“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22–23, 25 (Bearing Fruit Series)
Having the fruit of the Spirit in your live is a direct result of you allowing yourself to be guided by the Spirit. This isn’t fruit you can buy, and it doesn’t come overnight. It comes by intentionally following the Spirit of God in your life. I know that’s easier said than done. But as we struggle to follow God’s lead, the fruit begins to appear. The first fruit that Paul lists is love.
Love is probably one of the most overused and least understood words in the English language. It’s bizarre that we use the same word to describe our feelings about pizza, our cell phones, our friends, our spouses, and our children! Love is complex and confusing… even more so because the kind of love that Paul is talking about has less to do with our current emotional state and more to do with the choices we make. Love is an action word. It doesn’t describe something we feel but rather something we do.
We can feel the emotion of love without the action of love. But the emotion we call love is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is an emotion, a powerful one, but an emotion nonetheless. Feelings can fade; we are called to found our faith on a firmer foundation.
When we say we “love” in the context of following Christ and bearing fruit of the spirit, we are describing our actions towards someone else. We can’t control how we feel, but we can choose what we do. Loving others — loving our neighbors, loving our enemies — too easily become empty words for Christians. But we can’t just say we love others without doing something to show that love. Failing to act our love is like saying, “I love coffee,” but never drinking it… or claiming to love my spouse without reflecting that love in any tangible way like restocking the toilet paper or running the vacuum cleaner or remembering our anniversary or making time to just be together. Love acts. And the choice to act our love is a choice we have to keep making, again and again.
When Jesus told us to love our neighbors (and our enemies), he wasn’t commanding us to muster up warm fuzzy feelings. He was challenging us to make the choice to act towards our neighbors in such a way that they may receive God’s best for them, even if it costs us something along the way. And that’s why love is such a radical thing. Acting out of love means putting ourselves aside, and putting someone else first.
Love means driving our kids to swimming, sitting on uncomfortable bleachers, smelling of chlorine, when I’d rather be just about anywhere else. Love means watching Frozen for movie night yet again because it brings my girls joy. Love means letting my wife pick the restaurant on one of our rare nights out. And sometimes, love means remembering to take out the garbage and put the dishes away.
In another one of his other letters, Paul tells us that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. In the end faith, hope, and love remain, and the greatest of them all, is love. Not because we feel it, but because we do it.