Love without Obligation

I hate being told what to do.  And I hate when others do what they think they are obligated to do without meaning what they do.

In Philemon, Paul asks for the release of a slave, Onesimus.  But he does not order it.  He urges it out of love.

Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.  I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful to [both] you and me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.  Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.  So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me.

Philemon 1:8-18

This passage is powerful.  In it, Paul urges the slave’s master to forgive the slave who has run away (and perhaps committed another crime against the master).  To welcome him back with love.  To release him.  And in releasing him, releasing the master himself.

Paul refuses to order the master to accept him back and refuses to keep the slave away because doing either would prevent the master from having the opportunity to respond with love.  Paul recognizes that you cannot force love.  You cannot order love.  Love must be chosen willingly.  Forgiveness must be chosen willingly.  The good you do must not be forced but voluntary.   Paul is offering the master the opportunity to free the slave from any past debt or wrongdoing, and at the same time freeing the master to love and be loved.  Paul suggests that the “bad” that the slave did (running away) will bring about good: “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.”

We all have slaves in our lives.  People who we have imprisoned or condemned in our own minds.  People who have made us slaves to our own anger and ill will.  Paul urges us to release these slaves.  To welcome them with love.  Not because of some obligation but out of a voluntary choice to love.  Out of a choice to follow God’s greatest commandment.  We all meet people everyday who seem useless to us.  But Paul reminds us that each of them is an opportunity.  An opportunity to choose love.  An opportunity to share God’s love, so that they (and we) can be useful.  After all, Onesimus is just one of us.

Lord,

You call us to love, not just to do good out of obligation.  Help me to release those who I have imprisoned in my thoughts and words.  Open my heart to the true love that you call us to share.  Open my heart to forgiveness.  Help me to share your love every day with every one that I encounter.

Let me cling no more!

Oh.  Today the Bible opened and hit me right where I feel most vulnerable.  Jesus’ words expose my weakness.

So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;  In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’  You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Mark 7: 5-8

“You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  It is amazing that 2000 years later Jesus’ words are still spot on.  Very few things survive the test of time or maintain their relevancy.  But God’s words do.  I should be in awe by this — but in my head my response is “Of course God’s words are still good.”  And my second thought is, why haven’t we learned this by now.

Jesus has hit right on the head where many of my failings start and where I sometimes get lost — following human tradition, following human ways.  It is easier to see and follow human rule.  God’s rules are not so easy and there isn’t always the immediate response to know when we are on the right path.  As humans though we receive money and praise and facebook likes when we have done “good” under human standards.

Wouldn’t it be great if God could send us a thumbs up picture when we do good.  And a quick thumbs down when we do wrong — or even better a big thumbs down right before we do wrong.

But as I think about it…  He kind of does.  It just may not be that blatant.  But I feel the guilt.  It is just easier to ignore.  Particularly when there is human reward.  Oh I am stupid.  I know that God’s reward is far greater.  But I do it time and again.

My hope in today’s verse, is that I am not alone.  For 2000 years this has been an issue.  I need God’s grace and forgiveness, just like everyone who has come before me.

Father,

I am a sinner.  I have disregarded you and your commandments more times than I can count.  Help me to fix my eyes on you.  Help me fix my eyes on the reward in heaven.  Help me to live as you want — not as the human world rewards.  Help me to cling no more to human traditions and human ways.  Help me put my heart into my prayers and into following you so they are not just words on my lips.  I need your grace.  I need your forgiveness.  Forgive me, Father.

 

Forgiveness first

Tonight the Bible opened to Matthew:

He entered a boat, made the crossing, and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”  At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”  Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”  He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings.

Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus offered forgiveness first.  When I first read this passage I wondered why Jesus didn’t heal first.  I had to read it a couple of times before I realized He did heal first.  He healed the paralytic’s soul first.  As always God knows best.

Lord,

You know all things and know what I need. Heal me, Lord. Forgive me.  Help me to forgive others.