Fruits of the Holy Spirit: ‘Love’ - Galatians 5 v 22, 23
The first of the fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned by Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia is LOVE. The same man who wrote that beautiful chapter on love to the church at Corinth is writing that love comes from God! As the venerable apostle John wrote, ‘Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ So, just to underline that both John and Paul are convinced that all love comes from God! This has huge repercussions, think of all who have loved, and that love has come from God! That does not mean then that every person has God in their hearts, but it does mean that every person experiences the common grace touch of God. God's gracious provision for his creatures is seen in the giving of the seasons, of seedtime and harvest. It is of this providential common grace that Jesus reminds his hearers when he said God "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5 v 45). Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome wrote: ‘ When unbelieving Gentiles "who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, ...They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them" (Romans. 2 v 14-15). By God's common grace, fallen humankind retains a conscience indicating the differences between right and wrong. This may be based on the fact that human beings, though fallen in sin, retain a semblance of the "image of God" with which they were originally created. Each and every person has the ability to love and be loved! It is quite understandable that God at work in us in the person of the Holy Spirit produces the greater reproduction of His image in believers and the core character of God is LOVE. ‘’For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son.’’
So, as the Beatles sang, ‘All you need is love’, but what is love? According to Jesus, love is willing obedience. Clearly Jesus lay down His life for His friends, the greatest act of love one could imagine, but He also did it out of obedience to His Father. Yes, He dreaded it, we have the tale of what he went through in the Garden of Gethsemane to remind us of that, where He sweated drops of blood, so great was His apprehension at what was to follow! However, Jesus not only recognised that this was something He had to do, but that it was going to be His crowning moment, the reason He had been born.
How then do we love more and how can we quantify our love, so as to identify the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us?
Well, to love Jesus Christ more and more causes our love for our fellow human beings to grow. John again: ‘As we live in God, our love grows more perfect. We love each other because He loved us first.’ It has been a requisite of some denominations to encourage new converts to be taught to keep spiritual journals where the deepest spiritual thoughts and feelings are recorded. The Puritans regarded journalising as vital. In his book, The True Christian's Love to the Unseen Christ, the Puritan Thomas Vincent offered nine directions that will lead the observer to grow closer to Christ and therefore to love more fully.
Direction 1: "Be much in contemplation of Christ."
Your first priority is to meditate on Christ. Make time each day to dwell on Him. Consider who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing for you.
Spend time in secret retirement, and there think and think again of the superlative excellencies and perfections which are in Christ's person; how wonderful and matchless His love is, what heights that cannot be reached, what depths in it that cannot be fathomed, what other dimensions which cannot be comprehended.
Direction 2: "Be much in reading and studying the Scriptures."
The Bible is God's Word to you. It is where you will find everything you need to know about your great Lord and Saviour. Paul said to "let the word of Christ richly dwell within us" (Colossians 3 v 16). It is your spiritual food. To not feed on its truths every day is like going without food for a day. You wouldn't do that to your physical body, so be sure not to do that to your soul.
Direction 3: "Be much in prayer to God for this love."
Jesus said, "How much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him" (Matthew 7 v 11). There isn't anything better than having supreme love for Christ, and God will certainly give that to you if you ask Him for it sincerely. Vincent says,
If you would have much love to Christ in your hearts, you must be often at the throne of grace upon your knees, and there humbly acknowledge if not the lack, yet the weakness, of your love to Christ. Bewail your sins which dampen your affections, and earnestly request that He would work your hearts unto a strong love. Persevere in prayer for this.
Direction 4: "Get much faith."
This goes hand in hand with prayer. The writer of Hebrews said, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11 v 1). Peter said of Christ, "Though you have not seen Him, you love Him" (1 Peter 1 v 8). You can know Christ only by faith, and only by faith can you genuinely love Him. Vincent says, "According to the measure of your faith, so will the measure of your love be. Such as are without any faith are without any love, such as have but feeble faith have but weak love; and such as have the strongest faith have the strongest love."
Direction 5: "Labour for much of the light of the Spirit."
The only way to genuinely love Christ is to "be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5 v 18). Jesus Himself gave the reason that the Holy Spirit has such a crucial role:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you (John 14 v 16-17).
Direction 6: "Labour for clear evidence of His love unto you. The full, well-grounded persuasions of Christ's love to you will, above all, heighten your love to Christ."
If you are a true Christian, Christ loves you. But if you lack the assurance of your salvation, examine your life to make sure you are saved. Don't doubt the Lord's love, for Paul said, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5 v 8).
Direction 7: "Get much hatred of sin and, accordingly, watch, pray, strive, and fight against sin as the worst of evils, as that which so much displeases your Lord."
When you do sin, go to the Lord, and confess it so you can experience the joy of restoration. Vincent encourages further:
Disturb sin as much as you can; wage war every day with your remaining lusts. Let no day pass over your heads without giving some blows, some thrusts, and wounds to sin. The more you allow for the room of sin in your hearts, the less room Christ will have there. Particularly, take heed of inordinate love to the world and the things in the world, the prevalence of which love will dampen your love to Christ. By how much more the world gets of your love, by so much the less Christ will have it.
Direction 8: "Associate yourselves most with those that have most love unto Christ."
Simply stated, follow godly examples. Paul said, "Join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us" (Philippians 3 v 17).
Direction 9: "Be much in exercise of this love; hereby it is increased and heightened."
This last principle takes you back to the beginning. If you want more love for Christ, pursue Him by practicing each of these every day. In every activity, in every contact, and in every thought, make Christ your focus. When you make Him your priority and love Christ with all your heart, soul, and strength, God is glorified.