What about love?

Philemon. One of the shortest books in the Bible. Only 25 verses. Certainly easy enough to sit down and read it in a few minutes, yet important and inspired, as it was included in the New Testament Canon. Why was this brief letter from Paul to Philemon deemed “worthy” of inclusion?

My Bible

A recent read through for me pointed something out that I had never seen before. There are several themes in Philemon – devotion to ministry, forgiveness; but it was a third theme that leaped off of the page to my heart. Paul mentions this theme twice but most notably here:

Philemon Verses 8 – 9a:

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…

The theme of “invoking our rights” seems to be coming up again and again in my personal life. Determining which hills, if any, are to die for.

Short story – Onesimus had served Paul well, and Paul was very fond of him. But Onesimus had wronged his former master prior to serving with Paul (this former master was Philemon), and Paul knew that peacemaking and reconciliation was in order.

Paul could’ve insisted, by the spiritual authority he possessed as an elder, that Philemon take back this person who had wronged him, Onesimus, and restored him to his former position with forgiveness. But Paul does not fall onto his spiritual authority to make a demand.

“Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

He could’ve made sure that Philemon would’ve listened and obeyed his instructions. He could’ve left nothing to chance.

“Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

He could’ve ordered that the person carrying the letter, Tychicus, stayed with Philemon, ensuring his compliance with Paul’s request, and returned to Paul to report on Philemon’s obedience.

“Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

Paul could’ve left no doubt. But instead, he gave Philemon an opportunity to grow and to arrive at the right decision, leaving it in the Spirit’s hands.

“Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

Wow. Think about that for a moment.

What if our church business meeting speakers would begin espousing their opinions and views with this statement- “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

What if, in the process of a possible church split, the 2 parties would begin their negotiations with this statement- “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

What if our deacons , elders, trustees, board members, and lay membership, in the midst of strife and conflict would begin with this statement- “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

What if our pastors and church leaders would approach church conflict from this angle – “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

What if, in the midst of a marriage that is falling apart, the 2 individuals would begin their conversations with this statement – “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

Modern church history is full of examples of people and leaders invoking spiritual authority to demand action and justice, and in some cases, this is rightfully so. Do not overlook that the scriptures often teaches us that appealing to love (and to other fruits of the spirit) is pleasing to God. That enduring persecution, not bucking it, produces godliness. It doesn’t mean we are supposed to become spiritual door-mats, ready to be walked over at all times.

It does mean that we should be sensitive in every situation, seeking to emulate our Savior as we engage and react to not only the world, but to fellow believers as well.

Love should be at the root of it all.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

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The thorn in my flesh

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

For some reason, the last few days, I have been living over and over the historical failures of my life. Maybe it is because of the present calling that I cling to, and how drastically it contrasts to the long line of these shortcomings.

I’m not beating myself up over them too much, nor am I having a pity party. As I was thinking about these failures just now, my mind was instantly curious about Paul’s wording of this struggle which he had to deal with. We don’t know what this struggle was – whether it was a psychological struggle (such as intense grief or sorrow), a person who caused him much trouble, an actual physical condition (which many scholars believe), or even a matter of constant spiritual warfare, we can only guess.

Many times when we begin inching the closet door open, we expect to see the worst in each other. Don’t worry reader, my struggle is not with anything that you would need to notify law enforcement about. But it is a struggle that breaks me, and one that I would wish away from me, just like you would wish yours away. We all have these deep, innate struggles; these things that if publicly broadcasted about our life, would threaten to ruin us (and in many of our cases, would actually carry out that threat).

I think about one particular struggle. I believe 2 people are aware of it, though others have been indirectly affected. I ask the obvious questions – Why did my Creator instill this tendency toward sin in my life? Why is this sin so destructive in nature? Why can’t he just remove it from my life completely?

I look at Paul’s admission in 2 Corinthians. He didn’t tell us what the struggle was. But he, like many of us, also asked for it to be removed – three times – and the answer was no. Instead came this:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The fact that we are corrupt, that we struggle daily if not hourly against the carnality of the human condition, outlines the overwhelming need and dependency we have upon our Savior. I’m reminded how Peter was going to sink, except that he cried out and was saved in a literal sense.

Matthew 14: 30-31

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

In a very real sense, this is what we must do. Under our own power and effort, sin is powerful and capable of enslaving our lives. It will drown us. Sin has no dominion over us, unless we are not under grace:

Romans 6:14

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Just as Paul boasted in his weakness, and was even content in his weakness (2 Cor 12:9-10), let us also, with thanks, celebrate the only One who can rescue us from the curse. I don’t know what your thorn is any more than you know what mine is (are), but believers have this in common:

Romans 8:3-4

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

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