8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love
I am not bold enough, in Christ or out of Christ, to command anyone to do anything – though I think about it, though I sometimes wish I were.
I wish I were bold enough to tell any who come to share in the Lord’s Table that they can no longer forward tweets and emails that are (pick one or more) false, ignorant, bigoted, racist. I wish I were daring enough to command them not to gossip or to give as they should give. I wish I could command them to love their neighbor as themselves.
I’m not sure it would be good were I so bold. My job is actually a tougher one, like being sent from the kitchen into the living room to give instructions to my siblings: “Mom says, ‘Turn off the TV.’”
I’m not making up this stuff about loving your neighbor. God told it first to Moses in Leviticus and Jesus said this little commandment was the chief thing – and the same thing as loving God. He also told us that everyone is our neighbor. But it’s not my authority to command; the obligation falls upon my siblings not to mock me but to obey Mom.
There are no consequences for ignoring me. There are, however, consequences for ignoring Mom. And if Mom really has sent me…
But the Apostle Paul doesn’t just want the grudging, gripping, bitter obedience that turns off the television with whining and annoyance. Paul wants Philemon to understand the love of God that must manifest itself as love for Onesimus. Onesimus is a runaway slave. Onesimus has placed himself in that category with all those who would undermine the established order of ancient Roman life. The owner has an obligation to make an example of a runaway. The owner has the right to punish him in any way he pleases – including crucifixion. But Paul says to Philemon that Christ obligates him to receive Onesimus as brother, to welcome him in love. “I could command you. But I want more from you. I want you to live love.”
So I could try to command those who mutter callous and, perhaps, unreflective bitterness about Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Gays, Chinese, Obama, the Republicans, or the poor (though I doubt it would do any good since I lack all the gravitas of Paul and live in a very different world where people take offense and go to a different congregation), but what I want, what I hope for, what I pray for, is that the love of God may encompass them. That they may grasp and be grasped by “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ and so “be filled with all the fullness of God.”