We began a series last week on the Fruit of the Spirit called Borne Identity, that we do is borne out of who we are and who we are is born from Whose we are.
Whose we are transforms who we are and changes what we do, which is why we’re looking at the famous fruit of the Spirit passage from Galatians 5 because it gives us a glimpse into the transformed life God has for us when our identity is no longer in who we used to be, but in who God is making us to be when we give our lives to him.
Today, we’ll look at the first fruit listed in Galatians 5:22, and it says this: “The Fruit of the Spirit is love.” We’ll stop there. “The Fruit of the Spirit is: love.”
As I was thinking this week about how the Spirit wants to bear grow love in our lives, I made the mistake of asking this question to God out loud—no joke, here’s what I said: “God, what’s love got to do with…”—and before could finish the question, that Tina Turner song started ringing in my head and it’s been stuck there since.
So I’ve been walking around singing that song to myself all week, but just that one line right? Because, let’s be honest, no one really knows the rest of the song. I’m all like: “What’s love got to do, got to do with it… buhh duh duh duh duhhhh…. WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO…”
So, now that the song is stuck in ALL of our heads, let me go ahead and ask the question in this way: What’s Love got to do with what the Spirit wants to do in you?
What’s Love got to do with what the Spirit wants to do in you?
There are a few questions I’d like for us to consider together as we work through that subject (in no particular order). Three questions:
1) What is love? And not just what is love, but also what isn’t love?
2) Are there counterfeits that we settle for and mistake for love?
3) How do we cultivate rich, deep, meaningful love in our lives?
So, what is it? What’s its counterfeit? And how do you cultivate a life of love?
We’ll be looking at a number of passages together so don’t feel like you need to turn to every single one, but be sure to write the references down so you can refer back to them later this week on your own.
Let’s begin with our scripture from last Sunday, Galatians 5:13-14, which says:
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When Jesus sets you free, it’s not so you can serve yourself; it’s to serve others.
Now, our American culture is obsessed with freedom. I suppose you could say our nation’s identity was even built on the premise of it. Or at least on the pursuit of it.
That’s why I find it so interesting that Paul, a 1st century writer writing to a culture that didn’t breathe the air of independence like we do, still felt the need to say: “Yes, you’re free, but it’s not so you can selfishly serve yourselves. No, you’re free, so that, through love, you could selflessly serve others.”
“With the same intensity and passion and fervor that you love yourself,” Paul says, “I want you to use your newfound freedom to serve others.” So it’s no mistake that when it comes time to define what a life surrendered to God and his Spirit looks like, Paul would start the list with this: “the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Love.
Yes, the Spirit wants to produce other things like patience and kindness and self-control in our lives, but what’s love got to do with it? Why does he start with love?
In any of these sort of developing character lists found in Scripture, not only is love always mentioned, but it’s always highlighted in some way. I’ll show you two examples.
First, Paul does this in Colossians 3:12-14.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved [Pause, did you catch that progression? Because of whose you are (as God’s chosen ones), and who you are (now holy and beloved), here’s what you are to do: put on these things…because whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do.]
Let’s read on: verse 12, Paul says, “Put on then…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Paul lists all these new character traits (almost like clothes that you put on), then says, “Hey, above the rest of these, be sure that you put on love because only love holds everything together.” So not only is Love in the list, but Love is also set apart.
Different author this time. In 2 Peter 1, the Apostle Peter gives us a list in v5, telling us that with all diligence, we must “add to our faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”
Peter’s building this list (like a pyramid) and saying faith is the foundation of the believer’s life and as you grow, you build on that faith. You don’t stay where you are, but you need to build onto it. Don’t just stop at faith…start living a life of virtue, but it’s not about changing how you live only, you also need to change how you think so you need to grow in knowledge, and the list goes on. But then, set at the very top, the highest priority, the thing that everyone from all distances must be able to see when they look at our lives is this: Love.
Love is set apart, and Love is set above everything else. It’s the goal. It’s the highest priority and prize, and love holds all things together. So back to Gal.5, Paul told us that with our newfound freedom in Christ, we are to “Love our neighbor as ourselves” because the life Christ has freed us to live is a life where we can learn to love others more than ourselves. That’s what love has to do with it.
This concept of loving others as a result of God’s love for us is all over scripture. It’s in Leviticus 19:18, Jesus says it himself in the Gospels, and here’s just one more reference, this time in 1 John 4:7-8, which says:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [and in case that wasn’t clear enough, look how he spells it out in the very next verse] 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
John makes two claims here. 1st, he says “If you don’t love others, then you don’t know God.” That’s a huge statement! That’s incredibly BOLD to say, but perhaps even bolder than even that claim is what follows it (and really what it’s built on). John says it at the end of verse 8: God. is. love.
Let’s start with why John says you can’t possibly know God if you don’t love others. If you take a course in Theology, you’ll inevitably talk about the Attributes of God. How God is Gracious and Kind and Merciful and Just. You’ll talk about the Omnis (that He’s “omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent”). You’ll talk about his holiness and his goodness. These are just some of the attributes of God. But within his attributes, there are two designations. There are the 1) Communicable and the 2) Noncommunicable attributes of God.
We’ll start with the second. The noncommunicable attributes of God are the ones that exclusively belong to God. God is Omniscient and all-knowing. He is omnipotent and all-powerful. God alone is able to be in all places at all times. These are a just a few examples of the unshared traits that are exclusively true about who God is. They’re attributes that none of us share or can develop.
But there are also his communicable attributes…that God is merciful and kind and caring and just and holy. These are examples of traits that are shared, meaning, they’re attributes that don’t only belong to God, but ones that we can develop as well.
Have you ever gotten sick because somebody you knew was sick too? If you spend any considerable amount of time with someone who has a cold, chances are, you’ll catch it. It’s contagious. It’s known as a communicable disease—a disease that’s spread through some form of direct contact. Whether you breathed the same air or touched the same things, whatever the case, you got what they had because you were with them.
God has communicable attributes, these character traits that if you spend any considerable amount of time with him, you’ll catch them too.
Set that aside for a moment and consider the second, even bolder statement John makes. He writes that the very character of God is: love. He says that verbatim.
We just talked about some of the attributes of God. He has many qualities. He’s Holy. He’s Just. He’s Merciful and Gracious. He’s forgiving. He heals and restores, but he’s not the personification of any of those things.
God is a God of justice, but God isn’t Justice.
He’s a God of healing, but God isn’t Healing.
He’s a God of Mercy and Grace, but God isn’t mercy or grace.
God is never called Holiness, He’s never called Beauty or Faith or Joy. And yet, John could write—100% under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—that: God is love.
That, if you could somehow distill God to any one thing, it would be this: love. What a profound statement. This is why it’s so dangerous to reduce and redefine love.
We do this flippantly all the time. Words don’t always means what they really mean. When my wife, and a restaurant, and the Batman vs Superman movie are all “amazing,” chances are I’m not using that word the exact same way each time.
We run the risk of doing that with God when we water down the meaning of love.
I mean, what is love? You’d think we’d know by now considering it’s been written about more than any other subject on the planet. Whether love or lost love, I should say. Adele’s got the second half covered musically speaking…Poor girl. Poor guy, actually. The guy that broke her heart may have inspired more music in the negative sense than perhaps any other jerk in history.
But…what is love?
Girls love their boyfriends, but they also love their coffee.
Guys love their girlfriend, and yet they love their… freedom.
In the same breath, I can say, “I love bbq, I love music. I love fruity pebbles, and I love my wife…” but each time I’m using the word love, it may not necessarily mean love.
In a world where we’ve redefined—and practically undefined—love, how can we know what it is?
We’ve got to go to the source. If God himself is love, then perhaps he would know more than anyone else what love is. Jesus is God in human form, and while on earth, Jesus said this in John 15:13—“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down your life for your friends.”
That’s why Paul could say in Galatians 5:13—“Don’t use your freedom to serve yourself…instead through love, serve one another” because love is selfless. It’s sacrificial.
Above all else, here’s what love is: love is laying down your life for someone else.
Sometimes we hear these stories of selfless, sacrificial acts where someone jumps in the way of an oncoming train to spare the life of someone else and let’s admit: they’re inspiring. They’re heroic. They’re compelling and they move us to want to live our most courageous lives as well, but I want you to see something…I want you to see to what extent love really demands that we lay down our lives.
When Jesus sets the standard for what love is here, he says something very specific that we completely miss in our English Translations. In the original greek, the word used here for “life” is psuche, not “zoe.” Zoe means physical life, but psuche (which is where we get our english word for Psyche) means soul-ish life. It’s your personality, your gifting, your wiring, your intelligence; basically, your psuche is everything that makes you you.
In the same way that a hero would physically jump on a grenade to serve and spare the physical life of someone else, Jesus is saying that level of sacrifice is what love deems necessary in every moment of every day, not merely as a physical act, but in an emotional and even psychological way. Jesus says real love is laying down all that you are in order to serve someone else…however they need to be served.
And this isn’t a standard he only expects of us; it’s one Jesus required of himself too.
This same word “psuche” is used in other places as well. In John 10:11, Jesus tells us that He is the “Good Shepherd who lays his [soul-ish] life down for the sheep,” because while on Earth, Jesus daily laid down his soul-ish life. And then 1 John 3:16 says that just as “Jesus laid His [soulish] life down for us, so we should lay down our [soul-ish] lives for others.”
What that means is this: if God has loved the unlovable in you, then you are called to love the unlovable in others. For all who claim the name of Jesus, the one who laid his life down for us, we’re called to lay ourselves down as well and love.
—“Yeah, but you’ve never met my boss. He’s unbearable.”
Love says “lay down your life.”
—“But what about my neighbor? He’s such a pain. She’s such a liberal. He’s your typical right-winger. She doesn’t get the gospel. He’s such a scrooge. She’s a freak.”
You know what Love says? Lay your life down.
—“But what about that moron running for Office? Can you believe that recent law and ruling?”
Even then, Love still says we’re called to lay our lives down, to submit to and pray for our government. Romans 13. 1 Timothy 2. 1 Peter 2.
If you were to ask every single person who’s ever known you in your lifetime, any and every meaningful relationship and random conversation you’ve ever had (whether a parent or classmate or cashier at the grocery store), if you asked each of them: “Am I a loving person?” would you be embarrassed to hear their responses?
If we claim to know God but we’re not characterized as loving, then John would say, “Okay then, I guess you really don’t know God, do you?” because God is love, and if you’d spent any considerable amount of time getting to know the God that you claimed to know, then you’d catch his love, too.
What the world needs now is Love. Yet, it often settles for: Tolerance.
Do you see why tolerance is such a weak substitute for love?
Anyone can grit their teeth and bear something for a short while, but that doesn’t make it love. Love demands everything. It’s not temporary. Tolerance is willing to endure something up till a point, but love is willing to completely die to itself.
Traffic should be tolerated; people should be loved. Tolerance has an expiration date—it has an end in sight; but love is eternal. Often the world wants the church to tolerate its behaviors. “Accept me as I am!” But that’s not love, right?
Tolerance is a counterfeit for love. Love is so much more than tolerance.
But now, hear me: Love is more than tolerance, but: it’s certainly not less than it either.
Love is more. Love demands more; Love demands: everything.
One more passage on what love is. Probably the go-to scripture on the subject. In fact, it may be the most famous text on love ever recorded in writing. Written by our boy Paul again, you can find it in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.
We’ve seen that love serves—that it willingly sacrifices and is the very essence and nature of God himself—which is why love is set apart, it’s set above, and what we’ll see now is that love is supreme.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Paul’s saying: “you could be the most eloquent, the most talented, the most passionate and virtuous person there ever was, but if your motivation is anything other than love, then it’s all for nothing.”
But when love is the motivation, then every gift & effort you employ becomes an act & expression of love. Because, love is supreme.
And then he shows why in verses 4-8
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself; it’s not puffed up, 5 it doesn’t behave rudely, doesn’t seek its own, it’s not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it doesn’t rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails…
As you read through Paul’s description here of what Love is, you can see that love isn’t just a concept or even just a characteristic, and Paul doesn’t talk about it in that way.
If it was, if it was something you could just tack onto your life, he might’ve said: “So you want to love? Okay then, learn to be patient. Stop envying others. Stop parading yourselves around and boasting about who you think you are. Learn to rejoice in what’s right, not in what’s sinful.”
He could’ve said that, but he didn’t. Instead, he wrote about Love in a personified way: that Love—personified—“hopes all things and endures all things,” that Love—personified—never fails.
Here’s what I want you to consider: when Paul wrote, “Love suffers long,” how could he not have been thinking about the One who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because above all else love is sacrificial, and there is an infinite capacity and willingness to suffer out of love.
When Paul says “love keeps no record of wrongs,” how could he not have been thinking about the One who said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing?!” They were killing him! They were killing him, and he says, “Father, forgive!”
When Paul says, “Love always protects, it always hopes,” how could he not have been thinking about the One who said, “…today you will be with me in paradise”? Even when being killed, even in the midst of his own death, he was able to turn to the thief on the cross and say, “I want you with me in paradise.”
When Paul says, “Love perseveres,” how could he not have been thinking about the One who endured the agony of the entire crucifixion, who was betrayed by his friends, who was beaten and brutalized beyond recognition…and after all that, after ALL of that, he perseveres till the point that he could say, “It is finished! It’s done!” What’s he saying?
Here’s a man stripped naked. Here’s a man left abandoned. Here’s a man with nothing left: He’s penniless and He’s powerless, and yet just before he dies, he says, “I did it! I finished the job!” What did he do? He accomplished for us a salvation that no one else could ever earn by dying in our place. He refused to breathe his last until he had done what he had come to do because above all else: Love Never Fails.
How in the world could anyone write that (especially Paul) without thinking about the One who took on all the powers of sin and death and hell for us then left them like folded up rags in the grave He walked out of?
Since God is love and Jesus is God, Jesus then is Love in the flesh.
Love never fails because: JESUS. NEVER. FAILS.
But… sometimes love hurts, right? It can cost you big time. And I’ve seen it so many times: the people who don’t believe in love are often the ones who used to believe in it the most, but were betrayed by it.
I decided to read the rest of the lyrics to “What’s love got to do with it” this week, and as I did, the last line caught my attention.
“What’s love got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”
Can you hear and feel her pain? She tried love, she risked for love, but she was left wounded by it. And so, to protect herself from ever getting hurt again, she built
walls and hardened her heart. “Who needs love anyway…”
There may be some of you here who can relate to her story. You once let somebody in—or maybe they broke in—and it left you crushed. So now, you’ve locked everyone out. But the walls you’ve built to keep you from hurt and pain are the very same walls that are keeping you from experiencing and expressing love at all.
Because, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your own self-preservation. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
If you’re afraid of being hurt, that fear will consume you, it’ll harden you, and it will keep you from ever loving. A heart of stone won’t get beaten down, but it can’t beat with love either.
There’s a fascinating metaphor God uses in Ezekiel 36, where he says, “I will give to you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you…”
God sees our hearts—hearts once hardened by fear and hurt and pain and brokenness—and He offers us a new heart. Then he places his Spirit in us to teach us how to love again. The kind of love that lays its life down for others. A love that will cost you, but a love that also brings you to life. To love is to be human because God is love and we were made in His image.
Let him give you that new heart. Let his Spirit transform your heart of stone into a heart of flesh, from a heart that was once beaten down, to a heart that now beats in love.
So how do you cultivate a life of love? It’s by looking at his.
John 15:5, Jesus says, “Abide in Me, then you will bear fruit.”
You’ll catch onto more of his love as you get to know him more.
In March, my wife and I hit our 10 year anniversary of getting to know each other, which all started with an awkward email I sent her out of nowhere through an outdated form of social media called myspace, but that’s a story for another time.
After ten years of getting to know her, you may not know this—and she may not believe it—but I’ve started becoming like her. I now use a calendar. I never would’ve dreamed of doing that! But more seriously, anytime I face any decision, I now go through a conscious thought process that looks like this: “Okay, here’s what I would do in this situation, and here’s what I think Grace would do.” And then I choose between the two.
I’m not even kidding, which might frustrate her considering I don’t always do what she would do, but by being with her—by observing who she is and what she does—I’ve started to catch a bit of her nature.
If you spend enough time with someone, you’ll become like them. So if you want to cultivate a life of love, you need to spend time with the one who is love, because “whoever loves is born of God and knows God.”
If you’re serious about wanting to cultivate a life of love, then here are three things you need to do:
1. Spend time with God in Scripture and in Prayer
Psalm 1:2-3 says the one who delights and meditates on Scripture day and night will “be like a tree planted by streams of water that bears fruit in season.” So spend time with God by listening to him through his word and speaking to him through prayer.
If you don’t know where to begin, here are two suggestions:
First, if you want to spend time with God in Scripture—pick one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and begin reading a chapter a day. No matter which one you choose, you’ll be done in less than a month, but if you’re looking for the shortest one, read Mark. It’ll just take you 16 days to work through it if you read 1 chapter a day.
As for spending time with God in Prayer, you could begin by praying through a psalm in the morning and a psalm at night. Psalm 100 and Psalm 23 are two of my favorite ones to start with.
Pray through Psalm 100 in the morning and then pray Psalm 23 at night, and as you read and pray through them (which, by the way, I recommend doing out loud and not just in your head), you’ll start to notice that your heart is being shaped by the words you’re praying. In the same way that a song can capture and communicate emotions you had no idea how to express, the psalms are this for our prayer life as well.
Commit to doing this everyday for a week and see where it takes you, because as you see how God loves you, you will learn to love others too.
So spend time with God in Scripture and in Prayer, but also…
2. Spend time with God in Nature
I put this point here because we can often unintentionally reduce christianity to a form of gnosticism, as if all that’s important to God is our souls, but God made all of us, including our bodies. 1 Cor. 15 even tells us that on the last day, our mortal bodies will be resurrected. They’ll be perfected. Whatever 15 pounds you’ve been trying to lose, it’ll be gone. Whatever back pain or knee pain you’ve been trying to kick, it’ll be healed.
God cares about more than just your soul. He created YOU—ALL of you! Mind, Body, Soul, Spirit. Everything.
Sometimes, what you need more than anything else is to just go for a walk outside. There’s a healing that takes place when you see an old oak tree still standing strong, or as you smell the fragrance of flowers blooming and feel the wind against your face.
Psalm 19 says the heavens declare the glory of God. Romans 1 says God makes himself known through creation, so that even his “invisible attributes can be clearly seen” through nature. Genesis 3 tells us that in the beginning, God walked with man in the cool of the day, so don’t minimize the profound beauty that comes from spending time with Him in Nature.
3. Spend time laying your life down
Because after all, the best way to learn how to do something is just to do it.
Don’t avoid people that require you to lay down your life. The only way you become more patient is by going through situations that expend all your patience. Same with love. Hang around people who are difficult to love. As you learn to love the unlovable in others, you’ll come to appreciate even more how God first loved the unlovable in us.
And as you do this, like Paul says in Phil. 3:10, you’ll come to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection through participating in and sharing in his sufferings. We want the power of the resurrection, but we don’t like the sufferings. Yet Paul would continue to say that we become like him, “in his death.” because Love lays its life down.
And through this process, never lose sight of 1 John 4:19, which tells us “we love because God first loved us.” Don’t get the order reversed. As you see God’s love for you—as you spend time with Him in Scripture, in Prayer, in Nature and by laying your life down for others—His Spirit will bear in your life the fruit of Love.
To love is to be human, so look to Jesus and live.