FIRST IN MY TEACHING SERIES ON THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”Galatians 5:22-23
As we begin to journey to learn more about the nature of each of the nine characteristics of the “fruit,” it’s not coincidental that the first one listed is LOVE. When I use all capital letters I’m referring to God’s love. Otherwise I’m referring to what we as humans often think of as love.
Love is one of the most mis-used and mis-understood words in the English language. It’s not uncommon for us to say things like, “I love Jesus,” while also saying “I love pizza.” Same word, two different meanings? No. Wrong word used in the second example. We can’t love pizza. We can enjoy it, prefer it, make it, hate it, share it, and so on, but we cannot LOVE it.
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.“1 John 4:16
Okay, that settles it. God is love! If He is love, then all love must have something to do with Him. All love? Absolutely. What about the types of love that have nothing to do with God? They are not love. They are something else. If God truly is love, then any reference to love, or the expression of His love cannot exist without Him.
That makes it pretty important that we nail down what the true meaning and essence of LOVE really is.
The Nature Of God’s LOVE
Let’s begin by examining what God’s LOVE is not. The Bible was penned primarily in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). When we compare our English language to the richness of the two languages of the Bible, it pales in comparison in the richness and breadth in the meaning of many words. The word love happens to be one of those.
The Bible teaches us multiple different types of what we in our culture might call “love.” God included all of these in His creation of humanity to exhibit the fullness of His nature. Yet when we as human beings introduce these into our relationships with other people, we often tend to miss the mark on what God intended LOVE to truly be.
- Hesed – Inspiring. Through Christ, this is defined by commitment and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person. But In our hands, we sometimes make love and loyalty contingent upon the merciful and compassionate behavior of another person toward us.
- Philia – Affectionate. This form of relationship doesn’t involve any passion or sexual impulse. It’s more seen as love between good friends or goodwill between us and someone we respect or admire. It finds its energy in what two people share in common. But in our hands, once the common interest has faded, we tend to convey that we no longer need this relationship.
- Eros – Romantic. Although this Greek term does not appear in the Bible, it is clearly portrayed in multiple examples. God is very clear in His word when He defines this intense sexual desire that is to be shared exclusively by a husband and a wife. Obviously, we have found innumerable ways to distort the beauty of this special form of love God created.
- Storge – Family. This is the form of relationship that family members feel for each other. It is most recognized as the love a parent has for their child. It’s a very strong bond that is not easily broken. But in our hands, this can either morph into unhealthy forms of enmeshment, or sometimes will end in the face of unresolved conflict.
- Pragma – Enduring. The Greek word “pragma” is where we get the English word “pragmatic.” It’s a practical kind of relationship that stands the test of time. As the opposite of eros where the passion burns white hot and fades quickly, pragma matures and grows over time into something truly special.
- Philautia – Healthy Self-Acceptance. This type of relationship refers to a healthy self-esteem and feeling of inner self-worth. When we find our identity and worth in Jesus, our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to the world will be a reflection of His love. Oftentimes, however, we tend to turn healthy self-love into unhealthy self- focus, self-absorption, and self-indulgence – all at the expense of our relationships with others.
- Ludas – Playful. If you’ve ever been in love, you have no doubt felt this form of relationship. It is the butterflies in your stomach, the quickened heartbeat, the anxiety you feel when you’re waiting for your loved one to walk through the door. It’s the flirting and teasing and playing you do in the early stages of dating. The focus is usually more on fun rather than building the relationship.
God’s LOVE System
In scripture, God lays out His system of LOVE. He gives us a clear pattern to follow. As recorded in Mark 12: 28-31 (NIV), Jesus was asked what He considered the most important commandment in the entire Bible:
“‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’”Mark 12:28-31
Above everyone and everything else, we are to pursue a growing agape relationship with God, through His son Jesus Christ. This means we must put Him first and seek Him most.
Second, our connectedness to Jesus’ agape LOVE will flow through us like “a spring of living water.” In John 4:14 (NIV), Jesus assured the woman at the well that, “Everyone who drinks this water (the type of love that life on this earth offers them) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them (the agape love of Christ) will never thirst. In fact, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
We cannot give away something we don’t possess!
We are to allow the agape love within us to flow naturally from us to others. If we are truly filled with the unconditional, agape LOVE of Jesus, sharing it with others won’t be what we do, but rather a reflection of who we are.
Then What Is LOVE?
Agape LOVE is Jesus’ love! Agape is by far the most special and most respectful of all the forms of human relationship described in the Bible. It is the kind of LOVE Jesus refers to again and again throughout His ministry. It is the form of LOVE that sets our Christian faith apart from all other faith and beliefs systems. It is a universal, unconditional, selfless LOVE for others. It involves caring more for others than for yourself. To give agape LOVE is to be like Jesus. However, our ability to give agape LOVE to others cannot exceed our transformation experience of being LOVE by Jesus when we think we least deserve it.
God intended for our lives to be immersed in agape LOVE. The moment we were saved, or born again, the Holy Spirit indwelled us and we were connected with agape. But for many of us, an experience of this type of LOVE has never occurred. Shame and past beliefs regarding LOVE tend to block our ability to truly understand and experience God’s LOVE. We may be afraid of intimacy with God because we don’t understand how He operates, or we fear He’ll reject us, hurt us, or abandon us in the same way others we’ve been close to have. Sometimes we are filled with bitterness and unforgiveness that prevent the Holy Spirit’s ability to gain access. His LOVE is there, but we are unable to experience it due to unresolved shame in our lives.
Loving God First
Receiving LOVE without paying a cost is something some of us have a difficult time comprehending. We may believe LOVE is something to work for or earn, much like a job with a paycheck. If we believe God requires us to do special things to earn LOVE from Him, we become “performance based.” We will be prone to thinking “God is mad at me,” or “I’m reaping what I’ve sowed.”
If we measure ourselves by His laws rather than by His grace, we will always see ourselves as failures. But the problem goes even deeper. When we are in a performance mode with God, our actions and behaviors try to win His approval to make ourselves feel acceptable. We don’t give Him what He truly desires, which are our burdens, pain, and sin. Instead, we are too busy trying to make ourselves worthy of Him. Trying to earn His LOVE would be like insisting on paying a dear friend for the birthday present they gave you. The reason this cycle of behavior is so dangerous is that God’s LOVE doesn’t rest on our efforts or attempts to be acceptable. It isn’t what we do that makes us worthy in His sight. It’s what Jesus did for us!
True restoration only happens when we embrace, understand, and allow God’s love to flow through us. Our best efforts to produce anything close to agape will always fall short. Remember, true love – agape – is a resource of the Holy Spirit, and we can access it only through a relationship with Him.
The Characteristics Of God’s LOVE
- Based on grace. It is a free gift that we cannot earn and don’t deserve (see Ephesians 2: 8-9).
- Based on choice. He doesn’t demand or force us to love Him or to receive His love (see James 1:15; Deuteronomy 30:19; Matthew 6:24).
- Given out of true sacrifice. It cost Him dearly to show His love to us (see John 10:11, 15-18; John 15:13, 3:16; 1 John 3:16).
- Is unconditional. There is nothing you can do to take it away or change it (see 1 John 4:7-10; Romans 8:38-39).
- Seeks our admission of sin so He can forgive and restore areas of our lives (see Luke 16:15; Matthew 23:25-28; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 10:3).
- Desires intimacy with the “real you,” not a false, counterfeit version (see Psalm 139; Isaiah 43:4; 1 John 4:18).
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