LOVE: Fruit 1 of the Spirit
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The Holy Spirit produces in believers fruit, the best product nature can bring forth. When a tree bears fruit, it can advance no farther. It can only retreat a while and prepare to produce fruit again.
The nine virtues listed in our text, the best traits believers can possess, are produced in us by a power other than our own. These fruit are the by-product of a Spirit-filled life, the outward proof of God’s power at work in us.
When the Holy Spirit rules in us, these nine virtues spontaneously blossom together as a unit in our lives. In a cluster of grapes, as each grape ripens, they all ripen. The Holy Spirit similarly produces these nine virtues as a cluster in us. They are a package deal, increasing or decreasing together.
Let’s examine the fruit in this cluster of traits one by one to determine how fully yielded our lives are to the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:22a (Holman) The fruit of the Spirit is love, . . .
Since God is love we would expect love to be the first fruit of the Spirit. God’s never ending love for us is a debt we can never fully repay.
God showers innumerable benefits on us day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. In no way could we ever begin to do enough to completely repay all He does for us, but we know we must do something to show our gratitude.
We know we owe him, and feel compelled to respond, yet have no way of directly returning to God His favors. We can do nothing directly for Him. We own nothing He needs. The Lord ordained we would make partial payment on His love by loving others.
Because of God’s love for us, we Christians are to love other believers as family, and to love our neighbor, which refers to anyone with whom we have any dealings.
Christ forever answered the question “Who is my neighbor?’ in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The issue is not “Who is my neighbor?’ but rather, “To whom can I be neighborly?’ Anyone near us in need is our neighbor.
The early Christians took to heart Christ’s command to love each other and their neighbors. They became a body of believers whose love exploded like dynamite in the Roman world. Their love pulled people to itself.
Emperor Julian the Apostate, who hated Christians and tried to eradicate them, said their power to lead people away from pagan gods was largely due to the love they showed. Another enemy of early believers felt compelled to confess in exasperation, “See how these Christians love one another.’
Unbelievers could not resist this love’s drawing power. Christian love is a magnet, a law of gravity in the spiritual universe, a vacuum drawing to itself.
Christian love’s force emptied pagan temples, demolished altars, and silenced philosophers. In a world where tyrants knew no mercy, women and children were shown no dignity, and slaves found no respite, the oppressed looked up and reveled in a new healing force. Their minds were eased, their burdens lifted, as a refreshing wave of love wafted over them.
When plague raged in Alexandria, the heathen at the first sign of infection drove out their own loved ones, threw family members barely alive into the streets, and left their dead unburied.
In contrast to this cruel selfishness, “The Christians,’ Bishop Dionysius wrote, “in the abundance of their brotherly love, did not spare themselves, but mutually attending to each other, they would visit the sick without fear, and ministering to each other for the sake of Christ, cheerfully gave up their lives with them. Many died after their care had restored others to health. Many, who took the bodies of their Christian brethren into their hands and bosoms, and closed their eyes, and buried them with every mark of attention, soon followed them in death.’
During a small-pox plague in Greenland, Moravian missionaries indiscriminately loved everyone, including their enemies. They accommodated as many as their house would hold, and gave up their own beds to the sick. One of their worst opponents, who had assailed the missionaries mercilessly, was thrown into the street to die. They took him in and nursed him.
Shortly before he died, he thanked them: “You did for us what our own people would not do. You fed us when we had nothing to eat. You buried our dead, who would have been eaten by dogs, foxes, and ravens. You instructed us in the knowledge of God, and told us of a better life.’
Love will not win all, but is our finest hope to win some, our best chance of overcoming prejudicial barriers which resist the message of Jesus. Love is the key to success. Even some unbelievers have harnessed its power. Alexander the Great, asked how he was able to conquer the world at an early age, responded, “I used my enemies so well that I compelled them to be my friends; and I treated my friends with such constant regard that they became unalterably attached to me.’
The command to love was not original to Jesus. Long before He came, the Old Testament commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).
The directive to love was old, but there was a newness, a freshness, about Christian love. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another’ (John 13:34).
The love required in Jesus’ followers was new in that it required love after a new model, “as I have loved you.’ It was new because it could not have been conceived before His life exhibited it. The love Jesus showed was a compassion totally beyond human ability to imagine, much less imitate, on its own.
The love of Christ crossed barriers that no one had ever dreamed of trying to cross before. His love was a unique thing, newly defined. And the world wondered.
Since love is vital to Christian living, we need to be sure we define love as Jesus did. If we were allowed to give our own definition to love it would probably result in laziness, stunted compassion, and shallow commitment. The latter are not options, for God Himself settled what love is through His Son Jesus. The Bible never leaves us with a vague notion of what love is.
“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers’ (1 John 3:16). It’s not our prerogative to say what love is; God has already defined it and revealed its character (Leavell). We measure our love by weighing it in the scales with Christ’s love.
The cross requires not only admiration, but also imitation. Jesus’ death is our pattern for a loving lifestyle. His own self-sacrificing love is our example. Biblical love is not romanticism, a pleasant emotion, or a warm feeling, but sacrificially giving of ourselves for another’s well-being.
Unbelievers still marvel when they see the love of Jesus truly exhibited by a person’s life. Every believer is expected to act like Jesus, to be conspicuous for love. It should be the prominent feature in our everyday conduct.
The normal course of our lives must be spent in a fog of caring. Love should be an atmosphere we carry everywhere with us in all our daily routine.
Our goal as Christ-followers should not be to do one, two, or three loving acts a day, but to have love as the all encompassing tenor of our lives. “Your every action must be done with love’ (1 Corinthians 16:14).
To love as Jesus loved is to choose to give sacrificially always, not occasionally, to decide before our day begins that this whole day we will act in love. We don’t wait till later in the day, when opportunity to show love presents itself, and then decide whether or not we want to be bothered or have time to love.
Our decision to love was made irrevocably in the past, leaving us no longer any freedom to control our actions, to limit our love. Our day must early on be turned over to God to let Him create opportunities for us to show love.
We choose in advance to live each day based on the hurts of others. To love as Christ loved, to give self, entails the choice to be no longer selfishly in control, but rather to be ruled by the needs of others placed in our path by God.