The Fruit of the Spirit: Love

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The list of the Spirit appropriately starts with love.  Love should be the reigning attribute of the follower of Christ.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was this:  “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matt. 22:37-40)  Love is the cornerstone of biblical ethics.

Wesley preached often on the topic of love:  Love God.  Love others.  He felt that these 2 commandments summarized the whole Gospel.  His sermon, “On Love” Sermon 139, focused on Paul’s famous love chapter, 1 Cor. 13.  In his second point, Wesley identified the true meaning of the word love as being “the love of God and man,” taking as the measure of love, these two commands that Jesus identified as containing the whole Law and the Prophets.

Mildred Bangs Wynkoop wrote A Theology of Love:  The Dynamic of Wesleyanism.  (Kansas City:  Beacon Hill, 1972)  She points out that the Greek word has a number of words which translate into the English word, love.  Too much has been made about the differences between agape, phileo, and eros.  English also has many words for the concept of love:  affection, delight, devotion, ardor, crush, adulation, etc.  Wynkoop argues that the heart of the Gospel for Wesley was love.  And Wesley equated holiness with love.  So in his sermons and papers on entire sanctification, he often used perfect love as a synonym for that expression.  She argues that “Wesley’s understanding of love ca be supported only by an underlying “metaphysic” which is dynamic in nature.”

The thing about love is that although here in Gal. 5:22 love is a noun, yet, the root word is a verb.  That is Wesley’s main point in his Sermon 139 “On Love.”  Which is why Wesley focused on this one verse:  “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.  Love can only be demonstrated through acts of love.

Jesus spoke of loving one’s neighbor as the second most important commandment in the OT.  Love summarizes the entire OT.  Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their failure to show love (Mark 9:13; etc.)  And so, Jesus said that love is the mark of the true follower of Christ:  “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  (John 13:34, 35 NLT)

For Paul, love is the more important than any of the spiritual gifts and the most important virtue.  love “binds us all together in perfect harmony.”  (Col. 3:14)  Without love, all our ministry is in vain (1 Cor. 13:1-3).  Paul summed up the whole of Christian ethics as “faith expressing itself in love.”  (Gal. 5:6)  Love is the crucial ethical expression of the Christian faith.

Consequently, love is the primary fruit of the Spirit working in our lives.  (Gal. 5:22)   Sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to make us holy.  “Sanctification is not a good work we do, nor achieved by hard work, but a good work God does within us when we open ourselves to the One who made us, who know our capacity, and who brings us to fulfillment when we allow it.”  (Stookey, This Day:  A Wesleyan Way of Prayer.  Loc 760)

Love is the most important motivation for ministry.  The most important thing for believers to value and seek is to become a faithfully loving person.

Accept me, O Lord, as a sacrifice, alive and eager to be used as you see fit.  That I am all too conformed to this world, I readily confess with shame.  Transform me by your mighty power.  Renew my mind, that I may discern your will, that I may both know and do what is good, acceptable, and perfect.  This I pray, together with the whole church; through that One who demonstrated that he loved us to the very end:  Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  Amen.  (Stookey, This Day)

 

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