Paul offers a unique perspective on service in Philemon.
Philemon 1:4-7: 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. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (ESV)
In Philemon, Paul is writing with the objective of convincing Philemon and his household to receive, forgive, and reconcile Onesimus, a runaway slave.
Last week, I talked about how agape love should drive us to Christian fellowship with one another. Now, Paul continues by giving us a unique perspective on service by connecting love with serving in the fellowship of faith.
Motivation for Serving
Paul says he does not want to command Philemon to pardon and free Onesimus. Instead, he appeals to Philemon in love. Why?
Because he does not want Philemon to serve God out of guilt, to please Paul, or to fulfill an obligation.
This is true for us as well. God does not want our service out of obligation, guilt, or for any other reason. Instead, love should motivate us to serve God.
Notice the stark contrast between service out of obligation versus service out of love.
Human Rationale Vs. Gospel Rationale
A human rationale for service would say, Paul, use your authority and make Philemon do the right thing. Do whatever it takes to get the results. But if Paul had exercised his authority, there would have been nothing special about it.
If you have the authority, you exercise it. It is expected of you. However, if you yield authority in favor of love, that is special, sacrificial, and selfless.
Paul returns to the idea of agape love to persuade Philemon to serve God because if he truly serves God, he will serve God’s people. Imagine a master serving his slave or treating him as an equal. That would be a radical transformation.
Human rationale almost always opposes Gospel rationale.
Gospel rationale would always argue for free will, which goes hand in hand with agape divine love.
If God wanted, he could have destroyed everything back in Eden or any other time, but he chose love over power and authority.
God could have inserted His will and made us nothing more than robots to cause us to do what he wants, but he gave us free will because of his love.
Paul wants Philemon to realize that we do not love others and serve others because we have to. Rather, we serve because we want to, and the basis for that is the actuality of the full knowledge of God.
The human rationale would ask what you would get out of it. It would look for self-serving things. It would see letting a slave or servant go free without receiving due payment as a loss. It would see serving as a loss of time and energy.
Gospel rationale would say what I can offer others. It would look for ways to participate, contributing talents, gifts, times, and resources. It sees serving as a gain.
Love motivates us to serve God.
Love motivates us to serve each other.
Love motivates us to serve sacrificially.
In Christianity, the purpose of service is to exercise agape by serving sacrificially and selflessly. Anyone can serve when it is convenient. But in Christ, you should serve out of conviction.
When the gospel transformed my heart and changed my perspective on service, I decided to serve Muslims. Regardless of intense persecution, I even went to Afghanistan to preach to some of the most radical Muslims in the world. Why?
Because I was convinced that the Gospel can change people, societies, and the world.
Are you convinced that the Gospel could change people, society, and the world? If yes, let’s talk.
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