Love : The Fruit of the Spirit’s First Virtue

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.                                      Galatians 5:22-23

As we begin our study of the virtues described by Paul as “the Fruit of the Spirit” it is no surprise to find love, Christian love, heading the list.   Jesus told His disciples that love would be the unmistakable and undeniable quality which characterizes the Christian (John 13:35).

But what is love?  The Greeks had four different words (eros, storge, philia, agape) to define the various nuances of the term.  Predominant in Greek literature was the word philia, while in the New Testament (and found in the text under consideration as well, Galatians 5:23) is the word agape.  While the words are near synonyms, in the Bible, at least, a subtle but very important difference in emphasis may be noted.

Philia seems to be a responsive type of love.   In fact, it’s the word used in Titus 2:4, a passage in which Paul instructs the older women to teach the younger to love their husbands and to love their children.  Philia can see worth and desirability in the object of its love.

But agape goes a step beyond.   Agape love is to love the unlovable.  It is a divine kind of love.  The supreme example is how God chose to love us even while we were estranged and separated from Him.

John states, We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19.

Paul concurs when he says, God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Agape love gives freely.  It is a love that asks nothing in return.  It is a love that is unconquerable.

Love is like the central stalk of a cluster of grapes, tying and binding all the individual fruits together.

The importance of agape love in the life of the Christian cannot be overemphasized.   As mentioned above, Jesus declared that His true disciples would be known specifically by this one characteristic, agape love.

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35

The crucial and vital nature of agape love is so encompassing that some scholars believe the other virtues of the Fruit of the Spirit are simply manifestations of this core trait.  Love is like the central stalk of a cluster of grapes, tying and binding all the individual fruits together.   A comparison of the Fruit of the Spirit with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 seems to bear this out.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Notice how the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit align with the characteristics of love as seen in this passage.

Joy = love rejoices with the truth (verse 7)

Peace = love always trusts (verse 7)

Longsuffering = love is patient (verse 4)

Kindness = loves is kind (verse 4)

Faithfulness = love always perseveres (verse 7)

Gentleness = love is not rude (verse 5)

Self-control = love is not easily angered (verse 5)

While love is foundational to the Christian life and indeed it was on this very basis that the Christian is redeemed, the question before us is how to show forth God’s love in our lives.  There are at least three important points to remember.

  1. It is crucial to recognize that agape love is volitional. Although certainly emotions and feelings are a consequence of “having” love, fundamentally agape love is a choice.  For that reason Jesus can tell us to love even our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.  Matthew 5:43-44

  1. Agape love is not just a noun, it is also (and perhaps most importantly) a verb. Agape love results in action. It sees a need and provides for it, even at the cost of one’s self.

As the apostle John said,

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. 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?  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.   1 John 3:16-18

  1. Finally, having agape love is simple obedience to God. As God’s child, the Christian should reflect his Father’s character. God has shown love to this world (John 3:16) and He wants us to do the same.  It’s obedience pure and simple.

The apostle John said,

This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

The above points may be seen in the story of Dirk Willems, a sixteenth-century Dutch man who was a fervent disciple of Christ.  Willem’s love for God soon led him into trouble with the religious authorities of his day.   He was, apprehended, imprisoned and sentenced to death.  Willems managed to escape from prison, however, using a rope of knotted rags.  As he fled across the snowy countryside, a guard saw him and gave chase.   Willems crossed a frozen river safely but his pursuer broke through the ice and fell into the freezing water.  The pursuer begged for help, at which point Willems stopped.   He had a choice: his own freedom or agape love for his enemy.   Willems turned back and pulled his adversary to safety.  Willems was then returned to prison and subsequently executed by being burned at the stake.   Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,” or in this case, even one’s enemies.

It is appropriate to end this discussion by mentioning that love is a quality which endures forever.  In closing his great chapter on this topic, Paul writes,

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Someday when the Christian’s present life’s journey ends, faith will give way to sight.  He will see the Lord Jesus.  And hope will vanish before reality.  He will be in Jesus’ very presence.  Yet love never ends.  Forevermore the Christian will be learning and experiencing more and more of the endless depths of Christ’s perfect love.

Jim Haesemeyer – Renew in Knowledge Core Team Member

Jim Haesemeyer is an elder at FreeWay Bible Chapel at Lubbock, Texas. Jim has served on the mission field in Honduras for nearly thirty years.