Love: Fruit of the Spirit
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. —Matthew 22:37-39
Have you noticed how glibly we throw the word “love” around? We love yogurt, thin-stuffed Oreos, and cauliflower crusted pizza. We love our spouses, our children, our homes. We love our church…. We “love” all sorts of things!
However, I notice in this particular passage that the word “love” is anything but frivolous or casual. It is worth noting that there are four different words for “love” in Greek—the language of the New Testament. Each has a distinctive meaning.
Four Words Used for “Love”
STORGE (empathy bond)
This is liking someone because of familiarity. It is most often used to show the affection parents and children have towards each other. However, this fondness may extend to others who find themselves bonded by chance, i.e., neighbors and colleagues.
PHILIA (friend bond)
This describes the warm love and affection two individuals have for each other because they share common values, interests, or activities. Perhaps it is in marriage, but it also might be a deep respect. In other words, it comes from the heart.
EROS (erotic bond)
This specifically relates to love between sexes. This invokes passion between two people. This word is not used a single time in the New Testament.
AGAPE (unconditional “God” love)
This is the greatest of the four loves, existing regardless of changing circumstances. Theologian and author William Barclay suggests that “agape” means “unconquerable benevolence” and ensures that it will “never seek anything but the best even for those who seek the worst for us.”
This is the type of love that Christians must possess and proclaim through their lives to the world. Through it, others will see that we are controlled by and possess a love that is beyond ourselves, beyond our capability.
Agape love comes when we are connected to the Vine, to the source of life, Jesus Christ! This love—Agape Love—leads the list of the fruit of the Spirit. Again, we are not discussing casual love, but rather our need for continuing growth and improvement in real, lasting, life-changing love.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:37,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Loving with our “whole heart” means that there can’t be anything in our heart that wants what God doesn’t want because we love Him more. There can’t be a shred of selfishness if we love Him with ALL our heart. But then Jesus continued by saying, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (v.39).
Let’s look at these two aspects of this love.
One important litmus test to show our love for God is how we treat and handle God’s Word and how He speaks to us. Our love for God can be seen in our commitment to God’s Word.
As we read God’s Word and He identifies an issue in our lives that needs adjustment, our response should be: “You know what, God? If it’s important to you, then it’s important to me! With your help, I’ll take care of that!” Are we so in love with Jesus that we are willing to surrender to Him the controls of our lives? If we treat God’s Word with reverence, respect, and an attitude of surrender, the Holy Spirit will bear fruit in our lives.
Jesus taught and instructed us to obey His commandments. In fact, I would go so far as to say our failure to comply with the teaching of God’s Word says something about our love for Him.
Think about it from this perspective: What does God’s Word instruct us to do, but we can’t quite seem to obey? Is it the way we dress? Is it the way we talk? Is it the way we entertain ourselves? Are we willing to obey God’s voice when He speaks to us on the issues of life? If we truly love Him, surrendering those things will not be a problem for us. But if we love self more than God, we will find ourselves in a battle of wills with God rather than bearing fruit.
Remember, we are talking about our love as fruit of the Spirit. Our understanding of the love that God has for us is vital to our ability to love other people. If we think we do everything right and everyone else ought to line up to us, then we are going to have a hard time loving people.
But if we see that His love is of infinite measure, unparalleled to anything else, and so much more than we could ever comprehend, we are rightfully humbled and in a better position to love others as God intends.
Loving others means that we must love both Christians and sinners. The first may seem easy, but sometimes it isn’t. The commandment still stands:
That ye love one another;
as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).
Even among our Christian brothers and sisters, there are those whom you think are “weird.” Some probably see you that way as well. There are some with whom you may not see eye to eye on issues within the church; but, friends, we dare not disagree to the point at which we no longer love one another.
Do we love fellow Christians in spite of our differences? Do we love fellow Christians even though we may not agree and see everything exactly the same? In the epistles, we see that Paul encountered a lot of different people with different ideas about various issues.
Some of these were very serious—contentious relationships and even immorality, such as fornication. Nevertheless, Paul didn’t throw his hands up and quit. He didn’t say, “Well I tried. I guess you win some and you lose some.” Paul loved them, corrected them using God’s word, and prayed for them!
Friends, we MUST be guilty of loving other Christians! Love them, care for them, and don’t forget to PRAY for them! That means when there’s tension and conflict, as well as when there’s peace and joy. We MUST be a people who love one another! Remember, Jesus Himself told us, “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another.”
Love Sinners, Too
Loving others also involves loving sinners.The Bible is very clear—we are to hate sin, but love the sinner. While we must be against sexual immorality, pornography, and addictions to alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, may it never be said of us that we do not love even those people who are trapped in those sins!
The Bible informs us that there is grace for those sins. There is healing for broken hearts and shattered homes. The Bible also says that we are to be compassionate—quick to show mercy, to forgive, and to love.
The instructions are quite clear:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-28, 36
What about our love for sinners? Being friends to sinners can be messy and might mean some real sacrifices on our part. It might require us to associate with people and situations that we normally try to avoid, but Jesus clearly teaches us to love the saint AND the sinner. Jesus was frequently chastised by the religious leaders of the day for associating with those on the margins of society.
He was accused of hanging out with wine bibbers and publicans! He even ate with the despised tax collector Zacchaeus and his whole family! That was a shock to the religious sensibilities of the day. Likewise we should, with pure intentions and in a right spirit, associate with the people Jesus associated with—saints and sinners. And love them.
Let me pose a question in conclusion. “How is our fruit of love?” What kind of love is being produced in our lives? Do we only love those who love us? Do we only go out of the way for those who would go out of the way for us? Do we only love those who agree with us, share our interests, and empathize with our situation?
If so, our love is not true agape love. It is discriminatory, and we need to ask God to help us to love as He loves. Maybe God is asking us to do away with some things in our lives in order to bear fruit—things that have caused our love to grow cold. We need to ask for God’s help and submit to his pruning and purging.
Admittedly that can be a very painful process, but it may be necessary in order to restore love to its rightful place in our behaviors. Remember,
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away:
and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit (John 15:2).
The end result is good—more fruit, more love! Stay connected to the Vine and watch the fruit of love flourish.
Brian Wardlaw, Jr. graduated from Hobe Sound Bible College, Hobe Sound, FL, in 2013. He served as an associate pastor at Mt. Tabor Bible Church, Covington, GA, for five years before moving in April 2018 to be the Senior Pastor at the Franklin Bible Methodist Church, Franklin, OH. Brian, his wife Beth, and daughter Gracelyn live in Franklin, OH.