I mentioned yesterday in my sermon that I had read in Philemon that morning for my devotions and “discovered” a very good example of how Paul treats the relationship between law and love. Please read Philemon; it only has 25 verses.
The main gist is that while Paul is in prison God uses him to convert a man named Onesimus. However, this Onesimus is a formal slave to another man that Paul seemingly converted whose name is Philemon; hence the name of the book. Paul is writing to Philemon to release Onesimus to Paul.
Notice in verse 8 that Paul indicates that he could, in fact, command Philemon to release Onesimus, however, he says in verse 9, that out of love, he instead will appeal to Philemon to release Onesimus.
I think this idea strikes at the heart of the difference between law and love; law commands, love appeals.
God gave us the law so that through the law we would sense His love for us. Yes, He commands us to obey, but obedience that lacks love is simply indifference and lacks relational substance. God uses the law to appeal to our hearts, so we might see that BEHIND the law is a divine purpose designed to cause us to love God.
Paul gives Philemon the opportunity to please him by releasing Onesimus. It will cost Philemon something, indeed, an economic loss at that.
But if Philemon honored Paul’s appeal out of love for Paul, then Onesimus is freed, and the relationship between Paul and Philemon flourishes. Notice in verse 22 that Paul anticipated seeing Philemon. Thus, Philemon would eventually have to answer to Paul, whatever the decision he made concerning Onesimus.
In essence, God tells us to prepare a place for Him, too, and we too will have to answer to Him one day. The presence of the commandments helps us realize that God is just in issuing His commands, and that He uses them to show that we need Him to fulfill them. It’s an appeal that has teeth….