One night, Taylor and I attended a Bible study together. This was right in the middle of our little fight, so naturally, it was awkward. We were barely looking at each other—much less talking to each other.
When the group came across a passage in 1 Corinthians 1 that rebuked divisions in the church, we knew Jesus was speaking directly to us. Ouch. We were literally doing exactly what the passage warned against. The people around us felt the tension building as we read the verse aloud:
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.”
Two things were very clear:
No part of me was concerned with ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’. This was all about me. How I felt. How I was hurt.
Our minds could not have been in two more opposite places. For me, it was you need to apologize. For her, it was you need to apologize.
Neither thought process was in tune with Jesus. We knew of his love, but we were insistent on not reflecting it. At least not with one another.
This week, we will reflect on Philemon 8-10:
“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.”
Now that we have a better understanding of the issue that Paul is tackling in his letter to Philemon, we can uncover why Paul finds it so important for Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
The Freedom of Love (verses 8-9)
On his sermon archive, Desiring God, John Piper explains Paul’s appeal to love.
“Paul models for Philemon the superiority of appeals over commands when it comes to relationships governed by love. This points Philemon to the new dynamics that will hold sway between him and Onesimus. Acting out of freedom from a heart of love is the goal in the relationship.”
Today, the word love permeates our every being. We hear it used hundreds of different ways. It describes how we feel about our loved ones, our favorite sports teams, peanut butter—for me at least—and how we feel about our Savior. However, love hasn’t always been the first and foremost goal in society.
In Paul’s day, many Jewish teachers valued law over love. The law says a woman is to be stoned for committing adultery, so that’s the way it is. Before you consider a person’s fate through the lens of love, you have to ask how it fits in with the law. This is the thought process Paul is trying to debunk.
When Jesus came to earth, died, and rose again, the law was altered. Now, we do not need to follow a set of strict laws to follow in the convenient with God. Now all we must do is confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). When we do this, He will convict us to follow in His ways to best reflect Him. The legalism has been wiped!
We cannot earn God’s approval in and of ourselves because we sin against him daily. Before Jesus, following the law perfectly was the only way to receive eternal life and right standing with God. Yet Jesus’ sacrifice made it so that all we have to do now, is follow Him. And how do we do that? We love. (Mark 12:30-31). Yet, much like today, the idea of love over law was hard to grasp.
By loving God and seeking Jesus with all our heart, we will begin to desire what He desires. And that is a life of love. We are free to stop working to find satisfaction in things of the world and are able to seek Jesus solely. That will provided fulfillment far beyond what this world can provide.
Galatians 5:13 boldly defines our freedom in Christ:
As Paul speaks to Philemon, he states, “yet for love’s sake, I prefer to appeal to you.” He is demonstrating that he does not have to give in to the temptation to deal with Philemon harshly. He is making an example of himself. Let me put it simply.
Paul is treating Philemon with love even though he doesn’t have to.
Philemon should treat Onesimus with love even though he doesn’t have to.
When we are dealing with anyone, love should control our actions and words. God has placed us in this time and in this place for a reason. The relationships you have built are precious. How dare we become prideful enough to ignore the call of loving others. We have tasted the greatest love of all time! Let’s work to share that sweet taste with others.
A Family Calling (verse 10)
John Piper is a boss. I’m gonna quote him again.
“Paul heightens the sense of Onesimus being in the family of God by calling him his child. Remember, Philemon, however you deal with him, you are dealing with my child.”
Now Paul is getting even more specific. Not only are we to show love to everyone, but especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. As children of Jesus, we should share a special bond in love.
Have your parents ever scolded you about treating your siblings (or even cousins) with respect because you’re family? A family bond is different that a friendly bond. These are people who share intimate parts of your life. Friends come and go; family doesn’t.
In the same way, we share a distinct bond with brothers and sisters in Christ: His love.
When we are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, love should control our actions and words. Now let me be clear, other Christians should not depend on us to show them the hope and love of the Gospel. If Christ has truly taken over their life, they already know that love. We cannot forget, however, that everything we say and do is being watched by those who don’t love God.
If we are being hypocritical, walking around in pride as if the way we treat others means nothing, why would we expect anyone to believe us when we share the truth of the Gospel? If I show not love with Christ living in me, how does that make me different than every other moral person out there? We try so hard to set ourselves apart by ‘doing’ the right things, but that is not what defines us. Christ’s atoning love bleeding through every decision we make, every word we say, and every relationship we enjoy is what defines us.
Good works do not set us apart. Love does.
How is love controlling your actions and words?
How do you see that love in other Christians?
How does their witness affect the way you see Jesus?