I love sweet, summer strawberries. I also love new shoes, puppies, vacations, and my family. Like everyone else, I throw that word “love” around a lot, but I also know the way I feel about my husband and kids is different than the way I feel about relaxing poolside in July. Something in that kind of love we have for family motivates us to overcome obstacles and make sacrifices we wouldn’t normally make.
Makes sense, then, that as we dive into part two of our summer series on spiritual fruit that we determine what kind of love Paul means when he says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22). The quick answer is that what we translate as “love” is the Greek term agape, usually defined as unconditional or selfless love and identified with the love God has for humanity. Christ-followers should be characterized by an ever-maturing love for others that looks like the love that motivated Jesus to lay down His life to save us.
That’s a powerful kind of love!
So, how do we recognize God’s agape growing in our lives and how do we make sure we don’t run out of it? Paul gives us three keys in Galatians 5 to understanding the spiritual fruit called love:
1. Love Shows. As we discussed in the last post, the Galatian believers had fallen for the lie that they needed to add requirements from the old law code, chiefly circumcision and the life of legalism it symbolized, to the simplicity of the gospel. While we might find it odd that people already enjoying the grace and freedom of Christ could later believe a physical sign like circumcision would make them more acceptable to God, think about the “outward signs” we sometimes adopt to prove to ourselves and others that we’re insiders on God’s righteousness. Don’t get me wrong: I like a fun Christian t-shirt or mug with a favorite verse, but those aren’t the things that make us part of God’s family. Neither do the types of rituals we observe like a style of worship, which holidays we celebrate, or what kind of Bible reading plan we use. None of those determine our righteous acceptability before God, nor should they be ways in which we communicate that we are “insiders” and others are “outsiders.” Paul says it like this to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (5:6)
Right standing with God comes through our faith in Jesus and what He’s done on our behalf. We recognize His agape toward us in dying for our sins and respond in loving faith toward Him. What’s more, that faith WILL leave an unmistakable “outward sign” on those who continue pursuing Christ with wholehearted faithfulness. We cannot help but express that faith through the vehicle of love. Paul says that the entire law gets summed up in one statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14). An attitude of Christ-like love for others, even if they don’t fit neatly into our “insider” group, becomes the defining feature of our lives. Love shows!
2. Love Goes. Christ-like love not only shows itself in our attitudes, but it also goes into action to serve others. However, unlike legalistic rule-following, which Paul calls a “yoke of slavery” (5:1), our loving service to others stems from our freedom in Christ. Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
Christ rescued us from the penalty of our sin nature so that we are no longer condemned for our sin, but He also rescued us from the bondage of sin so that we are no longer at the mercy of whatever self-serving impulse floats through our brains. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free to say NO! to that destructive nature. When we’re no longer focused on our selfish wants, we are free to look up, see our sisters and brothers in need, and go toward them in love. Notice, too, that love motivates us to serve one another. Of the many gifts Christ has given us because of His great love for us, one of the most beautiful is the gift of community. Love prompts us to seek out one another in the body of Christ. We’re not serving an institution. We’re loving our Christ-created family, moving toward each other to bear one another’s burdens and refresh one another’s hearts. Love goes!
3. Love Grows. There will be times, though, when we feel like we’ve run out of love. Pain, betrayal, worry, and just plain old exhaustion have a way of tampering with our feelings, and if we primarily view love as an emotion, we’re going to feel defeated when those feelings simply aren’t there. The power of agape is that Christ’s kind of love isn’t centered in our emotions. It has been planted within our spiritual lives through the power of Christ’s own Spirit. By faith we can take God at His word when He tells us “the fruit of the Spirit is love” along with all the other virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Agape is growing through the agency of the Holy Spirit! When we’re feeling less than loving, we can pray for the fruit to show up in our lives anyway:
Lord Jesus, I believe you love me with an everlasting love, and I believe your love is also implanted in me so that it can reach others. Even though I don’t feel loving, nevertheless, let your love bloom in this situation and in this relationship. I trust you to grow love in me every day as you make me more like you.
Then, we get to rest in the knowledge that God is in control. Love grows!
Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash