A good reputation is one that is founded in faith. Yet faith, if not accompanied by works, is no faith at all (Jas. 2:20). And what are works that are not faith-driven and faith-proving, if not works of love?
An old popular tune said, “Love is a verb.” The talented singers contrasted love with fleshly passions that are often referred to as love, but are actually nothing more than lust. They are not love because they are selfish and dishonest. They are not seeking the edification of others. They are not Christ-centered and God glorifying.
Love is expressed in works. It is found in the things we say and do unto others. It is how we treat those around us. It is in the way that we help and support people in a truthful and biblical manner. Love with no action is not love, because love is active. They were right to say that love is a verb.
Paul adds to his encouragement to Philemon, the evidence of yet another aspect of his good reputation. Philemon had a reputation of faith in the Lord. And he also had a reputation of “your love for all the saints” (Phile. 1:5).
It may not make a whole lot of sense to have one without the other. Faith without love for the saints is not the kind of faith that is described in the Scriptures (1 Jn. 3:14). This is especially true when you consider the words of Christ, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). With Philemon, faith and love were hand-in-hand.
Paul heard that Philemon had great love for all the saints. Some of the things that exemplify this love are found right here in this letter. Philemon gave generously to the church out of his own resources because they met regularly in his house (Phile. 1:2). He also shared his faith (Phile. 1:6) and refreshed the saints (Phile. 1:7). We can be certain that Philemon’s slave, whom this letter is about, also had good things to say about him while he was being cared for by Paul (Phile. 1:10). If this is all based on one short epistle of information, surely there must be much more to Philemon’s love for those meeting in his home.
The real question is this: How does this motivate Philemon to forgive? Paul is still encouraging Philemon’s heart to continue in godliness. He has mentioned his faith in the Lord and now mentions his love for the saints. As said already, the two go hand-in-hand which affirms genuine salvation. But there is more to it than that.
One who loves the saints is one who seeks to build them up, not simply for his own benefit (1 Cor. 13:5). He derives joy by serving them. The affirming of this love strengthens his desire. It also reminds him of what is at stake here. The saints knew what had happened and would know how this would end. Bringing them to his attention would add a certain motivation to refresh them yet again by sharing with them what forgiveness looks like. To Philemon, this was another way to love them. By forgiving his wrongdoer, he would exemplify godliness. This would not only refresh him, but all those around him. Thus, he was motivated to forgive by hearing of his own love for the saints. Paul assured the heart of Philemon by telling him that he had a reputation of love.
From the book, Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon, by Jacob Abshire