The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
With Jill Southern-Jones, Director of NETS
If I asked a room full of people what love is, I think we would get lots of different ideas - especially when looking at the love of God. Do we realize that God actually is love? Galatians 5:22-26, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the list of the fruit of the Spirit starts with love.
In John 21:15-17 Jesus reinstates Peter after the three times he denied Jesus. The first two times Jesus uses the word 'agape', and the third time he uses 'phileo'. In the English language love is a hard word because you have to look at what you are describing to know the kind of love. You can say ‘I love Jesus Christ,’ ‘I love my best friend,’ or even ‘I love shoes.’ Agape is sacrificial, unconditional love - it’s the love that God has for both you and me. You can’t perform to earn this love, you can’t deserve it, and you can’t work hard to get more of it. He simply loves us unconditionally and everlastingly and He’ll never change. In looking at God’s love, God loves you perfectly and you cannot add to that which is perfect. You can’t get up in the morning and think ‘I will do better, work harder, serve more, give more money, read my Bible more, and pray more in order to be loved by God more, because God already loves you, with His agape love.
When looking at the fruit of the Spirit, we need to understand the call on us to be conformed to the image of the Son of God in the area of agape love. If you’ve brought up children you will know that sometimes they do unlovable things, but that doesn’t mean you stop loving them as a son or daughter. You can hate the behaviour but you must still love the person, even though the behaviour or the sin can be unacceptable. You need to truly understand that God does not withdraw His love if we misbehave. God loves His children with an everlasting love and it has nothing to do with us, it has been birthed out of the heart of God for each one of us.
How did God show that agape love? Through the cross. Yesterday I did an hour live TV program with Revelation TV on intimacy with God. I told the producer I wanted to talk about the cross and about the love that God showed through the cross. It is important to realize that we should never talk about the Father Heart of God without talking about Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. Yes, we want to understand the Father’s heart, but we remember that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus.
The next type of love is phileo love, which is brotherly love. When we believe in Jesus and follow him wholeheartedly, we are part of God’s family, and so we are brothers and sisters, able to express this phileo love to each other. Be sure to embrace this type of love. It has a clean heart and it gives. There is a principle about love that is never taught at school and it is this: Love gives. When we have phileo love for a brother or sister in Christ, we will be giving. When love tries to take it receives nothing. Lust takes, love gives. But how can you love in a brotherly way if you have never received the agape love from God?
The only way to be a giver of love is to have some love to give! Imagine you have a 'love tank'. Is your love tank a quarter full, half full or three quarters full, or overflowing? Where do you go to get your love tank filled? Make sure you’ve learned that it is not from horizontal relationships that we should be filling our love tanks. There is a law underpinning love, like the law of gravity, and the law is that love gives. If you start to become a predator in relationships you become an abuser. We need to be asking God to come and fill us up so we can be qualified to enter into horizontal relationships where we can give out of the overflow we’ve received from God. If you do not have the love of God shed abroad in your heart you are not able to properly give and receive love, which is where relationships – especially marriage relationships – fail. Many people are unable to give and receive love, and that is what rejection is. Instead of loving others, we can reject them, and instead of loving ourselves, we can have self rejection. This is epidemic in the body of Christ today because we have not understood this truth, the only place your love tank can be filled is from God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How do we receive that love? We need to know our sins are forgiven and that we are born again of the Spirit. We often need to go back and unblock, as though there’s a tube from God to us and instead of there being free passage, there are blockages and damage. It isn’t that God is not acting, it’s simply that we are unable to receive God’s love.
What are some things that stop us from receiving God’s love? First of all, parental wounding. Unresolved issues with mom and dad, whether they are alive or dead, can affect our ability to receive the love of God. Also, fear. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). We need to deal with our fears and be able to say, “Whenever I feel fear I will trust in God.” Fear is one of the things that damages the tube between the love of God and our heart. Rejection is also a huge damager, and it means that we are unable to give and receive love both with God and people. If our relational antennae are damaged, there will not only be damage in our horizontal relationships, but also in our vertical relationship with God. If you can see someone in front of you continually in wrong relationships and broken relationships, you can see their relational antennae is damaged and broken, and you can thus know the relationship with God is also damaged.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
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.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
- 1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
Jill Southern-Jones, Director of NETS