I’m setting out today to begin a nine-part blog series on the famous (among church folks, anyway) “fruit of the Spirit” passage in Galatians chapter 5. This won’t be an every day series like the last one, and will likely be intermingled with other posts on different topics. But after a friend of mine made this suggestion yesterday for a blog series, I knew that I had to do it. Not so much because I think my readers aren’t “spiritual” enough or need a Holy-Spirit-Smackdown, but because I want to see the work of the Spirit more evidenced in my own life. And what better to do move toward that than to think, pray, and write on this beautiful passage in Galatians?
It’s worth noting that the list of Spirit wrought characteristics in the following passage is not a comprehensive list. The work of God’s Spirit in the heart of the believer is a vast work that produces many other things such as steadfastness, courage, wisdom, etc. Nevertheless, the nine out-workings of the Spirit’s labor in us listed here are more than worth thinking and praying on.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” –Galatians 5:16-25
After his long list of fleshly, soul-toxic works, the first work of the Spirit Paul lists is love. This comes as no surprise to me, personally. If there is any theme than runs beautifully rampant throughout the entirety of the New Testament, it is love. As Paul states just sixteen verses earlier, the only thing that counts for anything when it comes to a person’s relationship with God is not mere good morals, good works or good religion, but faith working itself out through love. His comrade-apostle John also agrees when he repeatedly emphasizes in his first epistle that knowing and loving God necessitates loving people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus himself assures us in John 13 that it is by our love for another the world will know we are his disciples.
This whole love thing is obviously pretty important. I want to be clear from the get-go that I’m not attempting to write a fully comprehensive post on love, here. 1) I don’t have time for that 2) I don’t have the ability to do that and 3) there’s already a 66-“chapter” book out that pretty much covers the subject. I’ve heard it’s a hit. All that I’m going to do here – and what I will do in the next eight posts – is share a few thoughts the Lord impresses upon me. If you have additional thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments section!
Thought #1: We live in a culture that is obsessed with the concept of love but inaccurately defines it.
As certain movements have progressed over the years – namely, Gay Rights and Reproductive Rights – the church has been accused of being unloving with increasing frequency. We’re told that we’re hateful for not affirming the goodness of same-sex unions or for arguing that it is not a woman’s right to murder her unborn child. We’re told that if we actually loved people, we would support them in whatever it is that they desire to do with their body or romantic life. We’re told that if we were really of God, we wouldn’t condemn the “love” shared between two men or two women. Year after year, the traditional, orthodox understanding of Scripture regarding certain moral issues is being painted a darker shade of hateful by our culture.
Many professing Christians – some of whom I know personally – desiring to escape the conflict and find some middle ground (FYI, it doesn’t exist) have shifted away from biblical orthodoxy and toward theological liberalism. Ind defense of the radical change in their positions on things like, say, same-sex relationships, they tell me the church is supposed to be a place of love. And I passionately agree. Boiling hot love should be bubbling up and running over in the life of every Christian and local church. But the question is, what is love? Is it the culture’s definition of love that Christians are to practice and display, or the Bible’s? I think the answer is obvious.
This past weekend I was asked to lead our Sunday school discussion through 1 Corinthians chapter 13. If you have any familiarity with church culture at all, you know of this chapter. It’s the one everybody likes to post on Facebook on Valentine’s Day and the one we often hear recited by the minister at a wedding. It is the love chapter. Here’s an excerpt from the passage that I want to zero in on:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13.
If any biblical text explicitly defines love, this is it. Even a quick skimming of these thirteen verses forces the reader to deal with the conflicts between the world’s idea of love and God’s idea of love. Notice: [love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
The vast differences in the biblical worldview and the cultural worldview make it utterly impossible to resolve this tension over true love. As long as the world calls good what the Bible calls evil, we can never be on the same page as to what “wrongdoing” actually is. And as long as the church views the Bible as the authority on truth and the world views itself as the authority on truth, we will never be able to be on the same page as to what “truth” actually is. But my point is this: if you’re someone who professes Christ and believes the Bible to be authoritative in all it addresses, you cannot affirm what it defines as evil and simultaneously practice what it defines as love. It is utterly impossible for a Christian to practice biblical, unadulterated love by condoning same-sex unions or infant murder.
There is no middle ground.
Thought #2: I must repent.
My second thought on the spiritual fruit of love is more personal and – well, painful. Painfully convicting, anyway. When any semi-honest Christian reads 1 Corinthians 13, I would find it hard to believe they could walk away patting themselves on the back. I’m not able to, at least. Sure, I may have my “not rejoicing in wrongdoing” down pat – which is vital; I’m not minimizing it – but when it comes to being patient and kind, or to not being irritable or resentful, I fall miserably short. I’ve seen growth over the years in these areas, most definitely. But I’ve yet to live a day where I haven’t been impatient toward someone that I think should be “further along” in their walk than they are, or resentful toward a brother or a sister who has sinned against me, or irritable toward a Christian who I think is being self-righteous.
Can anyone relate? Please don’t leave me by my lonesome self out here!
When I fall to my knees and view my life through the lens of 1 Corinthians 13, I see it is actually Matt Moore who is being spiritually immature when impatient with someone whose sanctification-speed isn’t up to his standard (because I’m just so far along, you know). It is Matt Moore who is hypocritically sinning against a brother or sister when resentful toward them for sinning against me (because I’ve never sinned against them before, you know). And it is Matt Moore who is being arrogant and self-righteous when irritated with those who I view to be self-righteous (because I’m just so humble, you know).
While the culture is definitely wrong when it accuses us of being unloving for not condoning certain immoral behaviors, they may not be so wrong when and if they criticize our character. Too often we neglect Paul’s instruction to set our minds on the Spirit and instead settle lazily into our flesh, living lives that don’t fully reflect the love that has been poured into our hearts.
I have a sneaking suspicion that as I continue to work through the fruits of the Spirit in this series, I am going to be doing a lot of repenting. And I anticipate my readers who are honest with themselves may be joining me in that repentance. But please, guys, as we confront our brokenness and imperfection, let’s not wallow in guilt or self-pity. As long as we dwell in this fallen flesh, we will always be “in process” – not being what we once were, but not yet being what we should be. Continual repentance will mark our sojourning in this world. We will not outgrow it. Yes, we will grow and gain increased victory over our sin, but while our souls are attached to this flesh, the inclinations will remain. The temptations will remain. The daily battles will still need to be fought.
And sometimes, a lot of times, we will fail. Which brings me to my final and greatest thought on love.
Thought #3: God’s love.
While our love toward others is necessary evidence of the love that’s been shown to us, the love of God for us isn’t predicated on the perfection of our love toward others. Thankfully, unlike our love toward others and even God himself, his love for us in Christ is unconditional and unshakeable. We can’t earn God’s love and – apart from rejecting Jesus – we can’t escape it, either. And it is by our ongoing experience of this purest and brightest form of love that our love for others intensifies.
Christian, don’t give up. Keep repenting and be encouraged! As we trip and stumble towards glory and struggle to love others well, we are upheld by a divine, ferocious love. He won’t give up on us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John 4:7-12.
P.S. If the first thing that popped into your head when you read this blog’s title was the Haddaway song, I like you! #childofthe90s