I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. (Philem. 8–9)

IN SAINT JOHN, NEW BRUNSWICK, you can stand beside the Saint John River and watch the water rush up the falls. The Reversing Falls is a natural wonder formed by the tide in the Bay of Fundy—the highest tide in the world. When the tide comes, it raises the river level enough to make the waterfall flow backward. Even more dramatic is the state of the river at low tide, just as it starts to rise. Angry whirlpools form below the falls, and the water roils as if it’s hot and bubbling.

People, too, can be forced to do things against their nature—like apologizing, helping someone in need, working hard when tired, or, as in the case of Philemon, giving up something of value. People can be forced to do good things; but if forced, they’ll probably be boiling with fury underneath, much like the water in the Saint John River. Forcing people to do anything, even good things, rarely produces a good result. Appealing to them on the basis of love is much more effective.

Paul didn’t shy away from speaking the truth to Philemon. The apostle directly told Philemon he should free his slave Onesimus. But Paul stopped short of ordering the slave master to do so. Instead, he appealed to Philemon in love, showing him trust and respect in both words and deeds. Good actions may benefit others even when forced, but they will never benefit the doer unless motivated by love.

Pray for someone who needs to be convicted by the Spirit.

Lawrence W. Wilson is a pastor, author, and avid cyclist from Fishers, Indiana.