THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
NUMBER 1: LOVE
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
In this first study I am going to look at contrasts – the first of which is explicitly stated by Paul to the Galatians. Either we are ruled by the “flesh” or we are led by the “Sprit”. The choice is ours.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Galatians 5: 13-14)
And he goes on to add:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other (v. 16-17)
He even goes on to list the things that we do if we are led by the flesh:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (v. 19-21)
He finally tells us the consequence of living led by the “flesh”:
those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (v. 21)
So, we see immediately a number of clear “either/or” choices:
Do you want to be in the Kingdom of God or do you not want to be in His Kingdom?
Do you choose to live by the passions of the flesh or by the fruit of the Spirit?
Hopefully your choice is clear and you wish to live by the Spirit in which case you will bear the “fruit” of the Spirit…but…
WHAT IS FRUIT?
It is natural for a tree to produce fruit. In the same way it should be natural for us who are filled with the Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Others should see it in us. They do not have to be worked at……or do they?? A fruit tree will produce a better crop of fruit if it is well-watered, fed and warmed. In the same way our fruit of the Spirit will become greater the more we look after ourselves spiritually. How do we do this? By praying and saturating ourselves in the Word; maybe by ensuring that we are getting good teaching and good Christian fellowship.
A fruit tree can be damaged – even killed – by parasites and diseases. In the same way we are at risk of spiritual attack – which can come through direct demonic opposition or by allowing the ways of the world to affect us. It is interesting that Satan – and all his influences – are often referred to as a “worm” that devours the fruit and causes it to rot.
So, again we see a clear “either/or” choice:
Look after yourself – mind, body, soul and spirit and you will bear good “fruit”. Or don’t look after yourself – gratify the lusts of your fleshly self and your fruit will be rotten and die – and people WILL see it! I watch with great interest the series called “Poldark” in which a main character is a vicar who dresses the part, knows the Bible off by heart, preaches good sermons and “says all the right things”. But, it is all a cover for him to satisfy his fleshly lusts for money, wine, women (especially women!) and pleasures of all kinds. He is spiritually “rotten to the core” and he fools no-one – everyone can see his clear hypocrisy – and he is despised and hated.
NOTE THE SINGULAR GRAMMAR OF “FRUIT”
An apple tree does not bear apples and oranges. It has been wrongly surmised by many that there are 9 “fruits” of the Spirit – as if each are separate traits within the spirit-filled Christian. This is not so. The grammar of the text is clear. These 9 are 1 “fruit”. The meaning of this is that the disciple of Jesus will manifest ALL of these traits – not just some, or just one.
WHY IS LOVE THE FIRST OF THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT?
I don’t believe that the order of the “fruit of the Spirit” is random. “Love” comes first because it is the driving force in life.
This should not surprise us on a spiritual level because we were created in the image of God and we are told that God is love.
This should not surprise us on a human level either for it is the driving force from “the cradle to the grave”. The first thing a new-born wants is to be placed on its mother’s breast in order for that bonding that “attachment” of love to be immediately fostered. Without that immediate bond the child will not flourish. This need to love and be loved continues through the seeking of friends in childhood to a partner in adolescence and adulthood. At the end of life all a person wants is to hold the hand of someone who will show them love. A 90-something-year old took up ballroom dancing because she said it was the only time in the week that she would get any physical contact. We were made to love and to be loved – by God more than anyone.
WHAT IS LOVE?
So, having decided that we want to live by the Spirit, the first “fruit” that we will naturally bear (but will need to be nurtured by us) is “love”. In order to understand love I again want to demonstrate that this is an “either/or” situation.
It is said by many that on the one hand there is “love” and on the other there is “hate”. The Spirit-filled disciple will always manifest love. Hmmmm…the problem with this simple division is that it does not bear too close a scrutiny. You see, the Christian will, indeed, be filled with love but they will also hate what is wrong – evil, sin, injustice. Maybe, then, this choice (love or hate) is not clear enough.
In order to truly understand the fruit of love we must understand the different types of love that there are and then we will understand what this fruit will look like.
Again, on the one hand, we see “love” which is (in the Greek) “Eros”. This is a sensual, self-centred love, based on the emotions and on getting what we want. Erotic love is the pleasure that I am given by others. It is the sexual satisfaction that I want, the adoration that I want, the praise that I want, the pleasure that I want. It is a selfish love – it is all about “me”. It is about receiving and nothing about giving. It is “me first” – “looking after number 1”. If we compare it to the list of the “flesh” that Paul speaks of we will see that all those fleshly lusts are selfish, self-centred, love.
This is not the Greek word used by Paul in Galatians. Rather, he uses the complete opposite. The word he uses for “love” is “agape”. This, as we all know, is the Godly love that is high and holy and pure. It is the love that puts others before one-self. It is the love that says that “your needs are more important than my needs”. It is the love that says “I will give up what I want in order for you to have what you want”. It is the love that says that “I will die so that you might live”. This is a totally self-less love.
When we have this love – this agape, self-less, love – oozing out of us then people can see (and we can know) that we are full of the Spirit.
Here, then, is the “either/or” choice that we all have to make: either love or selfishness
JUST A QUESTION: FROM WHERE DOES HUMANISTIC LOVE COME FROM?
I do not want to suggest that only the Spirit-filled disciple can show this fruit of love, pure self-less love. There are examples of “good” people – philanthropists – throughout history, who have shown this self-less love to others with their having no root in Christianity. From where, then, did their love come from?
We should not be surprised that non-disciples can show agape love. We have already said that ALL mankind was created in the image of God and that God is love. Therefore it should be understood that ALL mankind has the capacity to agape love – and often show it. But, remember that love is only one aspect of the 9 ways in which the fruit of the Spirit is seen.
CONCLUSION AND CHALLENGE: SO WHAT IS OUR ROLE IN THIS FRUIT?
Can we truly just sit back and say “the Spirit has given me true love for others” and then do nothing??? Of course not! If we have true, agape, love in our hearts then it will burst out of us towards everyone with whom we come into contact. It will be seen. It has to be active. Our role is to make it active; to look for every opportunity to show it.
In this way we “water” love, we “fertilise” love, we make it grow strong on the “tree” of our life. For, as this picture shows so well, what we feed is what grows on us.