Compelled by Love
Why do we serve Jesus?
The motivation should be something like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ controls us…” ESV
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)
The Apostle John taught us, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters...” (1 John 3:16, NLT)
In the opening verses of Philemon, we saw that the unifying factor in the mission of the Church is the Gospel. This week we are looking at the motivation behind our service.
A mission is a job or a task that one has been given to do. The mission or the task that we have been given to do is all about the Gospel. Another way to state it is that the mission of the Church is all about Jesus Christ. It is the first job of any Christian to know Jesus and to love Him.
As we continue on our journey through Philemon, we see that the motivation for our mission is love.
In order to understand this love better, we will look at several aspects of our motivation. The idea behind these aspects is that our motivation involves the whole person: mind, emotion and will.
The first aspect of our motivation that we see in Paul’s address to Philemon is the authority. Authority has to do with the mind. Whatever we set out to do, we have to justify it in our minds. We have to see the reason for it. We have to believe it is right.
In verse 8, Paul says:
Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required… ESV
Paul is saying that he is confident that he could order Philemon to do what Paul wanted. This is a reference to Paul’s authority. In addition to personal authority, Paul also references moral authority by saying, “what is required.” Another way of saying this is, “to do what is proper.”
Let’s look at these in turn.
First, Paul’s authority is derived from his position. Paul is an Apostle. He has every right to ask Philemon to do what he is asking. He was chosen by Jesus and directly instructed and commissioned by Him for the founding of the Church.
The Apostles were unique in that they were entrusted with the transmitting and recording of the Word of God to the Church, the New Testament. Their authority was unique. For example, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter, they were struck dead. (Acts 5) This same sort of authority was seen in Moses when the followers of Korah rebelled and were consumed by fire form the Lord. (Numbers 16) This same sort of authority was seen in Elijah when King Ahaziah sent 50 men to command Elisha to come and the 50 men were struck dead. (2 Kings 1) The thing that Moses, Elijah, Peter and Paul all had in common is that they spoke directly for God.
Since the time of the Apostles, there is not a man alive on earth who speaks directly for God. This is why we see the example and teaching of the New Testament of a plurality of elders. It is also why the decisions of the Church are made by the whole Church. In Matthew 18, we see that the authority to remove a person from fellowship belongs to the body of believers as a whole. The local church’s authority lies in the Word of God, the Bible. At special times, such as the time of Moses and the time of the Apostles, God invested His chosen instruments with unusual authority. According to Revelations 11, this authority will once again be given to two witnesses during the time of the Tribulation.
As churches were established under the ministry of the Apostles, there was a group of elders selected to lead each church. The elders answered to the body of believers, and accusations against elders could be entertained only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. In other words, even the elders were subject to the authority of the Word of God and the body of believers. This is why we operate as we do in this church. The elders and pastor are subject to the authority of the Word of God just like everyone else.
Paul was an Apostle. He could command with authority and therefore he could be bold. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) With such absolute authority, Paul would have had every right to order Philemon to do what was right, but he chose instead to appeal to Philemon based on love. However, he points out his authority to Philemon because Philemon’s whole person, including his mind, was involved.
This is instructive for us as a church, as leaders and as parents. It is easy for a person in a position of authority to abuse that authority. I should say it is common for authority to be abused. Anytime we use our position of authority for our own benefit rather than for the benefit of those under us, we misuse our authority. Authority is given for the benefit of those under it. It was much, much more beneficial to Philemon to do what was right by Onesimus out of a heart of love than to have done it out of compulsion or grudgingly under orders.
The same can be said of moral authority. Doing the right thing because it is the right thing often leads to Pharisee-ism. The Pharisees, who set out to be morally perfect, ended up being hypocrites simply because no one is perfect.
The authority for our mission is there. The authority for the mission satisfies our minds. We have every right to proclaim that there is only one way to be saved. However, the motivation for the proclamation is not our right or authority. The motivation for the proclamation is love, love for God and love for our neighbor.
The next aspect of our motivation is affection. Affection has to do with our emotions.
A person is made up of mind, emotion and will. We are created in the image of God, and we see in Scripture that God also expresses mind, emotion and will. Each one of these is a gift from God and is to be understood as such. It is a mistake to emphasize one of these to the detriment of the others. We see this in what I will term the modern portrayal of love. Often, television shows and movies portray love as a physical thing or as strong affection, and it is a physical thing and it is a strong affection. However, it is not strong affection to the exclusion of mind and will. The results of excluding the mind and will are seen in babies born out of wedlock (mind) and marriages that do not last (will). True love involves the whole person.
Our motivation for the mission involves the whole person. Paul’s address to Philemon draws out the strong role that our emotions play in our motivation.
First, we see an appeal to Philemon’s emotions when Paul says, “I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus…” (Philemon 9) Next, we see another appeal to Philemon’s emotions when Paul says, “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” (Philemon 10) Additionally, we see an appeal to Philemon’s emotions when Paul says, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.” (Philemon 12)
This is a very emotional appeal. The Gospel is also a very emotional appeal. Who among us is not moved to tears at the thought of Jesus, His suffering and death upon the cross? When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” Was this not an emotional appeal? If the message of the Gospel does not move our emotions, then we have not understood it, or internalized it. If the message of the Gospel does not move our emotions, then we have not applied it to ourselves. Our affections, our emotions should motivate us in our mission.
The Scriptures teach us that we love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
When a sinful woman anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume, kissed His feet and wiped His feet with her hair, the Pharisees around Him were indignant. They thought that if Jesus knew what kind of woman this was, He would not let her touch Him. Jesus said to them, “I tell you, her sins--and they are many--have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47)
We have been forgiven much so our emotional motivation is great.
Since all authority in Heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, and since He has forgiven us so much, we have a tremendous obligation to be about the mission He has given us. We owe Him our very lives.
Paul talks to Philemon about his obligation to Paul. He says in verse 19, “…to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” From this, we understand that Philemon owes his life to Paul. Onesimus would have been useful to Paul. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him because with Paul in chains, it was useful to have someone to help him with the work. In verse 11, Paul states that Onesimus is useful, and then in verse 13 he says, “I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf.” (NLT) Because of authority, because of affection Paul could appeal to Philemon to do what was right. In addition, Paul could have kept Onesimus and just let Philemon know, “Hey, I have your slave now, thanks.” However, as Paul says, “But I didn't want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced.” (Philemon 14, NLT)
We see in this the importance of the will in our motivation for our mission. We are obligated. We could be ordered to do what is right. However, God does not force us. He rather appeals to us as His children. He calls us His friends and asks us to obey out of love for Him.
Because He does not force us, many of us live with things in our lives that displease God.
For example, let us imagine that when Paul sent Onesimus back that Philemon had had Onesimus put to death. Legally, Philemon would have been within his rights as a master. There would have been no financial consequences for Philemon. However, what would have been the spiritual consequences? His relationship with Paul would have been broken. Would the church in his house have continued to thrive? How would his family have been affected? We do not know, but it would have been costly.
In our case, we are called to live for Christ. First, we are called to know Him and love Him. Next, we are called to live for Him in this present evil age. God does not force us. He invites us to serve Him willingly. But, what happens when we do not? Does the world come to an end? No, and we may not suffer any visible consequences for a while. But, what about our spiritual health?
You and God know where your will is being challenged. Perhaps, you have an Onesimus in your life that you have every right not to forgive. Yet God is gently appealing to your love for Him to give it up for His sake. He could order you to, but He wants your service to be willing. The authority of the Word of God should satisfy your mind that it is the right thing to do. The fact that Jesus has forgiven you of much more should move your emotions to see the obligation you have, but are you willing to forgive? God will not force you. He wants our willing service.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says:
1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.