Love can mean many things today. For instance, it can mean merely that you like something (I love that new book by Douglas Bond!). It is also often used to describe the attraction between two dreamy-eyed young people, or even the feelings you have for some other animate thing, like a cat (unfortunately). But what is love in its purest sense? What is this love that is listed as the first fruit of the Spirit?
Well, first off, it is very important. It is the greatest commandment in the Bible to have this love, and without it, we are nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)! Here is what Jesus had to say about Biblical love:
And He said to them, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mathew 22:37-40)
No wonder love is listed as the first fruit of the Spirit! According to Jesus, the whole Old Testament hinges on this love, and of course a good case can be made that this love is a huge part of the New Testament as well. We must understand this love for what it is (and consequently, what it is not) if we are to live out a life in service to our almighty God.
Let us first quickly get rid of the notion that the love of the Bible is anything like that which the world understands today, cuz’ it is not even close. However much you “love” your cat, for instance, that is nothing compared to Biblical love. For some (odd) reason, you use the word “love” to explain your feelings for your cat. Maybe it is the fluffy fur, the way it chases that laser beam around the room, or even because in your mind you think cats are cute (a bad analogy, I know, but let’s roll with it). But really, that “love” is pretty superficial. Shave away its fluffy fur and try to give it a bath, and your “cute” kitty will become a bald, furious terror that will claw your hands to shreds before it lets you dunk it in water.
Try loving them then.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry! By now you can tell I am not necessarily a fan of cats. But I digress . . . As with my (perhaps overdone and humorous) analogy of the cat, the love our world understands is a self-serving, very-shallow emotion. When things change for the worse, the world tells you to withdraw your love and move on. The second you have a dispute with your spouse or feel he/she is not giving you what you need, the world completely understands your need for a divorce. The fact that about fifty percent of marriages today end in divorce is a sad sign of just how superficial the love of the world is.
But Biblical love is so much different! It is patient and kind and is not jealous or boastful. In short, Biblical love is selfless! As this well-known passage puts it:
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 with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
Wow. Simply, wow.
How are we to cultivate this amazing love in our lives? What are some practical steps we can take to show this love both to God and our neighbors?
First and foremost, this love can only start in our lives after we put our trust in God. In and of ourselves, our love will look like that of the world. Selfish. Superficial. Ugly. It is only through the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives that this fruit can grow. Cultivating this love starts on our knees before God.
I believe that the second you trust in Jesus as your Savior, your love for Him starts. It is pretty hard not to love someone who has saved you from eternal death, after all. The direct result of your love for God is keeping his commandments. As Jesus said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Do you want to love God? Keep His commandments. Your love for Him will only grow, for the more you read God’s Word and obey His commands—the more you abide in Him—the more this fruit of the Spirit will grow! I highly recommend reading John 15:1-11 to see what I am talking about.
Love your neighbors
I got this one easy. I have great neighbors, including my aunt and even my grandparents in the summer time, so this commandment is no problem!
Or is it?
Just who exactly are my neighbors? A lawyer in Luke 10:25 asked Jesus this same question, and though He answered with a parable, Jesus’s response was no less stunning. The lawyer was looking for a way to justify loving only a select few—of wrenching out of Jesus a comfortable “loving your neighbor to-do list” that could be easily checked off. Instead, Jesus gave him the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In this parable, a Samaritan stopped to help a badly beaten and robbed Jew on the side of the road, something that a Jewish priest and a Levite didn’t even care enough to even think of doing. You must understand that the Samaritans and Jews of Jesus’s day did not get along. At all. They shared a mutual disgust for each other. The Samaritan would have been more in character if he had stopped to give the half-dead Jew a kick to the gut, but instead he had amazing compassion on him.
And Jesus tells us to do the same.
Yep, Jesus answered the “who is my neighbor” question in a way that is less than convenient to any to-do list. Essentially, He defined our neighbor as anyone who needs our help, even those we despise. This definitely keeps in line with Jesus’s teaching, as he tells us elsewhere to love even our enemies (Mathew 5:43-44)! At this point, I am sure our lawyer friend was feeling pretty uncomfortable, as should all of us.
Again, there is no way we can accomplish this kind of love on our own. It is called the fruit of the Spirit for a reason, because we can never produce it in and of ourselves! However (and thankfully), the Bible gives us many practical tips on how to live out this love through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Remember, one of the qualifications for Biblical love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a is that it “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” Jesus expounded on this principle when He told us not to retaliate when someone wrongs us in Mathew 5:38-42, right before He tells us to love our enemies. We are to turn the other cheek when we are offended. Though this may seem a little off topic, it definitely reflects the love we should show.
Furthermore, Jesus says a couple of verses later that part of this love we are to show is to pray for those who persecute you. I am not going to pretend that is easy. When we were taking part in the Forty Days for Life pro-life campaign in front of our local Planned Parenthood clinic, my family was verbally assaulted by a decidedly angry man who we later learned had a daughter in the clinic, probably receiving abortion counsel. It was so bad that another man hopped out of his car and offered to call the police for us. As my dad was working that day, I was naturally the one to step up and take most of the name calling. And I was called all kinds of things. A half-hour later when the man finally left us alone, I was shaking with anger and emotion. When my mom suggested that we should pray for him, my first inclination was “no way!”
All of us returned home emotionally-sapped that day, but we did pray for that man right there on the street and forgave him, and I for one felt much better after that prayer, as I am sure all of us did. God knows what He is doing when He tells us to pray for our enemies, and though it may be hard, He wants only the best for us. And it is.
Probably the most well-known and applicable command on how to love your neighbor is found in what we call the Golden Rule in Mathew 7:12:
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the law and prophets.”
This is the perfect description of what loving your neighbor should look like. We all would like to be treated with the love shown by the Good Samaritan to the needy Jew, right? Do the same to others.
It is my prayer that all of us will seek to grow in this amazing love through the power of the Holy Spirit, for it is this love that should define a Christian. Lord, help us to pursue this love and make it our own as your disciples! Help us to love everyone, even our enemies. Help us to daily walk with you. Amen.“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)