Useless or useful?

I’m not a hoarder. If anything, I’m the opposite. Often I need something, and I go to look for it, but am unable to find it. Then it dawns on me that not long ago I threw that thing away because I was sure I’d never need it. I kept that old shirt, book, or tool for twenty years without using it, then tossed it, only to find a use for it the very next day. Oh, the irony!

Maybe you can relate. Life tends to be cluttered – we fill our home, then our garage, then our attic with belongings. In some cases, it keeps piling up, so we rent a storage unit to house all our stuff. Along the way we might declutter, keeping what is most useful to us, and getting rid of that which we deem useless. This is a good practice, but there is one thing in life which we must never discard or treat as useless: people.

These days, it seems, relationships are disposable. You and I might never think that we are the sort of people that would “dispose” of another human being…but let us examine our wake. The stress of relational proximity to others exposes their sins and ours, sometimes resulting in very few friends in our lives as the years pile on. Instead, we leave behind a stream of irreconcilable differences and broken relationships in which we have written others off and relegated them as being, like an old shirt or book has become, useless.

Useless or useful? In the Bible we find a story that speaks poignantly to this exact contrast. Let’s examine one of the shortest books in the New Testament, the letter to Philemon.

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to Philemon as a plea to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation for a runaway servant named Onesimus. The latter, since his running away, had become a new believer in Jesus through the ministry of Paul, who then sent him back to Philemon to make amends.

In verse 11 Paul describes Onesimus to his former master in a very interesting way: “He was formerly useless to you, but now is useful to you and me both.” Paul then tells Philemon to receive the runaway, upon his return, as if he were embracing Paul himself.

Now that’s an example of radical reconciliation! Not only are we encouraged to forgive the person who has wronged us, but we are also charged to welcome them back into our life as if they were someone very dear to us rather than a person who has caused us pain!

The meaning of all of this becomes even more impactful as we understand the etymology of the name Onesimus. The name means, literally, “useful”. This play on words further shines light on the impact of Paul’s statement contrasting uselessness and usefulness. He’s saying that at his core this man is useful; that’s his name and that’s who he is. The Greek root of the word in question means ‘valuable, good, profitable.’ Again, what irony!

In the eyes of God, every person has great value, even those who have left or betrayed us as pictured in this simple story. God sees worth in every person; there is nobody that he does not want to redeem. Were we to go against this by burning down bridges and writing people off we would be going against the very heart of God. Perhaps instead, as modeled in this beautiful story of reconciliation, we can choose a different path in our relationships.

I urge you to consider these things. If you find yourself looking down on someone or deeming them as useless to you, make haste to forgive and reconcile. Otherwise we will hold grudges, slander others, and develop a hard and bitter heart. As people of faith, our economy is mercy. The Lord is very clear – the mercy we show to others is the kind of mercy we will receive from him.

So treat people with kindness. Work to be at peace with those who have hurt you. And keep the bridge down; one day you might find yourself face to face with them again, and when that happens, your choice to extend a hand of friendship may be the very thing that introduces them to the love of God himself.

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Our Community

At VCC, we believe that church is not a function: it is a family. Our religion is only as alive as we are, the people that pursue it. So, rather than acting as an organization, we want to act as an organism. We have no time for casual contacts and meaningless formalities. We are a fellowship on an adventure towards the stuff of God. Church means worshipping God together, studying the Bible together, fixing our cars together, hiking together, eating together, playing together, praying together... enjoying the warmth of the Holy Spirit in all parts of our lives together, not just in appointed meeting times.