In the apostle Paul’s teaching aid on Christian godliness, the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5.22-23), he summarises the whole as one compound fruit1 comprised of multiple character traits. The first trait that he lists is love2. The same Greek word is often translated charity in our English Bible, the Authorised (King James) Version (e.g. 1 Cor. 13).
The love that is the fruit of the Spirit is, first and foremost, the Christian’s love to God as Saviour, Provider and Creator. And then it is a love for God that manifests in a love for the people of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We should love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12.30). But fallen human beings cannot love God at all without God’s work of saving grace in their souls, because “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8.7). That is why you will not find love for God, as he reveals himself to be in the Bible, outside of those whom Christ saves.
If you examine your own heart and find that you love God—then you have found evidence of God’s grace in your experience. In your heart.
Though our love for God is less that God is worthy of, and though it may become feeble compared to what it was at first (see Rev. 2.4) because of the remaining hardness in our hearts and our lack of appreciation for who God is and what he has done for us in our salvation, we will feel this shortfall and this will cause us to pray to God that he will increase this love in us, as we strive to fully obey this “great commandment of the law” (Matt. 26.36-40).
If your love for God the Father is real, this will be proved by your love for his only begotten Son. This truth3 that Jesus affirmed to the Pharisees must be true of you: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me” (John 8.42). Paul taught this same thing in similarly strong terms, in a warning that remains relevant today, and until the end of the world: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha4” (1 Cor. 16.22). Wherever there is a sincere love for the Messiah in a human soul—the Lord Jesus Christ of the Scriptures: the Son of God himself—this is because there is a work of God’s grace in that soul. “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen” (Eph. 6.24).
We have not seen Jesus with our eyes. But we have, as it were, seen him with the eye of faith, for we believe in Christ as he is revealed in both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Now this faith brings love with it, and so it is the same with us as it was with those to whom the apostle Peter wrote: “[Jesus Christ] whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1.8-9).
Furthermore, this also becomes true of us: we love the people of God. In his parable of the Vine, Jesus himself sets our attention upon this particular fruit of abiding in him—the love for God and for God’s people that he himself has, and which he commands us to have likewise: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:8-14).
This same love was both taught and exemplified by the Messiah’s apostles. Consider Paul’s heart, and consider what he prayed for in the hearts of believers in the churches under his care:
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3.14-19).
To the church in Thessalonica: “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (1 Thess. 3.12). “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (2 Thess. 3.3).
In his epistle to the Colossians, after going through a list of godly traits that the “elect of God” must clothe themselves with (here he uses the metaphor of clothing, not fruit bearing), Paul culminates with the following exhortation: “And above all these things put on charity [i.e. put on love], which is the bond of perfectness” (see Col. 3.12-14).
In Romans: “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” (Rom. 1.7), whether from the Jews or Greek-speakers (10.12)—and, by extrapolation, all Christians even today—Paul reiterated the second great commandment of the law: “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (12.9-10).
Again in Romans, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13.8-10).
This love for God and for God’s adopted children5 is the “more excellent way” to which Paul purposes to elevate the Corinthian Christians (1 Cor 12.31-ch.13), same as he did all the churches in his care, as we have just seen. Although 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at Christian weddings (and is sometimes read at non-Christian weddings), it really has to do with the love of Christians toward one another within the Christian community—the local and worldwide Church. Look at the context: Paul was not, at that point, writing about Christian marriage (however, of course he would preach this same love to the new husband and wife). He was addressing the Corinthian church, and leading them up to this Christian ἀγάπη (agapē) love rather than what they were preoccupied with in those days.
In our churches today we all still need this love: “charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). Again, “Let all your things be done with charity [i.e. with love]” (16.14). And his his second epistle to the Corinthians: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 1.14).
Are we making progress along his most excellent way? Without this love that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, each one of us still has sins that could tear our churches apart (Gal. 3.14-15). To raise this matter up even further: does this love pour out of our own souls, and has it become so in-your-face obvious in our Christian fellowships, that it actually shows how Christ is in us before the watching world? We always need to keep this challenge in our minds and to work at it, to improve upon our obedience to our Lord’s ever-new commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13.34-35).
We have spent a while considering the apostle Paul’s extensive teachings on love in the Church. Now let us turn to Peter and John.
The apostle Peter exhorts his readers, the persecution-scattered Jewish Christians under his charge (1 Pet. 1.1-2; see also Acts 8.1-4; Gal. 1.13-18; 2.7)—and by extension, all of us: “Love the brotherhood” (2.17). Yes, for we have all been made brothers and sisters in the Messiah, locally and globally, because we have been adopted by God into his covenant family. Peter continues, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (v.22). And in his second epistle, he exhorts us to add to our faith “brotherly kindness” and “charity” [i.e. love] (2 Pet. 1.7).
John is sometimes called the apostle of love because he has much to teach us about loving God and loving the Church. And we have much to learn! He pleads with us, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth [one another, in the Church of God] is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we 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 ought also to love one another” (1 John 4.7-11).
How many times does something need to be taught us in the Bible, before we take it seriously? If our heart is right, and we understand that the Bible is the word of God, then once should suffice. So, when we see something taught over and over again by our Lord and his apostles, then the cumulative impact of it should humble us and bring us to repent of our personal and collective failure in this matter, and to pray to God that we would make obedience to it a distinctive part of our lives, and of our churches. I here set before you a list that I have seen in various places—I claim no credit for it, and I am sorry that I don’t know where to find its original source:
- “Love one another” (John 13.34)
- “Love one another” (John 13.35)
- “Love one another” (John 15.12)
- “Love one another” (John 15.17)
- “Love one another” (Rom. 12.10)
- “Love one another” (1 Thess. 3.12)
- “Love one another” (1 Pet. 1.22)
- “Love one another” (1 John 3.11)
- “Love one another” (1 John 3.23)
- “Love one another” (1 John 4.7)
- “Love one another” (1 John 4.11)
- “Love one another” (1 John 4.12)
- “Love one another” (2 John 5)
That’s the list—and as we would expect, it culminates with several references from the apostle of love. But we know this list is not complete. Love for the church is surely part of what our Lord himself describes as the second greatest commandment in the law (Matt. 22.37-40; see also 1 Thess. 3.12). Paul affirms that it is the more excellent way, the greatest character trait of godliness, and the fulfilling of the law (1 Cor. 12.31; 13.13; Rom. 13.8-10). And we’ve also seen Peter’s repeated exhortations to brotherly love.
The word “fruit” is singular. ↩︎
The New Testament Greek word translated love, or charity, is ἀγάπη, agapē (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary #26). ↩︎
Loving God with all our mind, and loving Christ according to truth, requires understanding, believing, and loving the truth about the Triune God, the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his atoning sacrifice in fulfilment of prophecy, etc., etc. See Luke 24.13-27; 44-47; John 5.39; 1 Cor. 15.3-4; 2 Thess. 2.7-14. ↩︎
This is the most solemn warning: those who have no love for Christ are “anathema”—accursed and cut off from God, still in their fallen state, “maranatha”—all who reject Christ remain in their sins, and liable for their sins at the coming of the Lord, or when they are brought before him on the Day of Judgment. ↩︎
See Rom. 8.14-16; 9.4; 11.24; Gal. 3.26-29; 4.4-7; Eph. 2.11-22. ↩︎