffer from neglect? Neglect your car long enough and there will come the morning when it will not start. Neglect your house long enough and there will come the day when the roof will leak. Neglect your body long enough and there will come the day it too will break down. Neglect your interpersonal relationships and, like everything else in life, they, too, will disintegrate. We all need accountability in our relationships. Remember, there are only three relationships in life. The outward expression, our relationship with others. The inward expression, our relationship with the self. And, the upward expression, our relationship with God. Accountability is called for in all three expressions.

  1. We need accountability with others in the outward expression of relationships. Stop building barriers. Build a bridge to someone this week. How? Give them a pat on the back. Bury a hatchet with someone. Learn to say, “I am sorry.” Or, “I forgive you.” Then, forget it. Make a conscious decision to cross your own Rubicon with someone. Be vulnerable. You need accountability with someone you can trust. When you find him or her, then become transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful. We really do need each other.
  2. We need accountability with ourselves in the inward expression of relationships. Make an honest self-inventory of your past relationships. Could it be, even the most remote possibility, that you are to blame for some of your own failed relationships in the past? Take some personal responsibility. Be accountable to yourself. List some things you could do differently to improve your relationships. Put them into practice with someone this week. Stop fooling yourself. It may not always be the other person’s fault. And, by the way, forgiveness should not always be extended to just the other party. Sometimes it should be extended to ourselves. Forgive yourself and move on!
  3. Ultimately, we will all be accountable to God in the upward expression of relationships. Yes, there will come a day when everyone “must give an account of himself to God.” In anticipation of this day there are three important questions you should ask yourself when you arrive at some of the confusing intersections of life. First, ask yourself, “Can I do it in Jesus name?” The Bible, the greatest book on interpersonal relationships ever written, says, “Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.” There are a lot of past decisions we wished had been averted that would have been if we had asked that question before the light turned green and we made a wrong turn. A second question is — “Can I thank God for it?” That is, when it is all over, can I look back and thank God for the decision I made? The Bible says, “In everything give thanks.” Finally, ask yourself, “Can I do it for God’s glory?” Paul admonished those at Corinth in his letter to them that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Have the foresight to see that even though you may neglect the need for accountability with others in relationships or even with yourself, you will, ultimately, be accountable to the One who loves you most and gave Himself for you. Get connected to Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will awaken to a brand new you. Positive and productive interpersonal relationships will then be but a by-product in…the art of connecting!
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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