The Greatest of These
By: Barr Overcast, Assistant Pastor
“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 5:9
These words are among the most well-known in all of Scripture. We memorize them, teach them to our kids in Sunday school, and maybe even have them crocheted somewhere in our house. But what exactly qualifies something as a “fruit of the Spirit”? When I was a kid, I remember learning in VBS that the fruit of the Spirit is not a banana, not a coconut, and not a watermelon. Obviously, fruits of the Spirit are character traits, but what sets the fruit of the Spirit apart from other desirable qualities?
The fruit of the Spirit are those qualities that encapsulate what God desires (and is at work producing) in believers. At the same time, the fruit of the Spirit are character traits that originate in the character of God Himself, which He then shares with His people.
For whatever reason when I was reading the fruit of the Spirit passage recently it struck me afresh that these fruit are qualities that we share with God. They are given to us by God out of His own character. This thought has now prompted an exploration. Over a series of nine blog posts I want to explore the ways that each of these attributes flows from God’s character. How does God’s love equip us to love? How does God’s joy give us joy? And so on. I hope that through this you and I will become marked more and more by these qualities, as we see with greater depth the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of our Heavenly Father.
A Lesson From Disney
Love does not come naturally to us. The bent of our hearts is to do what is best for us, and we all need the fruit of love produced in our hearts. In other words, we are all by nature “Beasts.”
The Disney movie Beauty and the Beast tells the story of the wicked and unloveable Beast and the beautiful and kind Belle. Over the course of the movie, Belle’s compassion towards the Beast softens his anger and hate, transforming his heart and eventually his appearance to make him loving and loveable. Contained in this “Tale as old as time” is the simple message that “a thing must be loved before it is loveable.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy) It reminds us that we are all by nature “Beasts” who need love and don’t deserve love. This is why the love of God is so vital. It loves us, makes us loveable, and enables us to love others in the same way. True love transforms. True love produces a heart of love in the beloved.
As we explore how God’s love makes us loving, we will use I John 4:7-12 as our guide. This text weaves together God’s love and our love for others all with one goal: “Beloved, let us love one another.” In order to see this command fulfilled, he then points out three ways that the love of God produces the fruit of love in our lives: 1) the existence of God, 2) the presence of God, and 3) the absence of God.
The Existence of God
What is the origin of love? No surprises here: the origin of love is God Himself. First, John tells us that “love is from God” (v.7), and then he gives us the reason for this: “God is love” (v.8). On a universal level we can say that the only reason there is any love in the world is because God has placed that love in the hearts of men and women created in His image. In fact, love exists because God is love. The presence of love in the world comes from the nature of God, and your ability to love your family, your friends, and even complete strangers is a gift from Him. God gives us the fruit of love because His own character is what makes love possible.
The Presence of God
One of my greatest disappointments is that I will never be able to dunk a basketball on a regulation hoop. I know everything I need to know about the mechanics of it. But at the end of the day, I still can’t dunk. Why? Because what I lack is not the knowledge of what it is involved in dunking a basketball. What I lack is the height and hops needed to get to the rim. I simply lack the ability to dunk a basketball.
When it comes to bearing the fruit of love in our lives, more often than not what we lack is not the knowledge of what love is or what the loving thing would be in a situation. What we lack is the ability to be loving in the face of difficulty. The presence of God fills this lack. I John 4:7 says, “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” The ability to love comes from the presence of God in our lives. When believers show love it is because God is present with them, renewing their hearts and their spirits and enabling them to put aside their own interests for the interests of others. Do you want to produce the fruit of love? Spend time with your Heavenly Father whose very nature is love.
The Absence of God
How on earth does the absence of God lead us to be loving people? Verse 12 says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” To understand what John is saying we need to start with the realization that love is not just a feeling that desires the good of the other person. True love puts that feeling to work building them up.
Since God is a Spirit whom “No one has ever seen,” God does not show His love in the same way as the people in our life. Think about the ways that your loved ones show their love to you. They place an arm around you when you’re hurting. They give you presents at Christmas. They encourage you with words while you eat a meal together. When was the last time God showed His love to you in one of these ways? Probably never (at least not literally). Instead, God shows His love for us by the way He orders the events of our lives, by the work of Christ, and above all through the loving deeds of other people.
When believers show love to others, we display the love of God. John says that God’s love is “perfected in us.” The love we show to others perfects the perfect love of God by giving it a further avenue of expression to the people that God loves. Therefore, the “absence” of God bears the fruit of love in our lives by calling us to be the hands and feet of God, displaying His love to a world that needs to know His redeeming love. It motivates us towards a life of love by giving us the opportunity to be the very hands and feet of God.
As we seek to be people of love, there is no truth more important than this: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loved us when we were enemies. He does not extend His love to us because we deserve it; He extends it to “Beasts” who need the transforming power of His love. And as God extends this transforming love to us, He is making us into the kind of people who can extend this same transforming love to others, even (especially!) those who are difficult to love. As we follow God’s example, we do not wait for others to get their act together or deserve our love. We offer it freely.
The fruit of the Spirit is love.
Photo by Joanna Stołowicz on Unsplash