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THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT: LOVE

The importance of love is a fundamental theme in the Bible. Love is the very first Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. But the type of love mentioned in Galatians 5 is a very special kind of love with very special characteristics. In this article this amazing fruit will be discussed in great depth so as to give the reader a much more complete understanding of this most fundamental Christian trait. But before doing so we must discuss what the Fruit of love is not.

There are three Greek words translated "love" in the New Testament . One such words is "Eros" which, as the word implies, refers to passionate emotion. It is feeling-based and it is not necessarily lasting love. It is something the world abounds in. It is a sensual kind of love and it has no spiritual dimension to it.

Another Greek word which is also translated love is "Philia".  The word Philia refers to having ďaffectionĒ for someone or ďfondnessĒ for someone, be it family or friend. It is used a few times in the New Testament to refer to love for the brethren, and it is translated in both the KJV and the NKJV as ďbrotherly love.Ē It can also be used to refer to the fondness God has for mankind, the fondness of Christ for the church, but based on my research this word is only used twice in that regard.  The word used in the list in Galatians 5 is not Philia but "Agape."

What is the meaning of Agape?

According to Vineís Dictionary, Agape (noun) and Agapao (verb), as used in the NT mean the following:

a.  To describe ďthe attitudeĒ of God to His son, the human race, generally, and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly. (Everyone)

b.  It is also used to convey His will to His children concerning their "attitude" one to another and toward all men.

     That is, God wills that His converted children especially love God and one another, and that they love the human race as well.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines Agape as follows:

"In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning: It was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love" (CHOSEN LOVE) "as opposed to the purely emotional kind" (REACTIVE AND TEMPORARY). "It is a self-sacrificial  love, a kind naturally expressed by God but not so easily by men and women"

Thus Agape refers to the love that emanates from God that He shares with us and that manifests itself in self-sacrificial love toward fellow Christians in particular and also toward the unconverted.

Agape Love is mentioned first in the list of the Fruits of the Spirit, because it is the foundation of it all. Love is not only a fruit of the Spirit, as I said last time, it is also the roots, the tree trunk and the branches that produce all the other fruits. Love is the major source of joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

It is also critical that we be reminded of the fact that the Holy Spirit, as we well understand, is God. The Fruits of the Spirit emanate from God. The Scriptures tell us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Thus all the fruits emanate from Love -- that is from God who is Love. Our mission is to also become love. We have to Love God and Jesus Christ with all our heart, mind and soul and we have to love our human brothers and sisters as ourselves.

But how do we do that? How do we express Agape toward other human beings? That is the topic of this article: How does Agape love manifest itself?

I would like to propose to you that agape love manifests itself in two fundamental ways.

The first manifestation of agape is obedience. Obedience to Godís commandments, to Jesus Christ's commandments and His apostles' commandments, as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In the past some of us gladly and in some cases fanatically embraced the need to obey Godís commandments. As a result, some of us became very obedientórigidly obedient and also self-righteous, proud, superior and judgmental. That is unfortunately what happens when we become fervent and fanatical about obedience, but we are lacking in the second manifestation of Agape.

Obedience was and remains fundamental to our Christian life. Obedience is a critical part of being good Christians. But some of us stopped there and by doing so we stopped growing, for spiritual growth entails commitment to obeying God plus growth in the second area: Holy attitudes. True Agape which is poured on us by God manifests itself in both obedience and Agape attitudes. Where there is an abundance of Agape, there is love for Godís laws and there is an abundance of agape attitudes. Both are present.

Letís call these two aspects, the two pillars of agape.  Letís therefore review both pillars today and letís ask ourselves: Do I manifest a balance between the two areas, or am I only focusing on one and not the other?

PILLAR 1: OBEDIENCE TO GOD'S COMMANDMENTS

Letís first of all look at the first pillar: Obedience to Godís laws. If we are filled with Godís Spirit, we will be moved to obey Godís commandments and we will be empowered to obey Godís commandments.

God, from the beginning to the end of His Word, stresses and demands obedience to His commandments. Thus he gave us the two great commandments, and both have to do with Love. 

Deuteronomy 6:5  "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (NIV)

Leviticus 19:18  " 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself." (NIV)

God then clarified these two great commandments in the Ten Commandments. He then proceeded to give us other important requirements in the Book of the Law. But he didnít stop there. In the N. T. He expanded further on His commandments through Jesus Christ and finally gave more finishing touches with His Apostles.

Lest there be any doubt as to the necessity of obeying Godís commandments, in the Gospels Christ to confirmed the necessity of obeying them.

Matthew 5:17 "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."

Matthew 19:17 "But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."

John 14:15 ďIf you love Me, keep My commandments.

John 14:23 "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.Ē

The Apostles also supported this fundamental truth.

Romans 7:12 "Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good."

I John 2:4  ďHe who says I know him and does not keep His commandments is a liar and His truth is not in Him.Ē

1 John 5:2 "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome."

2 John 1:6  "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."

This is our God; a God who loves all of His children deeply and who wants them all treated with respect and dignity. By obeying His commandments we show love and respect toward Godís children. This is Agape. This is Godís love.

 

But there is more. As we receive His spirit, new dimensions must be added to our minds, that go beyond obedience. That is pillar two. And this is where some of us at times are lacking:

 

The second manifestation or pillar two is agape attitudes. Obedience without Godís attitudes may be a manifestation of our righteousness, not necessarily Godís righteousness which is authored and maintained by Godís Spirit. How do we know that our righteousness is ours and not Godís? Because the following attitudes will not accompany it.

 

PILLAR 2: AGAPE ATTITUDES

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible. It is often quoted, but not necessarily understood. We even read it as the list of attitudes we ought to implement, when in reality they are attitudes that God must place in us, if they are to be real and lasting.

Letís analyze this most supreme chapter thoroughly.

 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal...

Though I have the outward manifestations of spirituality that some take great pride in, but I am not filled with Agape, I am nothing. I am an instrument that makes lots of noise but no pleasant sound.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,

Though I have been chosen by God Himself to be a prophet, and though I have the deepest understanding of the Scriptures and know Hebrew, Aramaic and NT Greek; if I am not filled with Agape, I am nothing.

and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,

Though I have tremendous faith to do great things that will leave people stunned by the miracles that I can perform, but have not Agape, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor

All my goods to feed the poor. Can there be more Agape love than that? Well, not really. Two of the most giving people on earth today

are agnostics. Bill gates and Warren Buffett.  They have set up a charitable foundation that is worth $ 38.7 billions. It is called the

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now supported by Warren Buffett.  This is what one reads on their foundation web site:

ďGuided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving peopleís health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all peopleóespecially those with the fewest resourcesóhave access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.Ē

Honourable sounding, indeed.  But is it agape? Or is it the kind of love that according to Paul gives much and yet is worthless to God? The difference is the source and the motivation.

Why are they doing it? It could be in part because they are kind people (Exercising Philia love, which humans can exercise without Godís help), it could be in part for tax purposes, or it could be their own monument to themselves. Some great people of the past have built buildings to their memory, others have built monuments. Today doing that would not be well received, it would be much better received to create a foundation to noble causes worth billions of dollars that would last for decades or even centuries, if the billions are well managed. What better way to be admired, respected and loved. What better way to create a glorious image that will last on and on. What better way to achieve eternityÖ.

One can give everything he possesses to charity and do it with the wrong attitude. These two people have no place for God in their lives; they are God in their own eyes. They have their worshippers; they have great wealth and power; they can now have eternity through their foundation and their accomplishments. But to God their billions are not enough. They may be impressing men, but God is not impressed, as Paul reminds us.

Öand though I give my body to be burned

Can there be a greater sacrifice? Not only to give oneís life but to offer it as a burnt sacrifice. Isnít that what Muslim terrorists do?  Do they not offer their lives to a holy cause? Are they not in their eyes Godís ďholy warriors?Ē

They may offer their bodies to be dismembered, but they do not have Agape, and thus it profits them nothing. How do we know if we are filled with agape love then?  What are the characteristics that indicate its presence?

4 Love suffers long

Love suffers long; Love is very patient, even when in being patient one is suffering. God is very patient. He waited hundreds of years before intervening with Noahís world, with the Canaanites and thousands before he intervenes and deals with a degenerate humanity. We have to be longsuffering too.

But we are not required to suffer forever. There are times when our mental and physical health is at stake; then we act and do something about the problem -- but not with a spirit of vengeance. We wait with Godís strength as long as possible and then finally we do something about the problem -- but always motivated by love, never motivated by a spirit of vengeance.

Sometimes we have to be longsuffering with a weak brother or a weak sister. The strength to do so comes from Agape. Christ is longsuffering with us, especially when we go through spiritually weak times. We have to be longsuffering with others, when they are going through a spiritually weak time. We turn the other cheek, and we bear offences gracefully.

Ephesians 4:2 "...with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love..."

God asks much from us when He asks us to be this longsuffering. But the key point is not only that we must exercise longsuffering, the key point is we must exercise longsuffering with the love and strength given to us by God, through Apape.

We are longsuffering because we use God's strength and we apply Godís wisdom to know how to finally deal with the problem.

1 Peter 3:9 (KJV) "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing."

We have been called to endure persecution. The enduring patiently is part of our training to be Godís children. We have to be like God and thus we suffer long, with His power, with His patience and with His Agape love.

Agape is kind

True Agape-filled Christians are kind people. They show sincere kindness, even to people who donít deserve kindness. They give and serve with kindness and sincerity.  There are kind people in this world who are not Christians. Some may be kind by nature; some may have learned to be kind from their parents; some choose to be kind. That is PHILIA kindness. Some are sincere, some are not. Some simply put on an act. Some act kind to get something in return. It is hard to know.

Some become very kind during Christmas and Easter time and then go back to being unkind for the rest of the year. True Agape-filled Christians are not harsh with others -- even if they deserve it. They even treat their enemies kindly, and they do it with Godís Agape love. If it is Agape kindness, it is God who does it -- not us. The praise goes to Him, not us.

Agape does not envy

In the series on the Works of the Flesh we saw that envy is one of the manifestations of carnal nature and that it must be fought and defeated. Agape rejoices in the success of others. It celebrates the success of others.  Our minds are not tortured by comparing ourselves with others which we are told is not wise. We are content with what God blesses us with, and we donít lust after what is not ours. We have peace because we donít allow envy to torture us. This is not our doing. This is Godís doing.

An American university professor who specializes in the study of happiness stated recently that the unhappiest people are the richest people, or very materialistic people, because no matter what they have, they always look at what they donít have. We are told that "envy is rottenness to the bones" (Proverbs 14:30), and not to envy sinners. (Proverbs 23:17).

There are times of want in a Christianís life, and there are also times of plenty that God may choose to bring our way. Whatever comes our way we accept it, and we donít envy people who have more. God will make the times of plenty come when He is ready, and when we are ready.

Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

An Agape filled Christian knows and believes this and accepts Godís blessings or lack thereof. Most of all, he doesnít compare himself to others.  An Agape filled Christian, therefore, is free from envy. And this is another characteristic of Godís Agape love.

Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up

A Christian has all the reasons in the world to be puffed up. He has been chosen by God as a "first fruit." He is being trained to rule over cities or nations and over hosts of angels. We have lots of reasons to walk around with our head up high and a pompous attitude. Agape prevents all that, for Agape produces the opposite attitude.

In Christian churches we have the lowly and the strong. We have people with little and some with much. We have people in the church who are very successful by human standards; yet Agape prevents them from being puffed up and from being conceited. We have some people who are honored during the week, because of their positions, who then honor us on the Sabbath by doing menial jobs to serve the congregation.

Jesus Christ told us to wash one anotherís feet literally and figuratively. When we serve, we donít parade ourselves; we humble ourselvesÖif we are motivated by Agape, that is.

Some day we will have all the honor anyone could ever wish for, but for now we keep our head low and our hands busy washing feet any time we can. This is done with the right attitude if motivated by agape love.

Philippians 2:3 "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; "but in lowliness of mind" let each esteem other better than themselves."

When we serve someone else we esteem them above ourselves. This is not easy. At the most, human nature might sacrifice and go as far as esteeming others as oneself. Esteeming others in the church as being above ourselves and doing so sincerely is a manifestation of Agape love.

Jesus Christ could have come to earth and could have shown off His power and could have been pompous about it.  Jesus Christ, instead, divested Himself of all His glory and came down to earth to live among men, and rather than show off and demand submission -- which He could have done -- He esteemed humanity above Himself. He did not parade himself and he was not puffed up.

In fact, when he offered his body to be flagellated and then to be crucified for us, He didnít esteem us as much as himself, he esteemed us above himself. Jesus Christ, on that glorious Passover day when he offered himself for us, made an amazing Agape statement: I love you humans more than I love myself.

That is our God. That is Agape love.

When we sacrifice for others; when we serve others, we love them above ourselves. And that is what Christ said on that glorious day: I love you more than myself. I love you with self-sacrificial love: Agape Love.

5 does not behave rudely

The world allows, and even celebrates rudeness. North America used to be the land of politeness. TV shows modeled proper actions and proper talk. Have you watched TV lately? Hollywood now models crude and distorted behavior and language. Movies are replete with crude and inappropriate language and behaviors.

Teachers are continually correcting bad manners-- in some cases very bad manners. This is the new North America, this is the new world.  Hypocritically, many teachers are more crude than many students. I have worked with teachers that use very foul language. We are told not to follow trends. We are different. Our language has to be clean. We try to be polite. We try to be appropriate and respectful. On occasion we stumble. We feel sorry and try harder next time. But our mission is to be sincerely polite at all times. As we grow in Agape love, our politeness multiplies, for that is a manifestation of Godís mind, of His love.

does not seek its own

This world is saturated with selfishness. No matter how much people seem to be on our side, one has to always watch what they are up to. Selfishness abounds in all areas of society. We are told that in the last days people will be lovers of their own selves. That time is here, now.

Unlike the world, Agape-filled Christians are altruists. We are givers, from the heart. If we are motivated by Agape, we donít put on a show, we donít serve to be liked, we donít serve to reach a position. We give, when possible, without being seen. We donít give so that a wing of a hospital will be named after us; so that our name will be posted on a wall; so that a Foundation will be named after us; so that a speech will be given to honor us; so that weíll get a certificate or a plaque or a trophy. We give because that is what flows from God into us and out toward others. The plaque belongs to God, not to us.

I have heard of some Christians in the past brought shopping to other needy Christians homes and left it on their veranda, rang their bell and left. This is agape love. that is what we read in Matthew 6:4.

Matthew 6:4 ``That your alms may be in secret: and thy Father which sees in secret himself shall reward thee openly.``

Agape love gives without wanting credit for it. But this requires a word of caution: We can fool ourselves that because we give in secret we are exercising Agape love. It may not necessarily be the case. We may give in secret to feel spiritually superior, because we give in secret. If giving in secret makes us feel spiritually superior to others, then itís not Agape love, itís a mental games that we play with ourselves to feel superior to others. ``The human mind is deceitful above all things,`` we are told in Jeremiah 17:9, and it can deceive us in this regard as well. Agape love gives in secret and does not feel superior. It is true, pure love.

is not (easily) provoked

Some times people try to provoke us on purpose. They test us. They stir us up to get us to react. Agape will not relent. We all have been around people who try to get us to stop acting nice. It could be relatives; it could be neighbors; it could be fellow workers; it could be students, if you are a teacher. Agape does not relent. We react appropriately, given the occasion and we will not allow them to get the best of us.

Now, notice it doesnít say that we are not ever provoked. It says that we are not easily provoked. If they persist in provoking us, we will finally act, but without losing control; without being rude; without being harsh; without causing harm; without being vengeful.  The Apostle Paul, you may recall, finally appealed to Caesar. The Law is there for our protection. Authorities are there for our benefit.

Agape gives us the strength not to be easily provoked, but after having waited and waited we can address the situation legally and appropriately -- but not vengefully.

Itís called agape love.

thinks no evil

There are various translations for this expression.

The New American Standard Version: ďdoes not take into account a wrong suffered."

The Amplified Bible: ďit takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong.Ē

The New International Version: ďit keeps no record of wrongs.Ē

Clearly this is not an easy section to translate, and it may be because the package included is quite big. We can summarize by saying that the expression means all of the following: ďWe are not to think evil; we are not to rejoice in evil; we are not to keep records of evil; as we have to be forgiving.Ē

In short, our relationship with evil has to be a distant one, and we are not to allow evil to make us become evil, as keeping a record of evil makes us bitter and resentful and thus evil.  As Romans 12:21 warns us: "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." It takes a special kind of power to fulfill this requirement. It takes Agape to fulfill this requirement. This is what Paul is saying. If you are filled with Agape you will not be overcome of evil and you will overcome evil with good.

Itís Agape love.

6 does not rejoice in iniquity

People who are Agape filled do not rejoice in seeing, or hearing about evil. We do not enjoy violence in movies nor do we rejoice when vengeance takes place in movies. We have an aversion to anything evil and we try to evade it. And that includes entertainment.

but rejoices in the truth

We rejoice in being around people who are truthful. We celebrate sincerity and we try to be sincere. We follow our Masterís example who could have lied His way out of death, but told the truth until the end, even if it meant death. We follow the examples of the apostles who could have lied their way out of several very dangerous circumstances, but did not and instead bore whippings, beatings and humiliations of all kinds, because they stayed faithful to truth until the end.

To be truthful at times takes great courage. Agape love makes it flow out of us naturally, no matter the consequences.

A lying spirit is not from God. Lying effortlessly indicates the presence of Satanís spirit.  Lying to get out of trouble indicates spiritual weakness. If that is the case, we need to fill up with Agape love.

7 bears all things

It is longsuffering. Again doubly emphasized. If it is emphasized twice itís because itís important. Itís also very hard and it can only be accomplished with Godís help.

believes all things

That is, believes all things that come from God. This is not saying that we believe anything that anyone tells us, for naÔve we are not. Paul did not believe Cretans, as he himself said they were liars and could not be believed. We believe all of Godís promises, but are weary of human nature and stay on guard with human beings.

hopes all things

Longs for the promises of God and knows that God will keep his promises, in this life and in the future. Believes that all things work for our best and know that even the greatest trial will have good results for us.

endures all things.

Endures any trial and persecution that their Christian life brings their wayóbecause of the strength given to them by God.

8 Love never fails.

Agape never fails. What a stunning promise. The way of Agape will always workÖit will never fail. Agape will always produce the best results.

Paul then concludes:

But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (That which is perfect is a world filled with agape)
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

The greatest of all is Godís self-sacrificial love that is totally pure, totally sincere and motivated by nothing else but the pure Love of God. The love that manifests itself in the keeping of Godís commandments and in the attitudes listed in I Corinthians 13 and in service to one another and to the human race. A perfect package that never fails.

In the past we have seen people in the church who operated well at the ďDonít doĒ level. They didnít do. They kept the commandments perfectly-- or thought they did. But Commandment keeping is not necessarily a manifestation of Agape love. It may be simply a form of pride or a form of showing off oneís superiority over others. Such a person becomes filled with self-righteousness and is harsh and critical of others.

This is what happens when obedience is not tempered with Agape. When itís not the result of Agape. Agape is the cap stone. Agape is the energy that drives everything. Agape is the force that motivates ďtrueĒ obedience, for one can obey out of fear, out of duty, or out of Agape, the love that proceeds from God. When Agape is the heart and core of it all, everything is in perfect balance and the result is nothing short of wonderful.

Colossians 3:12-14  "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on AGAPE, which is the bond of perfection."

True perfection comes from God. It is authored by God and it is energized and maintained by the love of God. When we stay close to God in prayer, Bible study, fasting and meditation we get filled with Agape. Over the years, if we stay close to God, we become saturated with Agape, and finally at the resurrection we become Agape...as God is Agape. When that finally happens, obedience to God will become effortless. Godís attitudes will emanate from us naturally, effortlessly and abundantly.

Until then, though, we must stay close to God daily. We must plug ourselves in daily and abundantly and by so doing we will experience a gradual but certain transformation from beings that were filled with selfishness before conversion to beings that tried to produce Philia love, after conversion; to beings that became filled with Agape love, over time, by being close to God; to beings that became Agape love, at the Resurrection.

That is the future; that is what we long for: to become Agape as God is Agape and to share that love with God, Jesus Christ, our spiritual brothers and sisters and all the angels for eternity.

Letís grow in Agape love therefore. Letís be filled with it; letís become like the God of Agape more and more very day. Letís, most of all, long for the day when we will become Agape  as God is Agape.

The next Fruit: Joy

The Fruits of the Spirit:

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Longsuffering
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness / Faith
  8. Gentleness/ Meekness
  9. Self-control

The Works of the Flesh:  Adultery, Fornication, Uncleanness, Lasciviousness, Idolatry, Witchcraft, Hatred, Variance, Emulations, Wrath, Strife, Seditions, Heresy, Envy, Murders, Drunkenness, Revelings.

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