Tag Archives: love

Mercy for those who doubt – Jude 17-25, Part 5

4 Oct
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“Be merciful to those who doubt.” 

Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  So often we conceive of doubt as a negative thing to be avoided, and the result can be that people who doubt are considered to be sinful or strange.  But is doubt wrong?

As we conclude our two-week study through the letter of Jude, we find that in verse 22, he writes that we should be merciful to people who doubt.  Why? Because doubt is not an indication of disbelief.  Doubt is normal.  Just about everyone doubts.  It doesn’t mean they have lost the faith.  They’re just questioning, investigating, wondering.  Their doubt is actually healthy, as doubt helps us go deeper in our beliefs, making them our own.  Let’s be merciful to those who doubt.  Instead of judging those who doubt, let’s listen to them share their concerns.

Someone recently said to me that where there is doubt there is hope.  In a society where there is growing doubt, this is instructive to us.  I’ve heard a stat reporting that only 30% of 18-30 year olds go to church.  We can choose to get upset about this, but Jude is wise to instruct us to be merciful to those who doubt.  Rather than dump on people for doubting, we should have an attitude of embracing them, even when they doubt.  Doubt means they are searching, and thus there is hope that they’ll find what they are looking for. 

Jude has more instructions for us in verse 23: “Snatch others from the fire and save them.”  Christians should be known as being active in outreach.  We can and should seek to help the ungodly impostors find God. But notice how Jude finishes verse 23, “To others show mercy mixed with fear, hating even the clothing stained with corrupted flesh.”  For people who are corrupted, meaning that they will not receive any help or guidance or word about Jesus, which seems to describe the ungodly impostors in Jude’s day, then it is time to part ways with them.  Remember our study in Titus when Paul said, “have nothing to do with them”?  That’s what Jude is getting at here.  

Jude then concludes his letter in verses 24-25 with an amazing flourish.  It is a prayer to God.  He starts his prayer, “To him who is able to keep you from falling.”  Falling is a word that refers to stumbling.  God is able to keep you from stumbling!  He doesn’t force us.  But we can depend on him, and rely on his strength and power through his Spirit within to help us remain faithful to him.

Next Jude says God is also able “to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Combine that with how he finishes the prayer: “To the only God, our savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore.”  When I think about that it strikes me how he focuses on giving glory to God.  He is placing God squarely in focus right in front of him, right in front of us, almost saying, “Look at God, he is real, he is alive, he is powerful, and we need to remember that.” 

These kinds of rich theological prayers are so important because they shake us out of a lull and help us focus on what is real, what is true, what is important about life. 

This, then, is what Jude is saying in his letter.  He is saying, “Wake up people, there are impostors in your church, and you are letting it happen.  You’ve let yourself fall asleep.  Wake up.  Focus on truth, on goodness; focus on God.  You’re probably going to need to repent of your lethargy and get down to the business of contending for the faith.  But remember that you are called, loved and kept. God is able to keep you from falling.  He is at work!  Focus on him.  Spend time with him.  Allow him to guide your life.” 

Keep yourself in God’s love – Jude 17-25, Part 4

3 Oct
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“Keep yourself in God’s love.” That really sounds like a religious or spiritual thing to say, right? What comes to your mind when you read that line? In this series of posts, we have been studying some phrases that Jude writes in an ancient letter to his Christian friends. It seems that Jude is writing them to give them guidance about how to ready themselves if Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Specifically, Jude’s friends had allowed ungodly impostors in their church, and he was very concerned that his friends were doing the opposite of getting ready for Jesus’ return. In verses 1-16 he pointed out who they impostors were, and now in verses 17-25 he is giving the church instructions for how to address the impostors, thus providing the church a foundation for being ready should Jesus return.

First, he talked about how to build one another up in the faith and, second, about praying in the Spirit. Now he says in verse 21 that Christians, to be ready for Jesus’ return, should keep themselves in God’s love.  Last week I referred to this verse because at the beginning of the letter, Jude says in verse 1 that he writing to those who are “called, loved and kept by God.”  So in verse 1 we see God at work doing the calling, loving and keeping, while here in verse 21 Jude says that the Christians need to do the work of keeping themselves in God’s love.  It is both God’s work and ours. So how do we keep ourselves in God’s love?

The way Jude wrote this, the phrase “keep yourself in God’s love” is the only command or imperative, and the other phrases support that command.  In the NIV the translators chose to feature each phrase individually. Some other English translations, however, help us see Jude’s focus when they translate it this way: “building yourselves up in the faith, praying in the Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, waiting for the mercy of God to bring yourselves to eternal life.”  See how each of the supporting phrases modify the central command to keep yourselves in God’s love?

That means we should be known for our love while we wait for God to return, or until that day we pass on.  The goal is to keep ourselves in God’s love.  In that we see how much God wants to be in relationship with us, how much he wants his love to remain in our lives, and thus how much he wants his love to be flowing out of our lives.

Think about other Scripture passages referring to love that we can apply to our lives.  “Love one another.” “Love your enemies.”  “We love because God first loved us.”  When we depend on God’s love, his power resides in us, so that his love flows through us.  This occurs through his Spirit within us, meaning that his love is within us. Here we have a connection to praying in the Spirit which Jude mentioned previously.

I was reading this week about the ancient Christians and how they lived through numerous awful plagues in the Roman Empire.  When most others, especially the wealthy fled the cities to avoid the plague, the Christians, filled with God’s love, stayed and ministered the hope of Jesus to people.  Interestingly, as the Christians shared the words of the Good News about Jesus, and as they provided clean water and food to people, many sick people actually recovered, and when they were back to health, you can imagine how they felt about Jesus.  Many gave their lives to him. Those Christians kept themselves in God’s love.

How about you? What will it look like for you to keep yourself in God’s love? Notice that it is a practice of relationship to God that results in his loving flowing out of you. Keeping yourself in God’s love is not just personal or private. Instead, when you are filled with God’s love, you will share that love with those around you, especially with those in need.

How to ruin a Love Feast, Jude 1-16, Part 4

26 Sep
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Have you ever heard of a love feast?

This is Part 4 in a series of posts on Jude 1-16, and we’re going to talk about people that ruin love feasts. Thus far in Parts 1, 2, and 3, we’ve been studying the ancient letter in the New Testament called Jude, and Jude has been telling a group of Christians about ungodly impostors that have infiltrated the church.

Jude says in verse 10 that these ungodly men speak abusively against what they don’t understand.   It reminds me of a student who is studying physics or algebra and struggling with it, and just says, “This is stupid, why will I ever need this?”  I might have said that a time or too… I might have even recently said something similar about books I’m reading for a doctoral program…

Or maybe you adults can admit to having spoken unkindly when seeing someone who has gotten themselves in a bad situation, perhaps a homeless man, with no understanding as to how he got there, who he is as a person and what his story is.  Like the ungodly impostors, have you ever spoken abusively about what you didn’t understand?

What is worse, these ungodly impostors indulge in their animal instincts, their lusts, their passions, which is all they understand, and Jude says it is destroying them.  They are unrestrained, lacking self-control.  It gives the image of people who get drunk, who get high, who spend money irresponsibly, who overeat, etc., and do it with a bit of a self-righteousness and a judgmental heart to others. 

Jude’s conclusion about them, his accusation, we see in verse 11 is, “Woe to them!”

A woe is a kind of prayer that speaks God’s judgement on people.  “Woe” describes hardship, distress, even horror.  Jude is saying that the ungodly impostors should be in horror because of what their end will be. 

Then he gives three rapid fire illustrations of their ungodliness, all three based on Old Testament stories, thus showing how the impostors deserved woe.

First they have taken the way of Cain, which was a life lived in the opposite direction of God.  Second, they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error, meaning they are willing to sell out for money.  And finally they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion, which is another story about how the people of Israel rebelled and God judged them.

Jude is saying, “Church, do you realize the severity of this situation?  Do you realize what you are allowing to go on in your church?” He then explains the situation further in verse 12.  He says these men were blemishes at the church’s love feasts.

Love feasts?  What is that?  Basically it was a time when the church family would gather for a meal, followed by the Lord’s Supper.  Grace Brethren and Moravian churches still do this, a wonderful expression of the unity of the church family. But in Jude’s day these impostors had come into the church, and though they were ungodly and even denying Jesus, for some reason they were still participating in the love feast. 

It is so absurd to Jude.  Those guys had no business being there!  The Lord’s Supper is only for Christians.  And the church was allowing the impostors to partake.  Those guys denied Jesus in their hearts, in their actions and yet they still participated in communion?  It was a mockery, and the church was allowing it to happen.

You can hear the righteous anger in Jude’s words as he launches into a bunch of illustrations to further describe these guys.  They are shepherds who feed only themselves, which depicts their selfishness.  And remember, they do this all while pretending to be a Christian.

Next he calls them clouds without rain. In an agricultural society that very much depended on rain, a cloud without rain was nearly useless.  He says the wind blows the clouds by, showing the clouds were a waste, that they had succumbed to the greater power of the wind, which is what will happen to the impostors when God judges them.

He says they are autumn trees without fruit, uprooted, twice dead.  Again, a total waste.

They are wild waves at seas, foaming up their shame.  They lives produce a lot of commotion and drama, but nothing substantial.  Nothing meaningful.  They fade away.

He says they are wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever, and image that reminds us of total separation from God.

In other words, Jude is saying that the ungodly impostors are in a very bad spot in life because of what they have coming to them.  They are doing no good within the church.  Contrast that with true Christians in the church, Christians who love Jesus and have hearts and minds in line with Jesus, who give their lives for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.  Their actions will be ones that strive for unity, for love, for obedience to the ways of Christ.  The fruit of the Spirit will be evident, flowing from them: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.

How to love deceivers and other difficult people – 2nd John, Part 5

13 Sep
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

In the previous post, John warned the Christians in the church about deceivers in their midst. But who was he talking about? Open a Bible or read online in 2nd John verses 10-11 to see how John describes them. Some scholars believe that he is talking about itinerant teachers who believed false doctrine.  There were many traveling preachers in that day.  It could be that John is only prohibiting people from investing in the work of those who were heretics, but John would have been okay with Christians in the church conversing with the false teachers and trying to win them over to faithfulness.  It is hard to know how much John covers through the words “do not take him into your house and welcome him.” 

What we see for certain is a healthy caution, a guardedness, a yellow alert of sorts.  In his epistle in 1 John 4:1, he talks about this as well when he says “test the spirits”.  Testing the spirits means that we ask the question of them: are they teaching true doctrine about Jesus?  Just like the false traveling preachers, we have people in our day and age who have all kinds of views about God.  While we have a caution and do the work of “testing the spirits,” we don’t have to overreact in fear. Instead we choose to love them. Loving them doesn’t mean buying in to what they are teaching. In fact loving them means we treat them how God would want us treat them, and if their teaching is false, that means seeking to help them see the truth.

John then concludes his letter in verses 12-13 with some greetings, mentioning that he looks forward to visiting with them.

So what have seen in this letter called 2nd John?  John teaches the principle of walking in love, which we is not by feelings or emotions, but by obeying God no matter how it affects you. 

God calls us to obey him out of love.  He doesn’t want force us to obey him like a drill sergeant does.  Instead he wants us to choose to love him.  Risky of God, isn’t it?  And yet wonderful because he wants us to have real relationship with him! 

Christians, therefore, consider how they are walking in love.

It could be a spouse that gives their life to many years of caring for a debilitated spouse. 

Or a couple that is dating and one partner develops cancer and rather than break-up, the other partner sticks with them, gets engaged and married, even knowing they might only have months or a couple years together married. 

It is a movement from selfishness to selflessness that is very similar to dating.  Dating starts with “what do I like,” “what is attractive to me” and moves to “how will I give care to the other?”  This same attitude can and should happen among people in a church family. Christians should be that loving community with one another.

I’m convinced that this is what Christians need to focus on in our post-Christian world.  We need to be known as the most loving people around, first and foremost to each other.

That means getting to know new people.  Investing quality time in them.

It means looking for people every single Sunday morning in a church’s gathering who might seem disconnected or new and reaching out to them. 

It means pushing past your own insecurities or weaknesses and connecting with people.

It means sharing your resources with those in need. 

It means a willingness to be inconvenienced for them. 

And it is rooted in Jesus, who is the embodiment of love.  Start there, with Jesus, whose Spirit lives in you, who loves you, and get to know his love, and then show your love for him by obeying his commands, one of which is to love those around you, even those who are difficult to love.

Walk in love.

How Jesus redefines “love” and “truth” – 2nd John, Part 2

10 Sep

In the previous post I introduced the ancient biblical letter of 2nd John by looking at some ways that people express themselves when they are in love. Behind it all is the question, “What is love?” Though it is such a commonly used word and concept, is it possible that we might not understand it? I think most people generally understand it, but what we need to investigate, as we read this letter, is how the writer, John, used the word “love.”

What is John talking about in verse 1 when he says, “Whom I love in the truth?”  The “truth” is his way of talking about the family of Christian faith.  As we’ll see, in both short letters of 2nd and 3rd John, John regularly mentions truth.  He continues talking about it in 2nd John verse 1 when he refers to those “who know the truth” and in verse 2 when he says the truth lives in us.  So before we answer the question, “What is love?” it seems we need to answer, “What is truth?”

Truth is an important concept that I will address more fully next week when we study 3rd John, but as we consider how John starts his letter in verses 1 and 2, because he mentions truth three times in the first two verses (get ready, because he’ll mention in verse 3 and 4 and well!), it is vital that we say a few words about truth.  John is not talking about a concept or idea of truth, so much as he is talking about the fact that Jesus is the embodiment of truth.  I know that he doesn’t spell that out here in 2nd John, so how do we know this?  Because of what John has written in other places, the most famous example of which is John 14:6, in his Gospel, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  This was and still is a fairly surprising way to think of truth.  Truth is a person.  Jesus is truth.  John says, therefore, that there is an amazing reality that this truth lives in us and is with us forever.  How in the world does a person live in us? We’ll talk more about that in a post later in this series.  Hold that thought.

As we move on to verse 3, we read John’s greeting of grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son, who will be with us in truth and love.  There’s that idea of truth again, and that the truth is in us.  But now John has expanded the idea to include grace, mercy and peace and the idea that Jesus is with us in truth and love.  Clearly, what God is communicating to us is amazing.  God wants you to know grace.  God wants you to know mercy.  God wants you to know peace.  All through Jesus living with us and in us, Jesus who is truth and love.

Following John’s flow of thought into verse 4, we read him convey an encouraging word to the church, saying that it has given him great joy to find some of her children walking in the truth.  Walking is another idea that John will repeat.  As is specifically “walking in truth,” which we will focus on next week.  For now, he is overjoyed to find that some in the church are living out the truth of Jesus. 

Let’s continue, because John is about to reveal the specific purpose for writing, and we see the beginning of that in verse 5 when he says he has not a new command, but one we had from the beginning, “love one another.”

There was a time when people asked Jesus “What is the greatest command of the law?”  You can read this in Matthew 22.  He said, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and the second greatest, Jesus said, is “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus wasn’t making these commands up.  Both of these commands were originally given way, way back in the Old Testament Law.   Leviticus 19:18 for example says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s where Jesus got it from.  So these are not new commands, as John says. 

It is interesting, then, to consider that Jesus, in John 13:34-35, calls “love one another” a new command.  There he was teaching his disciples just hours before he was about to be arrested and put in trial and crucified.  He says to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

How is this a new command?  Wasn’t it actually a really, really old command?  Yes, perhaps a couple thousand years old by that point!  And Jesus clearly knew it was an old command.  So why would he call it a new command? I suspect what Jesus was getting at was the fact that he expressed it in a new way.  He says to his disciples not, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but “love one another, as I loved you.”  Do you see the difference that makes this a new command? 

Our standard for loving other people is not how we would love ourselves, our standard for loving other people is how Jesus loves us!  Do you see what Jesus did there?  He took a command from the Old Law, a very good and important command, but he put his new spin on it, and in so doing, took it to a whole new level.

No longer are we the standard for loving others, he is the standard.  That means we need to have a clear understanding of how Jesus loved.  In another place, John 15:13, John records Jesus as teaching, “There is no greater love than this, then a man lay down his life for his friends.” That’s the kind of love Jesus gave when he went to the cross. 

Remember that phrase WWJD?  What would Jesus do?  We could specify it a bit to:  HWJL?  How would Jesus love?  You could make that into a bracelet and wear it, and that bracelet could become a reminder to you all day long to love like Jesus loved.  Not a bad thing.  We need reminders to love like Jesus loved.  We can often behave in our normal patterns or habits that might not be the same patterns or habits that Jesus used for loving people.  Reminders can help us break out of our old ways and follow the new ways of Jesus. 

Here’s the problem though.  What if we don’t know how Jesus would love?  We might think, “Of course I know how Jesus would love.”  But do we?  We would do better to ask the question: how can I learn to love like Jesus loved? 

Now there’s a question to answer!  In the next post in this series, we’ll investigate Jesus’ kind of love a bit further. 

When you’re crazy in love – 2nd John, Part 1

9 Sep
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Oh the crazy, creative, wild things we’ll do for love.  Have you ever been bonkers in love and did something like that for the one you love? 

I recently heard the story of a guy who made a necklace for his girlfriend.  He carved a small pear shape out of wood, and placed a little seashell in a divot, and then attached it to a chain and gave it to her for their first anniversary.  And she wore it faithfully, daily.  Then a year later, they were out visiting one of their favorite places, he asked her for the necklace.  He broke it in half, got down on one knee, and revealed that inside, all along, was an engagement ring. 

She said, “Yes!  And then after thinking about it awhile, she said, “Wait…it was in there the whole year?  I could have lost it!”  So creative and risky, right?  That blows my proposal to my wife out of the water.  My grandmother had given me a diamond that part of another ring that her grandmother gave her.  So I had the diamond made into an engagement ring, but once I got it, I was so anxious to propose, that I did it that night in a misty rain in the gazebo in Greenfield.  I was, and am, so in love with Michelle, but I admit I wasn’t all that creative about my proposal.

I learned about another guy who was way more patient and creative. This other guy started writing love letters to the girl he was dating.  She would write back.  They didn’t live far apart, but the letters would a great way to pour out their hearts to one another, and a wonderful record to keep of their relationship.  Well, after three years, and 13 letters, he asked the girl to get all the letters out, and he started arranging them.  And this is what she saw.

image

Can you read it?  The first letter of every love note spells out “Will you marry me?”  She also said, “Yes.”  What is so amazing is that year by year as she was receiving the letters, she didn’t know they were slowly spelling a proposal.

When you’re in love it seems you can’t help it, can’t stop it, you are just flowing with it.  The emotion, the energy, the creativity. 

All summer we have been reading other people’s mail.  Ancient letters.  Not love letters.  But letters in the Bible.  As we’ll see in this next letter, there are other views on love that we need to hear.  Thus far we’ve read the letters that Paul wrote to Titus and Philemon

Today we turn to another writer.  John, who was not only a disciple of Jesus, but also possibly Jesus’ first cousin.  We’re not talking about John the Baptist, who was another cousin of Jesus.  We believe the disciple John wrote the Gospel of John, and then also the epistle of 1 John, and the short letters of 2nd and 3rd John, as well as the book of Revelation.  Going by word count, John wrote 20% of the NT, third behind Paul and Luke.  John was one of Jesus’ inner three disciples, Peter, James and John.  Because of this privilege, they had some unique experiences, such as seeing Jesus’ transfiguration.  John was the only disciple who visited Jesus at the foot of the cross, at which time Jesus asked John to care for Jesus’ mother, Mary.  John would go on to be a leader in the early church.  We believe, of all the original disciples, he passed away last.  Most scholars believe that while much of the New Testament was written around the years 50-70 AD, John wrote all of his works in the range of 85-100 AD.  Lastly, John is often called the Dr. Seuss of the New Testament because he uses the fewest variety of words and he repeats them often. 

As we’ll see, both of his very short letters of 2 and 3 John talk about truth and love, but in 2 John we’re focusing on love and next week when we study 3rd John, we’ll focus on truth.  So go ahead, open a Bible to 2nd John, and read it.

In verse 1, the writer begins by identifying himself with the title, “The elder.”  We think John was the elder or leader of the churches in Ephesus.  As you’ll see, the name John is not mentioned anywhere.  Then he mentions who he is writing to, and it is quite curious.  The recipient is “the chosen lady and her children.”  This could be a real person, but as we’ll see in the content of the letter, it seems that John is using “the chosen lady and her children” as a metaphor.  The chosen lady most likely refers to a church, probably the local congregation he is writing to.  Throughout scripture the church is often referred to in the feminine, for example when Paul calls the church the bride of Christ.  And her children, then, would be the people in the church.

Check back in to the next post, and we’ll see John begin to talk about love.

How to help people see things from a different perspective – Philemon 8-25, Part 1

26 Aug
Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

There have been some illusions in recent years that have become internet sensations.  Like the dress that was either white/gold or blue/black, or the computer voice that says “laurel” or “yanny.”  Now there is the bird or the bunny.  Which do you see?

It’s wild how the mind works!  It is actually a bird, but you can sure see how it looks like a bunny. Here’s another one.  What color are the strawberries? 

Red, of course.  Right?  Well, maybe they seem like the color is slightly washed out, but you can still see the redness.  Or can you?  The creator of this photo says it is entirely in grayscale.  No color whatsoever.  Our minds supply the red color because that is what we are used to! 

These illusions relate to our divided world, as people see things so differently.  Have you ever had the experience where you are talking with someone, and they are describing their viewpoint, and inwardly you are thinking to yourself, “How can they possibly believe that?” 

It can be very hard to see things from another perspective.  Usually we just hold more tightly on to our own and characterize the other side as a bunch of whackos.

Last week we started reading Paul’s letter to his friend Philemon.  As we continue this week, we’re going to discover that Paul sees an issue from a very specific perspective, and he wants Philemon to agree with him.  How will Paul help Philemon see another viewpoint?

In verses 1-7 (you can review the five-part series on those verses starting here), we learned that Paul has a lot of really nice things to say to Philemon. While Paul certainly was telling the truth about Philemon, and while he wanted to encourage Philemon, Paul does have another motive going on.  He really wants Philemon to identify himself in the ways that Paul has described him.  How has Paul identified Philemon?  As a person who is deeply committed to Jesus, who loves and encourages “all the saints.”  That word “all” in verse 5 is key.  Paul wants Philemon to be thinking, “Yeah, that is me.  That’s how I am. I love Jesus and I love all his followers, and I encourage all of them.”  Why does Paul want Philemon to think that way? Because there was one follower in particular that Philemon had a problem with.

Now read verse 8 to find out where Paul is going with this.

Did you notice how the tone of this passage shifts in verse 8?  Paul says, “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do…”  Wait.  Bold?  Order him?  What just happened?  Paul has spent the better part of the previous 7 verses pouring praise on Philemon.  Now here in verse 8 he sounds pretty confrontational doesn’t he?  There’s something going on, and Paul is about to spill the details.

Verse 8 stops mid-sentence, so read through the end of Paul’s sentence which continues until about halfway through verse 9.

Paul says that though he could be bold and order Philemon, he’s not going to.  Instead he is going to appeal to him on the basis of love.  That’s quite an interesting phrase.  Paul knows he has authority, because he is an apostle of Jesus, and he could pull rank on Philemon.  Whatever is going on, Paul knows he could take the power route.  But he doesn’t.  He takes the love route. 

He still reminds Philemon that he, Paul, could take the power route, and the fact that he reminds Philemon of this stands out to me.  Could it be said that Paul is being manipulative here?  Someone could say that he spent the first seven verses buttering Philemon up, because he knows that he is about to drop a bomb on him.  Or it could be that Paul is just showing tact and wisdom.  The same goes for his reference to his position of authority and power that he could wield on Philemon.  In all this, I think Paul is being truthful and wise.

Now continue reading from the middle of verse 9.

How about that?  Paul calls himself an old man, and he repeats the line he started the letter with, that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus.  Is Paul trying to establish more authority, using his status as an elder?  As a prisoner?  Is he staying he has street cred?  Is he referring to his seniority?  Probably all that and more.  It is clear that Paul really wants Philemon to do something, to answer his appeal from love.

In Part 2 of this series through Philemon 8-25, Paul will reveal the details of the specific situation he is concerned about. For now, focus your thinking on how Paul has begun his appeal. He wants it to be clear that he is not using a power move, but he is appealing to Philemon based on love. I find that quite instructive and applicable to many situations. Parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, pastors. Anyone who has a measure of authority. How are you motivating the people you lead? With power or with love? Going back to where we started this post, consider the conversations you have with friends and acquaintances in which you are sharing different points of view. How are you communicating? With power or love? There certainly may be times when power is needed, but for Christians, may your use of power always be guided by love. We would do well to make it a practice of asking ourselves, “Am I being loving in this?” Or “Does the person I’m interacting with feel loved?” Even if we have to confront them, we can do so in love. Paul is about to confront Philemon, but take note of how he has communicated love to Philemon first. Paul has laid an extensive groundwork of love in verses 1-7, so that when he gets to the difficult part of the conversation, Philemon will know it comes from Paul’s heart of love. What a great example!