It is generally accepted that the English language contains more words and is richer than almost any other language. It is believed that Shakespeare alone invented (or used for the first time in print) more than 1700 words. It is a shame then that we only have one word for “love”. Love can mean a multitude of things. It is sad that we find ourselves saying “I love you” in an amazing moment of intimacy with the person we have committed our whole life to, yet in the same breath saying “I love pizza”. The meanings are worlds apart.
Thankfully (in this instance) the New Testament was written in Greek rather than English. There are at least 4 different definitions for the word “love” in Greek. The passage we are concentrating on for the fruit of the spirit is Galatians 5:22-23. Here the Greek word for love is ‘agápē’. This type of love is not based on feelings but on a choice to love, not expecting anything in return. It is commitment and it is sacrificial. Our society focuses on the other kind of love, the love translated as ‘érōs’. This is the passionate physical attraction, the romantic love full of desire and longing. This is the sort of love referred to when we say ‘love at first sight’, which by definition cannot be agápē love. For this reason we can get very confused. Sadly we often hear married couples talk of ‘falling out of love’. This cannot be agápē love either. If love is a commitment and self-sacrificial you cannot carelessly ‘fall out of it’.
The love we are talking about in this passage is God’s love. It is not just a description of God; it is the very core of His character. Of course you can describe Him in a myriad of ways, but His essence is love.
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love”. (1 John 4:8)
The very description of this kind of love is beautifully summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, one of the most famous passages of love:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This passage is very popular at weddings because it sounds so wonderful, but of course this sort of love is very difficult to attain. It requires dedication and commitment and a constant preferring of the other person.
As I said last week (and will probably repeat right throughout this series), we cannot make fruit grow. We cannot, by will power or effort, produce the fruit of love in our lives. It is a fruit of God the Holy Spirit, a supernatural fruit that can only ripen when we are fully submitted to His will and are ‘abiding’ in Him. God’s kind of love is very difficult to achieve without Him. We do sometimes see people who don’t believe in God give this kind of sacrificial love in society and I believe this is because we are all made in His image. There is something inside of us that recognises that this kind of love is a beautiful thing and therefore people will try to replicate it.
This self-giving love is clearly God’s love, as we read through the pages of the bible it is in evidence again and again. But the clearest indication of God’s love is plainly seen at the cross. God’s ultimate act of self-giving was made when He Himself came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a humble sacrificial life and died a hideous death. He did this when it was impossible for us to save ourselves, He did it even when we were His enemies and didn’t want to know Him:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)
And this most famous passage of all:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. (John 3:16)
Because we are now children of God and have been given a new nature, we can now demonstrate a degree of our Father’s love, again not from our own efforts but because He has changed our hearts. Consider the following passages and whether you would ever be able to live up to these standards in your own strength:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35).
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
It is very apt that we start this series with love, not simply because it is the first one listed but because it is really necessary to be in evidence for the rest of the fruit to function and grow. I can’t imagine any of the other fruit working without love being apparent. Let’s this week spend lots of time in God’s presence so that His love and desires rub off on us. In the same way as plants spend time in the sun-they are fed and cannot help but grow, so as we spend time in the Son we too shall be fed and growth will naturally occur.