“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
What is love? It’s kind of hard to tell when we say we “love” our spouse, or our children, or a day at the beach, or a strawberry milkshake, or the latest movie, or,… So I went to the dictionary and read that love is “an intense feeling of deep affection; a great interest and pleasure in something.” Hmm. But don’t you just feel there should be more to it than that? Oh, there is! In his book, Scandalous, D.A. Carson suggests, “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person.”
The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Does He present the best evidence of what love is (e.g., John 3:16)? Is He defined by love in ways that we don’t understand?
In Galatians 5, Paul gives us a list of characteristics of those who belong to God. Heading that list is love. But notice in the beginning of verse 22 these are identified as the “fruit of the Spirit.” We need to go back to John 15 to get the background of what he’s talking about here. Jesus describes Himself as the True Vine. Think of grapes. They grow on vines. From those vines grow branches, and it is on these smaller branches that the grapes grow. But imagine if you cut the branch off the vine. Will it go on to grow grapes? Not likely! Once removed from the vine, the branch will die.
Paul imagines us as men and women who are firmly engrafted on to the Holy Spirit as our “vine”. It is only as He is providing us with the nourishment we need to grow that we are able to produce the fruit we were intended to bear. It is only as we remain attached to the “Holy Spirit” vine that we can bear “spiritual” fruit.
I read a number of books and articles as I prepared to write this, and almost unanimously they suggested that “love” is not only the first fruit mentioned, but also the one upon which all the other fruits depend. I suppose you could think of love as the small branch, firmly attached to the vine, upon which the cluster of grapes grows. Apparently, it’s that important.
So, let’s talk about the kind of love the Spirit produces in us. First, going back to 1 John 4, we read that “love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (verse 7). So evidently there is a sense in which true love is only possible in those who follow Christ. God showed us His love when “He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him” (verse 9). That’s a powerful love, and one that sets an amazingly high standard for us.
Jesus also gave us a goal, a reason to show our love not only to Him but also to each other. He tells us in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Do you want to be a witness to your unsaved family members or to your neighbors or friends? The words you say may be important; the prayers you say on their behalf may be important. But actually, the way you treat them, the way you treat others, will be one of the most important ways you can witness. Kind of scary, isn’t it?
Okay, so let’s bottom line it. What does biblical, godly, love look like? I’m going to quote the Amplified version here:
“Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. Love never fails [it never fades nor ends].” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
It should be immediately obvious to you that you simply cannot display that type of love without the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh, maybe you can maintain with your family or closest friends, at least for a while and in ideal circumstances. But imagine “loving” your obnoxious co-worker? The neighbor who blasts music into the wee hours of the morning? The boss who promotes a less competent (at least in your opinion) coworker over you? Or how about your teenager who,… well, they can be unlovable in many ways, can’t they? Still, God wants us to love one another. He even wants us to love the (in our opinion) unlovable. Maybe especially the unlovable. Here is His bottom line:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)