In the first post of this series on the Fruit of the Spirit, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them, I introduced the practice of using the Fruit of the Spirit as a way to review the previous year. I thought I would make it a series over the coming weeks and delve into each piece of fruit a little deeper. Click on the Follow or Sign Me Up button to subscribe to this blog and get notified of new posts in this series!
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … Love your neighbor as yourself.
The notion of love is a prevalent one in our culture today. It is the topic of songs, poetry, art, dare we say it is even the longing of the human heart. “All you need is love” has become a popular sentiment ever since the Beatles introduced it decades ago. And the romantic inside us all desperately wants to believe that this is true: Love is all we need.
The problem is that our culture – and by extension, we ourselves, since we are part of the culture – has a very shallow definition of love. It is usually reduced down to a fleeting emotional feeling. When we feel it, everything is great; when it’s gone, so is the love.
This is very different from how Scripture describes love. Many of the same ideas are expressed, yet they are grounded in a much deeper understanding of the word. The descriptions of love given to us by people such as Jesus, and the Apostles Paul and John, take us far beyond sappy, emotional definitions of love so prevalent in today’s culture. When Scripture says that love is the greatest commandment, it is not referring to an ephemeral emotion. It cannot be found in simple attraction or reduced to lust. It is greater than a human impulse or merely our brain’s response to a chemical reaction, though we might say that it captures some of what it means to be human, to be created in God’s image.
This love being referred to as a fruit of the Spirit is a supernatural love that flows from the Creator to creation. And the heart of God is that this love be returned, through our neighbor, back to the Creator. When we truly understand love in this way, it is easy to understand why so much of our art, our music, our imagination, focuses on the theme of love. It also helps us understand why, when love is separated from God, so much of our artistic expression on the topic often rings hollow, holding out empty promises for the brokenness of our world.
Once we get past our cultural notions of love, we can begin to understand those areas of our heart that we need to nurture. To begin with, love is not just a good feeling, but it is the ability to express a range of emotions. Love allows us to feel things deeply. Yes, at times that can be a feeling of happiness, but love also allows us to hurt with others. Love lets us celebrate and rejoice with others, but also prompts us to weep when our hearts are overwhelmed with sadness. A heart full of love is a heart that has the ability to feel things deeply.
Beyond feelings and emotions, love is also something that can be learned and takes commitment. There are times when it is a choice to love, whether or not we feel the emotion. Scripture often describes God’s love in terms of a covenant, and a marriage covenant served as a good example. Oftentimes, it is living under a covenant that rejuvenates feelings of love in a marriage, rather than the continual feelings of love keeping the covenant intact. This should bring us comfort, for under the Covenant of Grace, it is God’s love and commitment to us that carries us through times where we do not have the energy or emotional capacity to respond to the love of God.
Finally, love that comes from God is love that is put into action. It is not enough to simply say that we love God or love others; we must express that love in tangible ways. Words of encouragement, kind deeds, involvement in a cause, and commitment to spiritual practices are just some of the ways we can start to express love, rather than just feeling it.
With this Scriptural concept of love in mind, how would you evaluate the presence of the fruit of Love in your life?
- Am I growing in my capacity to love people and am I loving God and others well?
- What is one aspect of this piece of fruit that you can celebrate?
- In what aspect of love can you take as step toward growth?