Love – and it's Relations A Study on the First Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5
In turning our attention to the first “Fruit of the Spirit” – Love – we deal with one of the most important characteristics we meet in the Bible.
Love, says one writer, is the mode of existence of the new life.Ridderbos
It carries us to the centre of Pauline ethics, no less than to the heart of the ethics of Jesus. Henry
Indeed, as 1 Corinthians 13 shows us, “Love” takes into itself many other “fruit of the spirit” as well. To have love is to have them also. These other characteristics, in many cases, are just ways in which love shows itself in relation to people and circumstances in life.
But not only is it the most important characteristic we meet with in the Bible. It’s also one of the most important characteristics that we meet with in life too. There’s no end to eloquent statements about it! It’s something that everyone wants, and – in a world torn with war and strife – everyone wants to commend, and even enforce love. Anti-Discrimination Laws are a subtle way to enforce love. The Government says: “If you don’t love these people we’re going to make you – or make life so difficult for you that you won’t say anything.” Even the biggest crook has his moments when he extols the virtues of love – especially if he thinks he should be on the receiving end.
But what Love is, and where it comes from, and how it shows itself are questions that are open to a lot of different answers. And many of our problems arise because people want to divorce Love from its Relations. They want to break up the “Family of Love”! They assume that everybody knows what love is – that “love” stand alone. A young couple who don’t go to Church, and don’t believe in Jesus, come along to get married, and they want to have as their Bible Reading, 1 Corinthians 13. They have a noble ideal. But do they really know anything about the Love the Apostle Paul speaks about there? In most cases they don’t. They divorce love from all it’s relations in the Bible – and end up with a humanistic love. And therefore, when we start talking about love, we need to start by talking about its Relations.
Love is Related to God
And to start with, the Love the Bible speaks about – and love, properly so called – is related to God. The Apostle John tells us that “God is Love” – and that tells us that it’s impossible to separate love from God.
It’s His Nature
For example, that tells us that Love belongs to his very nature. Now when we see that statement we might be inclined to say it means that God is the great Example, Exponent, Standard and Source of Love. And of course he is all that. But all those things allow for the possibility that love exists independently of God. These words take us further. They tell us He is Love. It’s not something he exercises; It’s something that he is. It’s not his second nature; it’s his very nature. When we see a person who’s very kind today, we say, “He’s kindness itself.” That is, it’s his very nature to be kind. You can’t separate the two things. It’s the same thing here: You can’t separate God and Love, because he is Love. But that example doesn’t really go far enough when it’s applied to God. You could think of a person who does a lot of kind things one day perhaps doing something unkind or trying to become kinder. But that doesn’t apply to God. He is Love. He doesn’t become loving – and he certainly never becomes unloving. In other words, whenever we think of God we should think of Love, because He is Love.
And yet isn’t it a fact that we are always separating the two. How often do you hear the words: “God is unloving.” Indeed, how often have we thought it ourselves! The first creature that introduced the separation of God and Love into the world was the Devil. You remember how he approached Eve and suggested to her that God was really unloving – that he was restrictive, harsh and selfish! And from that day to this we’ve separated God and Love. We’ve all been ready to accuse God of being unloving. Let’s put this as bluntly as we can: The separation of God and Love is Satanic simply because God is Love. It’s his very nature.
He’s the Standard
But to say that God is Love also means that God is the Standard or norm of Love. We usually separate God – and the Standard of Love. We think Love is something that exists independently of God and Man and that it’s some standard that God has to come up to as well as man. And of course it goes without saying that we define that standard that God has to come up to! But this reminds us that God hasn’t got to come up to any standard – and certainly not to any standard we set. He is Love. He’s the Standard of Love – and he sets the standard for us.
He’s the Author
And one other thing these words remind us about is that we shouldn’t separate God and Love by turning Love into God. That’s what some people have done with these words. They read “God is love”, and think it means Love is God! But that’s idolatry! That suggests that Love – any and all sorts of “love” – exhausts the being of God! How many people today have done that very thing: Separated God and Love, by turning Love into god. They make Love supreme. It takes precedence over everything else. If a god exists, then he must bow down to their idea of love. It wouldn’t be so bad if they used the Biblical definition of Love – keeping his Law. But they’ve got their own idea of “love” – and they worship that. According to them, God isn’t love, and doesn’t define love. Love – humanistic love – defines and controls him. But the whole Bible is against this idolatry. Not only does it tell us that God is Love. It tells us that God is Spirit, and God is Light. And that means that he’s Holy and righteous. And so his Love is a Love that’s in harmony with His Righteousness. And you’ll notice that it’s this thought that engages the attention of the Apostle here. He says:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.1 John 4:10-11
If God’s Love was a love divorced from righteousness there would have been no need for God to send his Son into the world to die on the Cross. He could have said, “I forgive you” – and that would be that. But blessed be his name, He is Love and Light. His Love harmonizes with the highest standards of truth and righteousness and leads to the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen: The gift of his Son to be our Saviour:
“This is love,” says John, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).
It’s right here that we meet with a great difficulty with many discussions and proposals about Love. People want to leave God out of the picture altogether – to separate Love from God. The love that people speak about often, then, becomes a love that’s divorced from right and wrong, good and evil. But above all, it’s divorced from the knowledge of God. And yet, according to the Bible, the knowledge of God’s Love – and the experience of God’s Love – is indispensable for the possession and practice of Love.
Love is Related to Jesus
Then again, Christian Love is related to Jesus. This automatically follows from the last point, because Jesus is the Image of God – and the One who Reveals God to Us. In Jesus we see the Love that God is. He is the Great Example; Exponent; Epitome, and Energizer of Love.
He’s the Example of Love
The Lord Jesus is the perfect Son who has come into the world, and at every point in his life we see His perfect love.
We see it, for example, in his relation to His Father. Never was a Son more devoted to His father than the Lord Jesus. He not only spoke about his love to the Father – but he also showed it in his submission to his will in every detail.
But we also see Perfect Love in his attitude to those about him. No one who came to him in their need were ever turned away. And if he did speak bluntly to some, it was to turn them to himself – that they might listen to his words.
The Expositor of Love
And then He’s the great expositor of Love! We see it in his teaching. When he was asked about the greatest commandment, he reduced it to a matter of love.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
And who hasn’t heard the story of the Good Samaritan. In fact the very phrase, “he’s a good Samaritan” – owes it origin to Jesus and his teaching. And what about the great passage on Love in 1 Corinthians?
Did Paul make that up? Not at all, it was inspired by Christ – as were all the other great passages on love in the Bible! Just think what life would be like without that teaching!
The Epitome of Love
But he’s also the epitome of Love. Just before he went to the Cross he said,
Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13
There have been a lot of people who have given their lives for their friends. But there’s no one who can compare with the sacrifice of Christ. Think of who he is; and then think of what his “friends” were like! Paul says some might be prepared to die for a good person. But Jesus died for sinners! And then think of what was involved in his death – separation from God, a separation that even eternity is not long enough for a sinner who doesn’t acknowledge him. And then think about what he secured for all His people.
No wonder Paul prays that Christians,
being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
You need the experience of God’s Love, and the Power of the Holy Spirit even to realize that its so big that you can’t possibly plum its depths!
The Energizer of Love
And finally, he’s the Energizer of Love. I was going to say, Jesus is the inspiration of love. But that doesn’t go near far enough! He’s not only an inspiration; he’s the energizer.
He makes it all happen through His Word and by His Spirit. Remember those two batteries that have a race on the TV add – and how one keeps going and going when all the others conk out! That’s like Jesus in regard to Love. He gives us the energy and power to keep on going and going. Paul says: “The love of Christ constrains us!”
And it’s his love that sustains us. If we want a love that lasts the distance, we’ll need to get it from the Lord Jesus.
Christian writers say very noble things about the Love of Christ. They say: “Christ is the Model of Love”, or “His teachings and deeds are the yardstick for measuring love,” (Dictionary of Christian Ethics) or, “Love is the essence of his being,” (Henry) – and they’re right! Indeed some have suggested we could substitute our Lord’s name, too, for Love in 1 Corinthians 13 – and get a very true picture of our Lord. But how many people talk about Love – even about 1 Corinthians 13 – without making any reference to the King of Love – to the Revealer, Mediator, and Giver of Love through the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation, Example, and Exaltation of love is left out altogether!
How can we know about Love without the knowledge of the King of Love – the Lord Jesus Christ?