“But the fruit of the Spirit is love...” (Gal. 5:22, NKJV)
Did you ever see one of those novelty items with the entire text of the Lord’s Prayer engraved on a pinhead? I’m not sure what the value of such miniaturization is but it is a curiosity. Of more value is the Lord’s Prayer engraved on our hearts, not to be repeated by rote but to serve as prompts to prayer in communion with the living God.
Inscribing the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin is nothing compared to the challenge of covering the Bible’s teaching on love in a couple blogs. Love permeates the pages of Scripture. Love encapsulates the entirety of the law of God (Matt. 22:36-40). Love is both the essence and the expression of redemption.
The apostle Paul calls us to embark on an adventure of exploring the vastness of the love of Christ, with the mission of knowing something that is ultimately unknowable (Eph. 3:18-19). Not that we can’t know love truly, but that we will never know it fully.
Learning love is part of the core curriculum for the disciple of Jesus Christ. The reference 3:16 deals with love both in John’s Gospel and in his first epistle. In both instances our eyes are directed to God to orient us to the nature of love.
In John 3:16 our Lord speaks of a gospel message that proceeds from love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God did not give His Son because we were lovely or lovable. He set His love on those soiled in sin and deserving His wrath, and sent His Son to suffer that wrath in our stead.
We find the circular reasoning of God’s love when Moses records the reason for redemption. If you are in Christ, why did God save you? He tells you. “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you” (Deut. 7:7–8). God set His love on you because God chose to love you.
That is instructive for us in our call to love others. We don’t love them because they are worthy of our love but because we decide to love them. Love finds its impetus and outworking in our will. That’s why we can love even our enemies. Didn’t God love us when we were His enemies?
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:8–11)
In 1 John 3:16 our lesson for love is found in the example of our Lord Jesus. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Here we learn that love is not mere sentiment; it is practical.
There is a cost to us to love. In the case of our Lord Jesus, the price was His own life. While that may be true of us, more often than not loving involves the sacrifice of time, effort, and goods. The example John gives has to do with meeting the needs of another. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
Responsiveness to the needs of others is indicative that we have been loved by God because it reflects the character of God. It is a symptom of new life by virtue of His transforming grace in our lives. It demonstrates that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).
In the curriculum of Christian discipleship love belongs to the rudiments of elementary school and to the coursework of graduate study. We find it first in the Spirit’s garden of grace (Gal. 5:22).
- Why do you suppose love is listed first in the fruit of the Spirit?
- What do the "3:16s" teach us about love?
Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name.
For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books)
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.