Fruit of the Spirit: Love
by Marion van Driel
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23)
In our introduction last month to this series on spiritual fruit, we noted that the Spirit produces one fruit with nine characteristics within the believer. Just as fruit farmers graft and provide conditions to increase juiciness, colour, or other attributes of their produce, we, too, are obliged to cultivate various characteristics of our internal Spirit-fruit.
It comes as no surprise that Paul lists love as the first characteristic of the Spirit’s evidence within. In the Old Testament, God instructs the Israelites to love God above all, and neighbour as self. In the New Testament, several times Jesus refers people back to the summary of the law – love of God and neighbour.
In his book Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Christopher J. H. Wright says it is the second part of this command to which Paul is referring – love for one another. In Galatians 5, Paul says that love sums up what’s most important – faith expressing itself through love (vs. 6) and to serve one another in love (vs. 13). “No wonder,” Wright says, “Paul puts love at the head of the list of the fruit of the Spirit a few verses later in Galatians 5:22. It is doubly important!” He goes on to explain that “Paul is talking about not just sentimental feelings of being nice, but real practical proof that we love and accept one another, in down-to-earth caring, providing, helping, encouraging and supporting one another, even when it costs a lot or hurts a lot to do so. Love in action, in other words…Love that brings together people who would otherwise hate, hurt, and even kill one another.” Love reveals itself in deeds.
Wright gives the example of Christian students at University during the Rwandan genocide – members of opposing Hutu and Tutsi tribes, warned to separate from each other. They refused, standing together in a circle, hands joined in prayer. “We live together, united by Christ, and we will die together if necessary.” Many of them did. They were inextricably united by the love of God in Christ.
Proof of life
The hard-hitting truth about love is repeatedly hammered home throughout the entire New Testament. There’s no getting around it. If we don’t exhibit love for each other, we don’t have life (1 John 4:7-8). Wright says that Christian love is a matter of life and death. Faith produces life, and love is the living expression of that faith. Faith without works (of love) is dead. Such a tree yields no harvest. But if by faith we are grafted into the vine (Jesus), by love we produce delightful fruit (works), as evidence of true life.
The apostle James asks, “What good is it, . . . if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” He explains that simply wishing someone in need to ‘be fed and warm’, doesn’t make it happen. And so, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
The church’s witness
The words of an old song by The Medical Mission Sisters are sobering for any self-examining Christian:
If you don’t love your brother, don’t call upon my name
If you don’t love your brother, you’re playing a game
My children, you sought me in your loss
I listened – and you hung me on a cross.
Christ loved us when we were unlovable. We rejected Him, yet He showed us the ultimate proof of love, offering up His life for us. This is evidence of the Spirit’s presence – love for those who reject and wrong us.
We will always have differing personalities, views and opinions within the body of Christ. We are not cultivating a fruit of ‘like’. Love is seeking another’s best; it has nothing to do with liking or not liking someone. Wright says that in one way or another, the church confirms either God’s presence or His absence. Love among Christians is proof to the world that God exists, for God is love. No one has seen God’s face, but when we demonstrate His love, we are His face, His hands, His feet, His very essence for the world to see and experience. Self-sacrificing love draws the lonely, the troubled, the empty, the unloved into God’s family. A church body emanating love is a compelling witness.
If, however, Christians choose to be divided by arguments and bitterness, refusing to show love towards one another, the world can only conclude that God is not among those who claim Him. This is a hard truth that we can’t escape.
Wright contends that love in action gives evidence of faith and evidence for God, and that those who follow Christ have true life in Jesus. The fruit of love counteracts selfishness. As we choose to love, we imitate Jesus’ willingness to lay down His life. And in laying it down, we gain it back – in abundance.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)