[Note: There is no audio version of this blog post today.]
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23
It can be counterfeit. It can be confused with feelings. It can be twisted into something that feels good but is not. It may not be recognized as such. But love is the purest expression of the character and nature of God. It is the greatest – even greater than hope and faith. And, although it’s not all you need it is essential to our relationship with God and with one another (sorry, John Lennon).
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he must take on a number of issues in the church. They were a troubled church. He takes on issues about marriage, incest, division, schism, worship, spiritual gifts, the role of women, his authority as an apostle, and the Lord’s Supper. These are no small matters. Any one of them would be worth a serious treatment and discussion. They all come up in this letter. And toward the climax of the letter’s exhortations, he shows them “a more excellent way.”
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
I like to share at weddings the idea of putting one’s name in place of the word love in this chapter. Then I ask if that describes either of those before me – or anyone in the congregation at that point. If anyone says it does, I would invite them to take my place. For on a good day, I might embody patience, kindness, no record-keeping of wrongs and the like. But not every day is good. And even on the best days I don’t always manage to keep the characteristics of love evident in my actions, word, or heart. Sigh… I cannot claim to be perfectly loving.
But Jesus can make that claim! Substitute Jesus’ name for the word love in Chapter 13 and you get a description of Jesus’ true character. He is patient, kind, does not boast, is not arrogant or rude. Ever. He is the embodiment of love itself. After all, “God is love (1 John 4:8). And Jesus is God in the flesh. And he keeps no record of wrongs. Read that again, he keeps no record of wrongs.
If I want to express more love to my wife, family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to hang around Jesus more. Abiding in him. Looking to him. Allowing his love to define my relationship with God. Allowing his love to shape my heart.
That means looking away from the things of this world. Rejecting the idea that the newest lens, fastest computer, coolest car, most desirable vacation, or most alluring flight to fantasy will fill my heart. They won’t. I’m thankful for God’s love in Jesus. I need it, and need for it to shape my heart, mind, and actions more and more. Starting with those closest to me. But not stopping there.
O Holy Spirit, bring forth that fruit in me today! Amen.