In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lists the fruit of the Spirit-led life as he discusses what it means to live a life that is truly led by the Spirit. As followers of Christ, many of us profess our allegiance to Jesus, yet we sometimes struggle with the reality of His Lordship over our lives.
While I am not going to spend time in this article discussing this weighty theological issue, I do feel led to share some thoughts regarding our need as followers of Christ to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. Specifically, I want to focus our thoughts on the first of these fruits that Paul mentions – love.
Obviously, most of us who seek to live in a manner that exalts the name of Jesus realize that our lives should be marked by this fruit of the Spirit. After all, Paul concludes the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians with this often quoted line, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
We all know that our love for others is a consistent expression of our love for our Savior. Still, many of us struggle with demonstrating the love that our Lord has given to us to those whom we encounter in the daily grind of life.
The Scriptures are clear that as believers we are called to love one another as our Savior has loved us. Following His observance of the Passover meal with them in the Upper Room, He tells them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
He goes on to say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Thus, our love for Him is not simply an emotion or an act of allegiance. Rather, it should be demonstrated through our obedience to His commands. Our lives should be living manifestations of the love that He has shown us. In essence, His love impacts how I relate to other people, especially my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
So when Paul speaks of love being one of the fruits of the Spirit in the life of a believer, would it not follow that we should consistently demonstrate Christ-like love towards others? Obviously, this is a significant struggle for some of us. It is easier for me to sing about how much I love God than to demonstrate compassion toward the one who does not show me the respect that I believe that I deserve.
Why is this act of loving others so difficult for us at times? Of course, there are some people that are easy to love, admire and respect in the body of Christ. Then there are those whose conduct and attitude make this command more of a challenge to obey.
The struggle for many of us is that we see love as simply an emotion rather than a willful act. We must choose to show love to others even when they are unlovely to us. Jesus reminds us, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32).
Unlike those who hold to the standards of this world, those of us who seek to follow Jesus are expected to love even those who treat us with contempt. This can be one of the more difficult commands of Jesus for the believer to obey.
In case we think that this is an isolated command of our Lord that we can ignore, He furthers His case again just a few verses later when He says, “…love your enemies, and do good … be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35a & 36).
The love that Jesus describes is more than the love that we often express in life. Some of us might say that we “love” pizza, jazz or a particular sports team. This does not seem to be the love of which Jesus speaks. The love that Paul declares as a fruit of the Spirit is one that can only be expressed as a result of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Perhaps, the apostle best describes it for us in his letter to the Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
May our lives show His love to the nations. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School Discipleship.)