But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.Gal 5: 22-23 The Message
In the last article on the Holy Spirit, we read that He does a deep work in the lives of believers. Whereas for many, the presence of the Spirit is about forms and mannerisms, we said that it is supposed to be more than that. The Holy Spirit “brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard.” (Gal. 5:22, MSG).
In the next series of articles, we will meditate on the outworking of the deep work of the Spirit in our lives, what the book of Galatians describes as the fruit of the Spirit. The first on that list is LOVE.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Gal. 5:22-23 (NIV)
What is love?
If there is a word with a wide range of meanings and use, it is love. Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection and to the simplest pleasure. An example of this range of meanings is that the love of a mother differs from the love of a spouse, which differs from the love of food (Wikipedia).
In scripture, even though there are numerous references and instructions to love, there is hardly a definition. What we have been given for our understanding are descriptions of what it means to love. Jesus summarized the law as love for God and man (Mt. 22:34-40). Rom. 13:10 says “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
For our working definition the Merriam Webster dictionary defines love as “unselfish and benevolent concern for the good of another: such as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others.”
Therefore, when the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of a believer, what He produces, the fruit He bears, is first of all, love. Such a person loves God with all that they are and their neighbor as themselves. Doing so, the believer fulfills all the law requires. When these are present by the working of the Holy Spirit, the bible says against such fruit, there is no law. What the law seeks to accomplish is already present by the power and work of the spirit.
Why Should we love?
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19). “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn. 4:10). Our love for God and neighbor is, or should be, a response to how much God has loved us. When you realize how much God loves you, when you know that nothing can put a wedge between you and Christ’s love for you, your default response is to love in return. Jesus said he who has been forgiven little loves little. That doesn’t mean that what God has forgiven each of us is a little sin. It is only a measure of our realization of how much we have been forgiven. If you realize that you have been forgiven much, you will respond with much love.
God also commands us to love Him with all that we are, and our neighbor as ourselves. All the law and the Prophets, Jesus said, hang on these two commandments.
How Should We Love?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5; Mt. 12: 37-38; Mk. 12:30). The love of God that that scripture commands is total; to love Him with all that we are: life, intelligence, passion, energy, thought, everything. No other command is greater than this. Jesus said it is the first and the greatest.
Secondly, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn. 13:34). The word ‘as’ means ‘to the same degree or amount’, ‘in the way or manner that’. For me, that is where the weight of that instruction rests. Jesus commands that I love “as” he has loved me. How has he loved us? “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). When God put his love on the line for us in His son’s sacrificial death, we were of no use whatever to Him. It means that our love for others should also be without conditions. Instead, scripture says to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22:39; Gal. 5:14).
The bar is even raised when we are commanded to treat the foreigner as a native-born, love them as ourselves (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19) and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Isn’t the disobedience to this command the root cause of all forms of hatred, racism and discrimination? Is this not why we have wars and conflicts? People hate because they “do not have the love of God in (their) hearts” (Jn. 5:42). The solution is love. Thankfully, “God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Love in Action
“The love of which I speak is slow to lose patience – it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.
Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.
Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is in fact one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.” – 1 Cor. 13:4-8a (Phillips)
Let me just add to that wonderful paraphrase these verses:
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” – Jn. 14:23
“Do everything in love.” – 1 Cor. 16:14
Growing in Love
“We thank God for you always. And that’s what we should do, because you give us good reason to be thankful: Your faith is growing more and more. And the love that every one of you has for each other is also growing.” – 2 Thess. 1:3 (ERV)
One of the things that are essential for healthy growth is physical exercise. Likewise, after God has shed His love abroad in your heart by His Spirit, He is going to take you to the field to exercise and grow your muscles of love. He will do this by giving you opportunities to demonstrate your love for Him and your neighbor. He’s going to put people along your path that will require the sacrifice of your love. He’s also going to place in your life, people you would rather not love. It is in the sacrifice, the acts of kindness, the overcoming of your natural inclination to hate, the choosing to rather obey God by loving and praying for your enemies and those who hate you, that you would grow. How else can you be adjudged to have grown in love if your love has not been put to test and proven to be genuine?
Love in the Endtime
Love, like we have noted from scripture is the fulfillment of the law. As vital as this command and fruit of the Spirit is, Jesus said something rather dampening and scary. He said “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). The love of MOST. That scares me. As we see wickedness increasing around us, let it be known that the target is your love, to cause it to grow cold; your whole-hearted love for God and your neighbor. Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:3 that in the last days people will be without love. The Bible says of Ephraim: “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears” (Hos. 6:4). This calls for sober reflection. Pause and ask: what is the state of this primal fruit of the Spirit in my own life? Is it still white-hot like when you first met Christ or has it grown cold? This commandment, upon which all the law and the Prophets hang, has yours, like the morning mist, like the early dew, disappeared? Do you find that what you now possess in your heart is the forbidden love for the world (1Jn. 2:15)? Then you need to pray. Pray that God would “make your love increase and overflow” (1 Thess. 3:12), that you may be “rooted and established in love” (Eph. 3:17).
And never forget that “God is fair, and He will remember all the work you have done. He will remember that you showed your love to Him by helping his people and that you continue to help them” (Heb. 6:10, ERV).