at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

The Fruit of the Spirit - LOVE

Our bible study group has decided to take some time to look at the so-called “fruit of the spirit” as listed in the book of Galatians – and to study each one of these fruits, evaluating the prevalence of each in our own lives.  I hope to be able to share parts of my study and reflections here, as we go through each of the topics.

The first week, we are looking at the concept of LOVE.  I did some research to really seek out what love is, the reason for love and what it should look like in the lives of believers.  I found this to be a challenging and inspiring topic in my own life, and I hope you do, too!

What is Love?

“…love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion.  It is a state not of feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Loving others and loving God is a choice.  It is a choice we make every day, through our words and our actions. 

I want to point out at the start that there are some people are afraid to love, knowing all too well that love makes you vulnerable.  It does.  There is risk in when you open up your heart to someone, but it is a risk worth taking – and I hope that you believe that, too.  The alternative is bleak.  As C.S. Lewis puts it:

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Love may make you vulnerable, but it also gives you life.  Love changes something inside of you and changes the lives of others – for the better.

Love is listed in Galatians as a “fruit of the spirit” – meaning that it ought to be something that characterizes our lives if we are truly living the way God would have us live.

But what does true love look like?  In my opinion, one of the best and most challenging descriptions of love is found in a passage of Scripture that is commonly read at weddings, though its real application is not solely for love of a spouse, but love of mankind:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Every time I am impatient with others, envious, or boastful; when I am rude or short with people; when I get easily irritated and upset; when I put my own desires in front of the needs of others; when I recall the past mistakes of others – in these things, I am not acting in love.  Loving others sounds nice and rosy, and maybe even not all that difficult, until you really think about what that means and try to do it.

Romans 13:10 tells us, “Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Likewise, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).”

If we could just learn to love, we would be able to fulfill what God has required of us.  To be able to really understand the how and the why of love, though, we must look first to God.

God’s Love for Us

Where does love come from? The Bible is clear:

“We love because he [God] first loved us.” --1 John 4:19

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” -- 1 John 3:16

God is our example of love.  We know what love is because of his love for us – which was ultimately exemplified in Christ’s sacrificial death.  In his letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul puts it this way, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8).”

Did you get that?  While we were still sinners.  God doesn’t love us because of what we do.  He died for us, so that we could be forgiven for all of the things we’ve ever done wrong or not done right.  As my pastor often puts it: God doesn’t love us because we’re good; He loves us because He’s good.  Christ gave up everything to save you and me, even though we were undeserving.  That is love.

And God’s love is powerful.  It gives us peace.  I love the promises given about God’s love and its hold on us:

“There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear…” – 1 John 4:18

“Neither the world above nor the world below—there is nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord” -- Romans 8:39

But we can’t just soak up love from God, and do nothing with it.  Love is meant to be reciprocal, and it’s meant to be shared.  We should love as a response to God’s love.

Our Love for God

The greatest commandment God ever gave is found in the book of Deuteronomy, and begins a passage of Scripture and a centerpiece of Jewish prayer known as the Shema:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:4-5

We must love God with all we have, with all of our being.  Christ himself calls this the greatest commandment, when asked.  But what does it mean to love God?  The apostle John tells us this: “This is love for God: to obey his commands (1 John 5:3).”  We show our love for God by doing what he asks of us.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  When we love others, we want to please them.  When we love God, we want to please Him.  So what does God want us to do?  He wants us to love others.

Our Love for Others

Loving others as yourself is the second of the greatest commandments, according to Jesus.  As my pastor likes to put it, loving God and loving people are really two sides of the same coin.   If we truly love God, we will also love people.  This is a major theme in the apostle John’s first letter.  Here are just a couple excerpts:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – 1 John 4:11-12

And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence. – 1 John 3:16-19

In his gospel account, John also tells how Jesus gives this as a “new” commandment, even though it had been in the law since the beginning, calling attention to the fact that Jesus puts love in a whole new light:

“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -- John 13:34-35

I’ve recently been reading a lot of Bible commentary by Matthew Henry (his whole bible commentary is available here), and I liked some of his points on this passage.  He said that there are three arguments for mutual love that are urged here:
  1. The command of their Master
  2. The example of their Savior
  3. The reputation of their profession

I want to focus for a second on number three.  Jesus said that all men would know they were his disciples if they love one another.  Love should characterize the Christian community and it should be what sets them apart from the rest of the world; in the early church, I believe it did.  Matthew Henry goes on to say, “Tertullian speaks of it as the glory of the primitive church that the Christians were known by their affection to one another. Their adversaries took notice of it, and said, See how these Christians love one another, (Apol. cap. 39).”

So, too, our churches and communities of Christ-followers should reflect the love of Christ.  That means taking care of one another’s needs and also showing kindness to people of all backgrounds and all life situations.  It means loving them enough to be truthful with them, but to also be full of grace.  Jesus hung out with all sorts of people, and loved not only his disciples, but the outcasts and the worst of the “sinners” too. 

I also liked what this commentary said on the subject:

Sacrificial love that models itself after Jesus' example does not enable the destructive behavior of others, but encourages them in actions that lead to love and life, and to healing and wholeness.

We may note at least four features of Jesus' self-giving love as we seek to implement truly sacrificial love in our relationships. Jesus voluntarily chose to lay down his life. He had a choice, and he could have chosen differently. Second, the results of his death are life-giving for others (Jn 10:11, 15, 17-18). Third, true love is always accompanied by truth and never by deception or lies (3:7-10). It lives fully in the light, and does not have to hide its actions. Fourth, we are to give out of our abundance, from what we have, to those who have not. Jesus gave the life he had from the Father to be our life: he gave from his strength to our weakness. Self-giving love gives out of what we are and have to the weakness or lack of others.  – IVP New Testament Commentary

Remember also that you don’t have to “like” someone to love them (though it often makes it easier).  Part of the idea of love not being a feeling means that we need to love people who rub us the wrong way, who annoy us or who are even our “enemies”.  C.S. Lewis has some interesting things to say on this topic, but I particularly like the following passage:

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simply.  Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I think there is a lot of truth to that.  We waste too much time thinking about ourselves and wondering how we’re “doing” – when what we really need to be doing is simply focusing on the needs of others, and showing our love “with actions and in truth.”  Quite often, I think the “feeling” of love naturally follows.  My challenge to myself is to focus on actually seeing and seeking the needs of others so that I, through God’s help, can attempt to meet those needs and simply open up my heart to love others in the midst of where they are whatever they are going through.

Love is always a choice, and it’s a choice we must make every day, in each moment.  Who will you choose to love today?

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!