This is posted as a resource for Redeemer Church and those seeking to learn more. Do not plagiarize.
Phil Ryken, in his book on love: “There is nothing I need more in my life than more of the love of Jesus… I need more of his love for my family, for the church, for my neighbor…Everywhere I go, and in every relationship I have in life, I need more of the love of Jesus… What about you? Are you loving the way Jesus loves? Or do you need more of his love in your life – more love for God and for other people?”
Today we’ll be looking at the first fruit of the Spirit: Love. Love is listed first here, and while I don’t think there is a rigid ordering or classification of the fruit, I don’t think it’s accidental that love is listed first. Love, in the NT, is treated as a primary, and central, Christian virtue. In fact, we won’t really understand love until we get to the end of the fruit of the Spirit because love most clearly includes all the other fruit: A love that is not patient is not love; a love that is not kind is not love; a love that is not: gentle, joyful, peaceful, faithful, self-controlled, good, is not love.
Love is most fully defined by all these fruit; and so, without love, you can’t have any of these other fruit in your life.
Love in the NT is primary, central: Edwards: “Love is of special importance, and is peculiarly essential in Christians. It is abundantly insisted upon in the NT by Christ and his apostles – more, indeed, than any any other virtue.”
And so, let’s take a look at what love is, and what it means to be people characterized by love.
Before we do that, let me make a few general comments about the fruit of the Spirit. Already preached a sermon on it generally so I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but, in dealing with the fruit of the Spirit, Paul is making a contrast: contrast between the works of the flesh, and the fruit of the Spirit.
And, the main emphasis in this passage and in the broader context of Galatians, I believe, is not the emphasis between works (pl) and fruit (s) – because Paul except for once otherwise always uses the singular form for fruit (so not trying to make some profound point as much as just using his normal way of speech); it’s not the emphasis between works and fruit – as though works are inherently bad and fruit is inherently good or superior in some way – since Paul uses both terms fruit & works to refer to either good or evil traits or behaviors; the primary emphasis is between the contrast of the Flesh and the Spirit – or life lived in the weakness of sinful flesh, and life lived in the power of the holy Spirit of God.
each – flesh and spirit – 2 defining Characteristics: flesh – weakness and sinfulness; Spirit – power and holiness.
Outside of Christ we were in the flesh – and the flesh is characterized by sinfulness, and weakness – such that we are enslaved in that sinfulness.
But, in Christ, we have the Spirit of Christ living in us – and the holy Spirit’s purpose in us is to make us Holy – to renew the image of God in us; to make us more like Christ – the image of God in perfection.
And, the Spirit brings power to enable that transformation to occur. live in the Spirit Life in the spirit is characterized, by righteousness, freedom, and power.
Now, as we talked about previously: that change doesn’t happen instantaneously; rather, we experience continual conflict with that flesh which no longer defines us but still remains in us throughout this life; but that conflict is not a stalemate conflict, but victorious conflict, in which slowly, progressively, starting small but in time coming to maturity, the fruit of the Spirit characterize us more and more, and the works of the flesh characterize us less and less.
None of us have arrived at the attainment of these fruit of the Spirit. All of us in this room – anyone who ever read this passage – certainly reads it and out to conclude that they have much room to grow.
Calvin: “There is enough here to keep us busy and ensure that we will not be idle for the rest of our lives!”
So, the reason I want to give that reminder, is to say that my goal in preaching through the fruit of the spirit is two-fold: 1) that we would take an extended time to meditate upon these character traits, and consider how to cultivate and display them in our lives; 2) that we would feel confident that God’s spirit can – in time and with our cooperative effort – grow these fruit in us.
My goal is not to convince everyone in the room that they aren’t really a true Christian at all because they don’t really display any of these fruits in their lives truly. (In fact, when I was younger I heard a sermon series on some of these fruit, and basically it made me doubt for the next year that I was a Christian).
Maybe we will see how we fall short of these things – certainly we will, if we are honest. But in those times, look to Christ for forgiveness, and look to the Spirit in dependence, trusting that God is working in you, and will bring transformation into your life.
God doesn’t expect us to attain to these fruit on our own without his help; he is eager to give us what we need to get there. And, so, we may feel convicted, but in the end we should feel encouraged.
Calvin: “There is much here that could frighten us away. But, Paul encourages all believers, who will feel their own weakness until they leave their mortal bodies behind. God still supports them, and their service is acceptable to him, even though they are not completely renewed to the point of perfection. Therefore they are to persevere; otherwise, they will be troubled and fall into despair.”
- Importance of Love
- Directions of Love
Love, in the NT, is utterly important, central, primary to the understanding of God, and to the understanding of what it means to be a Christian and live as a Christian.
And not only is that true in the NT generally, but it is true here in Galatians:(Love listed first);
5:6 it tells us that love is the expression of faith – “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”;
5:13-14: “serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law (the law of Christ) is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
If you don’t have love, nothing else counts;
If you truly love, you’ve kept every law that Christ commands you to keep. Love is central – love includes everything else – love is primary – and so, love is of utmost importance.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, his answer was, essentially, “love”.
More specifically, he gave two commands to answer that question: 1) Love God with all your heart mind soul and strength. 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love – love of God, love of neighbor – love is the great command – the thing of greatest priority and importance in the life of the Christ.
Love is central. Love is what life is all about for the believer. Love is our identity – Love is the heartbeat of the Christian believer. Love to God, love to neighbor.
When the Apostle Paul is talking about the gifts of the Spirit – he places utmost superiority on the fruit of the Spirit – on love. The gifts are necesary, but the gifts without the fruit are at best worthless, and at worst, harmful – you can have the greatest of the gifts, says Paul, but without love, even with the greatest of gifts you are nothing, and you gain nothing.
Love is the heartbeat of the Christian believer.
And, if that’s the case, then maybe some of us need to check for a pulse. And when we check for a pulse – when we look for signs of spiritual life in us – whatever else that we are looking for has to include love – because Love is central.
Christians above all else should be known for their love. When someone walks through the doors of our church, above all else, what should stand out to them is our love – it should be undeniable that we love God, and it should be overwhelmingly evident that we love one another – and that we love them.
When a neighbor, or co-worker, or family member, gets a glimpse into your life – & my life – the first thing they should see/notice in our lives – is our love.
Is that true of our church? Is that true of our lives?
If Love is central, we ought to be certain that we haven’t overlooked it, or misunderstood it. But: 3 dangerous assumptions about love:
And especially when it comes to love, the familiarity of the terms lends to great danger is making wrong assumptions about the nature of love.
3 wrong assumptions about love:
- that love is easy.
- that we are more loving than we actually are. We all flatter ourselves. We all have a self-serving interpretation of our actions; we
- that other people’s lack of love is a bigger problem than our own
See, there’s a sense in which we all are expert lovers. There is one person we naturally adore; there is one person we naturally obey; there is one person we naturally exalt; there is one person we naturally defend and honor; there is one person we naturally serve; there is one person to whom we naturally give the benefit of the doubt, and believe the best about, and work tirelessly to secure the good of that person:
And that person, is, ourselves.
After the fall into sin, the direction of our expert love, the recipient of that expert love, has been fatally reversed from where it’s supposed to go, from where it brings life to us and to others through us; to where it kills life and relationships: it has been reversed from loving God first and loving others selflessly, to using God and others in order to love ourselves.
2. Direction of love
3 directions of love: God’s love to us; Our love to God; Our love to others.
Def: Love for God and love for neighbor which flows out of having personally known and received the love of God.
And so, though the fruit of the Spirit “love” is about our love, it’s impossible to talk about our love, without first meditating upon God’s love, because God’s love is the source, the form, and the fuel for our love – it’s what creates the fruit of love in us; it’s what we model the fruit of love in us after; and it’s the motivation for us to love.
God’s love to us:
God’s love came first; God’s love came freely.
1 John: 4: 10-11
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God loves first – different than typical religion – which says, our love prompts/earns God’s love. Gospel says opposite. Love is not just mustered up out of our own strength of heart or resolve of spirit, but is generated in us by God’s love being poured out into our hearts.
You didn’t do anything to prompt God’s love for you; you didn’t do anything to earn God’s love for you; you didn’t do anything to deserve God’s love for you. You didn’t love him first… you didn’t love him enough… you didn’t love him at all. He loved you first; he loved you freely; he loves you fully.
Freely: Graciously; mercifully; undeservedly, because:
God’s love came to us when we were at our most unworthy.
God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
our love to God:
God’s love comes first, and it comes free. But wherever it is truly received, it is then genuinely reciprocated. God’s love is primary, but our love though not primary is still necessary.
God’s love is not just some mere sentiment: His love is the basis of his saving us.
If someone were to save you from drowning, you owe them something – at least gratitude. If God saves you from eternal death, you owe him everything.
Love for God is whole-hearted; it involves every aspect of our being, and it exerts every fiber of strength and passion in us; love for God puts him first; makes him central; serves/obeys no matter what the cost; dies to living for self to live for him; finds greatest delight in serving and knowing him.
Loving God is the foundation of and motivation for everything else we do for him: worshiping, adoring, serving, obeying him all are a necessary part of and a result of loving him. Love is the motivation for it all.
It’s possible to know a lot of things about God, but not love God – and so not really know him at all.
It’s possible to do a lot of things for God, but not love God – and so not really serve him at all.
Bridges – describes transformation in his understanding of God’s love – and that transformation involved understanding it personally: early in his Christian walk, his understanding of God’s love was more of a theoretical thing. “But, one day”, he says, “I realized, God loves me! Christ died for me!”
And that changed how he lived for God.
As Christians, we regularly grow in our awareness of God’s love for us – because, we regularly grow in our understanding of our own sinfulness/unworthiness; which leads to an ever-increasing amazement at how God could love us, and send his son to die for us; which leads to a deeper and deeper love for God.
Our love to one another:
Love for one another, is the result of, and evidence for, having received God’s love.
1 John 4: 10-11
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
John 13:34-35 – Jesus: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 15:12 Jesus: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
Having received God’s love compels us to love one another, creates in us love for one another. Loving others results from having received God’s love.
Bridges: “To refuse to love someone is to say to God, “I do not love you enough to love that person.”
God’s love for us is the pattern of our love for others, and the motivation for it.
If you want to grow in love for God/others – consider how God has loved you; and then look to God’s spirit to enable you to love in a similar way.
If you understand the cross, then you will see yourself as undeserving…unworthy…hard to love; and if you’ve seen yourself as having received God’s love though you are undeserving; unworthy; hard to love, then you’ll be able to love those in your life who are undeserving, unworthy hard to love. Because so long as you can’t love the undeserving means you consider yourself as deserving; which you aren’t; and you need to remember – or experience for the first time – God’s love for you.
- Active (not merely responsive). Certainly love responds and is responsive – but it isn’t reactionary. it doesn’t merely respond – it takes initiative, it considers another’s perspective, it understands another situation, it seeks out opportunity to love and ways to love. It considers needs, it empathizes, and it steps out in willingness and eagerness.
- Positive (not merely absence of the negative). Lev 19?
- selfless/sacrificial. Self-love is the enemy of Christ-like Love. love, means denying yourself, not using others to love yourself, but denying yourself and sacrificing living for yourself, in order to put others first. Love gives, even at great cost to oneself; love gives whatever the cost. Love gives a listening ear; a word of encouragement; a helping hand – all of which require self-sacrifice – our attention, our time, our energy, our resources. It is a love that asks not, “what’s in it for me?” but a love that gives of oneself unselfishly for others.
- Humble/service (washing feet). love takes the low road, the low place, the place of humble service of others. Arrogance, thinking you’re better than others, makes it impossible to love – because you will expect others to serve you. But, humility, leads to willingness, eagerness, to serve, to put others first.
- Seeking the good. Love is not doing whatever a person might want you to do; love is not doing whatever is easiest or most convenient or more secures your goals for a relationship; but it is putting them first by seeking their good – which means that sometimes love hurts. Culture defines love primarily by how something feels – but the bible has a deeper definition – a higher goal than mere appeasement, affirmation, or enablement – but seeking the good of another. Love strengthens, encourages, and builds others up
- Love is hard work. we think that love just happens, naturally, automatically, easily. we fail to realize that love takes effort, forethought, consideration, time, planning. Some people think that all those things sound unloving – because they sound like work! And that’s the point – we wrongly think that love is easy – we fail to remember that it is hard – and so often, we fail to recognize love, or we ourselves are not prepared to love, and miss the opportunity. There’s a reason the bible instructs us to love – because it doesn’t just happen, it doesn’t just come naturally or easily. The works of the flesh come easily – naturally. Love, the fruit of the spirit, is borne of purposeful, determined, effort through dependence upon the spirit of God. We must choose to love; and if we are to do that, we can’t assume that the choice to love is a fore-gone conclusion.
- Free (to undeserving) (Jesus showed love to the sinful people of his day – tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners). As long as we think we are deserving of God’s love, then we won’t be able to show God’s love to the undeserving. But, If we realize we have received the love of God undeserved, then we will be able to show God’s love to the undeserving.
- Liberal: Who is my neighbor? To all people (because created in the image of God). To put someone outside the reach of our love is to deny their humanity and it is an attack on the image of God in them. All people – those who look, talk, think, act differently than you – all people are made in the image of God. To all people (because created in the image of God); To one another (because brother and sister, alike redeemed by the blood of Christ).
- Love requires forgiveness: because, those we are called to love, are not perfect. And, those who are called to love, are called to love the imperfect. Others will fail us, disappoint us, hurt us; and we are called to forgive; we will fail others, disappoint others, hurt others, and we must seek forgiveness. We can love with a forgiving love, because we ourselves have been loved by a forgiving love. Q: Do you love others enough, to forgive others?
- Love Comes from the heart. Yes it is an action, but not merely so: 1 Peter 1:22. “Well I guess I’ll love that person if I have to, but I’m not about to like that person.” Love is primarily an action and a choice, but that kind of resolve to separate it from the affections of the heart falls far short from what the bible calls us to – which is an affectionate, and compassionate love.
- Love is always an outstanding debt. Paul says that the one debt that Christians never pay off – is the debt to love – Romans 13 – “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love on another.” Because of how much God has loved us, we always owe more love to one another. Because of how much God has loved us, we’ve never reached the limit of loving one another.
Earlier, love is necessary. Let me end with the reminder that Love is possible. If you have the love of Christ in you, then love is possible.