Fruit of the Spirit: LOVE.

Galatians 5:22-23 - "But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Against such things that is no law."

Paul said elsewhere that three core characteristics remain when all virtues are pruned and purged...Faith, Hope, and Love.  That's what he said to the Corinthians in Chapter 13.  He was doing spiritual triage for the church in Corinth, breaking things down to their lowest common denominator.  So much to think about and to do...what mattered most?  If I had to chose one above the other, what are the top three? And if I had to chose just one, could you deduce or reduce it to the wellspring from which all the other virtures find their source?  So Paul took the bait and did just that.

"Faith, Hope, and Love....these three remain, BUT the greatest of these is Love."  Is faith great?  No question.  Is hope necessary?  Undoubtedly.  But Love, it stands in a league of its own.  When things are high, it ascends higher.  When anything is said to be great, it is greater still.  In a city of skyscrapers, it is the one that towers above them all.

When a rule-keeper tried to trap Jesus by asking which is the greatest commandment of the 613 that existed in that day, Jesus took the bait just like Paul.  Of all the things he could choose, of all the things he could say...He closed his eyes allowing all the laws to converge like creeks, brooks, and rivers.  Instead of selecting a specific stream, he opted for the ocean...the place where all streams ultimately flow.  LOVE God and LOVE Others.  Love is the Ocean, it is unparalleled when comparing one body of water against another on planet earth.

Paul argues that it eclipses all other vitues.  Jesus seems to propose that it encapsulates all other laws.

And here in Galatians when Paul lists nine fundamental fruits of the Spirit, should it alarm us that Love is the launching pad?  Love comes first.  Love dominates the conversation.  Love walks in the room and her beauty makes every other maiden look haggard and bedraggled in comparison.  It's not even fair.  She simply outshines them all.

When John chose to describe God in the book of 1st John, he simply said, "God is Love."  He even went further to say that anyone who doesn't love doesn't actually know God because that is who he is: Love.  Chapter it.  It couldn't be any clearer.  It is the axis and praxis of faith.  It is the primal and peripheral.  It has no equal and no rival.  It is the undesputed heavy weight champion of the world...hands down!

When Jesus called his disciples to emulate His way, he would often call them to deeper love.  To love their neighbor (Samaritans) and to love their enemies (Romans).  He called them to love each other and said this is how the world would "know" that they were 'genuine' disciples.  "They will know you are my followers by the love you have one for another."  It was the calling card.  This virtue was the cornerstone and capstone of the new covenant.  It wasn't a new command, but it was being fleshed out anew through the incarnation--Christ's first, the Church's second.  Incarnation (love taking on flesh and dwelling among people) would be the new norm.

And Jesus couldn't stop asking the consummate question, "Do you love me?"  Even when those closest to him would answer, "You know I do, Lord", he would persist.  "Do you really love me?"  Once he asked three times in a row with Peter just to seal the deal.  Peter was exasperated...borderline annoyed.  But Jesus was making a statement by asking a question...this is quintessential.  This is first and best.  If some stuff doesn't make it into the future of faith as things are passed down from one generation to the next, make sure love does.  Don't let this drop, don't let this fade.  Many virtues are admirable, but love is essential.  Lose it and you lose everything.  Remember, the greatest of all is love.  No questions asked.  Period.

I don't know if what I've written convinces anyone toward conviction, but I hope so.  Love has to be out front in our faith.  If we lead at all, we must lead with love.  It must be the first thing people see when they meet us and attend church.  It must be what they feel when they are in the presence of God's people.  It must be what they hear when we speak and leave knowing after we've spoken.  After all is said and done, love must remain.  All else can fall as chaff or rise as dross, but love must be the abiding and enduring fruit of our lives.  The paragon of all virtues.

It would make sense that if love is this important, that it would be the hardest trait to cultivate and demonstrate.  It would be under seige from all sides.  The target of all that is evil, the devil's main object of extermination.  Start there and all else will fall.  Rip love asunder and you will have successfully torn apart the very fabric of faith.  Paul says, "Without love anything and everything we could ever do is nothing."  He says all virtuous living profits nothing and is nothing apart from love. (I Cor. 13)  Staggering.  And he elabroates in case we need examples...his analogies are some pretty impressive things.  Speaking with the tongues of men and angels.  Could you have any better communication?  Faith that moves mountains.  Who doesn't want that prayer life?  Surrendering your body to the flames.  Martyrdom for the cause of could you question that kind of commitment?  The understanding of all mysteries and knowledge.  Who could argue that good theology and philosophy are paramount?  Giving all you have to the poor.  Is Paul really seperating charity and love?  Yes.  You can't be a philanthropist, a humanitarian...and if it's not driven by love and dripping with amounts to nothing.  Nothing.  NOTHING. (Again, read I Corinthinans 13 if you don't believe me.  He keeps pounding the love theme as if to get us to say, "enough already, we get it.")  Just sayin'.

I've always heard the opposite of love is hate, but that's not what I'm witnessing.  To me it's indifference.  It's inaction.  Sure there are some haters out there, but, by and large, love's greatest threat is a life lived in the borderland of nuetrality.  The neither-nor/both-and nonsense that affects little change and inflicts little conviction on it's surrounding.  Love comes to medicate as well as aggitate.  It never simply exists.  It lives and its presence makes a difference.  It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  It has lips that kiss, but also teeth that bite.  It won't let things stay the same if the same represents anything less than the dream, desire, and design of God.  It stirs up an appetite for more.  It won't tolerate injustice. It won't stand idly by while something "other than" love is is on the offense and as such often is offensive to the status quo.  It doesn't blend into the scenery, in fact, it can be known to make a scene.  Not the kind of obnoxious scene you've maybe seen Christianity make along the way.  No, this kind of love is so subversive and intriguing that it stands out when side by side with normalcy.  Which makes sense...cause you can't make a difference unless you're different.  Love is different...good different.

It listens differently.  It speaks differently.  It leads differently.  It follows differently.  It parents differently.  It plays differently.  It studies differently.  It observes differently.  It writes differently.  It works differently.  It employs differently.  It befriends differently.  It LIVES differently.

Just when you're used to how things typically are, love shakes up what you're used to and reminds you that there is more.  It begins to show you that settling for the path of least resistance and most convenience is a small life.  It takes you toward the mess often times and calls you to get yourself dirty in order to make the world a better place.  It doesn't ask you to change the whole world, of course, but it won't stop pestering you to change someone's world.  It won't let you walk past "that" anymore, it wants you to be "bothered by that" and actaully do something about it, big or small.  It will ask you to risk your reputation if that's what it takes.  Love is fierce.  Love doesn't cower or run for cover, it runs toward the roar.  It makes it's mark on the sands of time by engaging the world with the scandalous message of the gospel.  What is that message?  Love left the comforts of heaven to rescue us and redeem us.  He wants us to join him in that mission.  Love wants us to join him in his mission of love.  Will we?

So what is the first thing you'll notice about a person possessed by the Spirit of God?  Scandalous Love.  Fierce Love.  Unstoppable Love.  If you don't see that, you're not looking at a Christ-follower. This should always be the lowest hanging fruit of a person of faith.  If love's not there, God's not there.  That just had to be said.


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