Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. – Philemon 8-9 (NIV)
Growing up, my career goal was to become a lawyer. I thought ministers of the gospel were good for occasional episodes of religious entertainment and spiritual escapism, but the real power to impact politics and the economy rested in the hands of legal professionals. In my estimation, religion was truly the opiate of the people, while the power to change society was in the law.
But my thinking has evolved through the years.
Notwithstanding legal authority, I now understand that real change requires much more than changes in the law. Change that is deep and abiding requires a change of heart, and a change of heart is precisely what the love of God is all about.
When the Apostle Paul sent the former slave Onesimus back to his former master Philemon, Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave, but as a beloved brother in Christ. But Paul’s appeal to Philemon was not on legal terms. Paul went beyond the limitations of legality in order to appeal to Philemon’s moral conscience.
Any change based on conscience is much more enduring than any change based on the law.
The words of Martin Luther King, Jr., are true: “The law cannot make a person love me, but the law can stop a person from lynching me.” It is also true that a heart touched by the love of God has no need for anti-lynching legislation.
God, we thank you for laws that promote freedom. And we thank you for love that makes us free indeed. Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.