Fruits of the Spirit: Love
When the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, he tells them of the sort of characteristics that should be found in a disciple of Jesus. He calls these ‘fruit of the spirit’. He contrasts them to what he calls the ‘deeds of the flesh’. The deeds of the flesh he mentions are things like immorality, jealousy, envy and angry outbursts. These things sadly come naturally to us as human beings. The fruit of the spirit comprises a number of things such as patience, kindness and gentleness. These characteristics and behaviours don’t naturally come to us. We have to develop them in our lives as disciples. The first of these fruit mentioned is ‘love’.
We shouldn’t be surprised at love being mentioned first. When John writes to believers, he mentions love as being the core component of God’s character: “The one who does not love, does not know God, for God is love”. 1 John 4: 7-11. This love is also the core component of Jesus character. The Bible tells us that as the son of God he was like his father in every way – he even went as far as to say “he who has seen me has seen the father”. So God and Jesus are both supreme beings of love.
Love therefore is an essential characteristic of any one who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Disciples of Christ model their character and behaviour on Jesus and God. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would be known as his followers by their love for each other.
A New commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you…….By this shall all men know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another (John 13: 34-35)
Love is the hallmark of a true disciple. The apostle Paul, when writing to disciples at a city called Corinth tells them that if they do not have love – they are nothing.
….if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned and do not have love – it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13: 3)
So a life full of good deeds is worth nothing if it is not accompanied by and motivated by love. This is such a powerful teaching. So what does it mean to show love then? Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered….. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-5)
Love is treating people in the exact opposite way that we act naturally. It is being kind to people rather than saying cruel words. It is being patient with people and not flying off the handle. It is forgiving people instead of bearing a grudge. It infiltrates and affects every action and word that we have with other people. One phrase Paul uses really sums it up: ‘it does not seek its own’. Love makes us put other people first and think of what is best for them – rather than what is best for us. It is becoming a willing servant to other people. Jesus summed it up like this too:
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)
Self-sacrifice sums up love. If we put others first in everything – it will mean that we act in a loving way. In fact even telling off someone can be loving! Friends are honest with each other about when they need to change – they have the hard conversations because they love them – it is best for them. True love is always motivated by what is best for others.
But it goes further. The idea of acting in a loving way towards fellow believers (as John 13 above is talking about) sounds logical and rational – even if it is hard. But Jesus tells us to go even further!
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)
What? Love our enemies – even those who hate us? Yes. That is what a true disciple of Christ does. Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him! If he can do this – we have no excuse not to do the same.
So how can we develop this love then? We can grit our teeth and try really hard to be merciful, kind or patient – but that doesn’t really work. Love is a fruit of the spirit. A tree doesn’t grit its teeth and force fruit to grow on it. Fruit grows naturally when the tree has the right supplies. We have to develop so we don’t force our self to love but we start doing it naturally. It grows in us. So how do we make it grow? God tells us this as well – we expose ourself to his love. We already saw in 1 John 4 (earlier in this blog) that God is love. Being exposed to his character – seeing his love and example shows us a better way. And the greatest way pf seeing this love is by seeing what he has done for us through his son Jesus:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another……. We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4: 10-11 & 19)
God gave his son to die for us even though we didn’t deserve it. He was willing for his son to die so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life. This sort of love from God, and from Jesus (by being a willing sacrifice) is the inspiration for all followers of God. God’s word (the Bible) is written so we can learn of his character. By reading it and truly seeing what he is like was are exposed to his love and it changes us. It gives us a new standard and makes us want to be like him. This is the ‘growing’ of the fruit of love. And most importantly it makes us love God – that is the greatest love of all:
And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matthew 22: 37-38)
Loving God is the key. If we see God’s true character we will love him. We will make his example our own. And we will be driven to love others because it follows on naturally from loving God.
So the fruit of the spirit – love. We need to grow it, and we grow it be knowing God. This will cause our love for him and others to overflow and in that way we will be true disciples of Jesus.