1. Fruit of Spirit Series: Love

23 04 2016

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

Topic #1 of the Fruits of the Spirit deals with love.  Honestly, I feel like the word Love is used in so many different contexts.  I’m not going to make a comment on the over-use of the word love, but I will try to clearly be specific on the context that I am talking about.  The kind of love that I am talking about today is love that we share between and for people, not the kind of love we have for a cheeseburger, or video games.  But the kind of love that we have for others that we share our lives with, and that we run into each day.

One of the themes in scripture that I have studied the most in discipleship training deals with how the disciple of Jesus is identified through.  I notice several things from scripture and I’d like to share some characteristics of that love:

Characteristics of the Love of God

  1.  God demonstrated love first.   

1 John 4:9-10 says:  “This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  God loved us first.  Before anything else, before anyone else, he loved us first.  That’s it.  There’s no ifs ands or buts about it.  The thing is, we’ve done nothing to merit or earn God’s love.  At all.  Period.  We have nothing to brag about, as being special or unique, and so God loves us.  He loves us because of who he is.  It’s not in his nature to hate anyone, because he is all love.

2.  God’s love does not change based on my emotions. 

This is a theme throughout scripture.  Before we even talk about Jesus and who Jesus is and the person of Jesus, we have to look at the overarching themes and stories of love.

One of my favorite stories in all of scripture is the story found in Hosea.  If you want to look at a love story, look at Hosea.  It’s a little overwhelming, particularly when you examine it in the light of God’s love for us, which it, from my understanding, is a very accurate reflection of God’s love for us, and was intended to be an allegory.  Very shortly and briefly, the story of Hosea is this:  Hosea is called to be a prophet, and he is instructed, by God, to marry a prostitute.  He is obedient and marries Hagar.  They’ve been together for a bit, and she runs back to her old life, and becomes pregnant.  She does that several times, and each time, Hosea goes back and takes her back.

If I am honest, my commitment to God isn’t as steady as it could be.  But instead, it rocks and rolls similarly to the ocean tides.  Sometimes, it’s really rocky and windy due to a storm, and other times, it’s just cycling over and over again.  But you know what?  God’s commitment to me does not waver, it does not increase or decrease based on my response to God’s love.  It’s not about how committed I am to God, because really, I don’t have a choice.  God has already committed himself to me, and he shows this in Hosea 2:19:  “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.”

This is regardless of my response.  Regardless of when I run or how I run.  It’s regardless of how I feel.  From that, I have determined that my love for others, it must be regardless of how I feel.  It must be regardless of whether my feelings are hurt or not, it must be regardless of anything.  My ultimate goal has to be to love people regardless of their response.  Sometimes, people can’t accept love, because of all of the ways they’ve been hurt in the past or how they preconceive that love is….but the thing is, I must love on God’s definition.  And God’s definition is not like humanly definition.  God’s definition is already about commitment, regardless of what I do.  I’ve done nothing to deserve or earn it, but it is my joy to enjoy it, as a free gift.  And that should also be our task, to show others that same type of love, regardless of who they are, their response or what they have done to us.

 

Therefore…..

  1.  If God is love, then we are to love others too.

It’s easier to hate people.  It honestly is.  It’s easy for me to write someone off instead of getting to know them.  It’s easier for me to arbitrarily just decide that I don’t like someone or that I don’t want to share my life with someone, simply because of some random thing that I have decided makes a person unworthy of love.  If I am honest, humanly honest, I have written off people in the past, because I decided that one aspect of them didn’t appeal to me.  I decided that they were not good enough or something.  Thankfully, I have learned the errors of my ways, and am maturing enough to finally realize that everyone has value and is worthy of being loved.  But it takes something for you to be able to recognize that it’s not up to us to decide who gets to be loved.  It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy, because all people are loved.  And therefore, all people are worthy of being loved.  Here’s some convicting words:  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  -1 John 4:7-8.

That thought always sobers me.  When we refuse to love someone, or we decide that someone is not worthy of being loved, we are not of God, and we are not a believer.  That means, in previous moments where I have decided that I don’t want to love others, it means that I haven’t been of God.  And anytime that I used my own reasons to justify why I am not going to love others, then I am not being who I am supposed to be, and I am not loving like I am supposed to.  I am not being obedient like I am supposed to be, and I am not showing love like I am commanded to.

The fact is, the failure to love marks us as nothing but ignorant of the commandments and the person of God.  When I allow politics, my personal beliefs, preferences, or what have you, to discolor my viewpoint of a person, or to prevent me from loving a person, or prevent me from making a person feel like they are loved, then I am in the wrong.  I am in the entire wrong mind frame, and I am in the wrong.

It’s hard to accept that.  It’s hard to be honest with myself and it’s hard for me to call myself out on my wrongness, particularly when I think that I have a good enough of an excuse to justify my hatred or dis-love of others.  I think the reason that the writer of 1 John was so severe, was because he recognizes the weight of love, and the impact and power of love.  See, God endured Calvary for the weight of love.  And so, we should also reflect that weight.  We should also be mindful of the saving power of love, because it is love that allowed us to be redeemed and ransomed.

2.  God’s love makes us sincere in love.

It’s easy to say that we love someone, but it’s much harder to actually do it.  It’s easy to do when the people we love, love us back.  But when they don’t meet our “standards?”  When they don’t meet our expectations?  But what if they hurt us?  What if they upset us?  What if they do something wrong?

The problem with that assumption, is that we are assuming that love has something to do with us and our emotional state of being.  But that is a lie.  See, love should be shown regardless of what we feel or our personal state of being.

How can you do that?  Honestly, it’s very difficult.  But that’s part of sanctification (the process of growing closer with God), because the more that I am close to God, the more that I can and am able to become more like God.  And the more I become like God, the more that I can love people like God does.  Scripture says:  “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” -1 Peter 1:22

We can only love, like God does, when we have been growing, and when we know a thing or two about God’s love.  Then, we can obey the truth, and have sincere love for others.  Sincerity is something that is rare in our world today, because it’s hard to take people at anything other than face value, or to imagine that they don’t have ulterior motives.  The people who follow God and have a relationship with God, should love sincerely, without reserve.  When we fail to do so, then we don’t accurately reflect the love of God as it truly is and reflect the experience of God’s love for us.


But, the question remains:  What is sincere love?

This is a very stereotypical answer, but let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13.  “If I speak in the tongues  of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

To answer that, very quickly, I want to pull out three more additional points about love:

  • If I am spiritual at all, but I do not love, then my works are worth nothing, and I am not reflecting the grace and love that has ransomed me.
  • Love is a very tall order. It moves beyond my own mere human definition, and into something else, something motivated by more than just selfish desires.
  • As I grow, my love will mature and change. And if it doesn’t, then I don’t know love at all.

 

Conclusions

The first thing that I’ve realized through studying these passages, is that I have a lot of ways to grow in love.  But, thank God, how I have grown!  It’s always enlightening and encouraging to see where you have grown and matured!  It’s always a burst of gratitude when I see where God has moved and changed me, how he has changed me.

And if love of God changes me and allows me to mature, how also, could my love for others help to grow others?  If love from God helps me to grow, then it could also help others to grow, and how I could be a beacon of hope and love for others, especially those who need it.

I don’t get to decide and define who God loves, and I don’t get to decide and define who is worthy of my love, and I don’t get to limit love at all.

And the cool thing about love?  “Against such, there is no law.”

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Intro: Fruits of the Spirit Series

16 04 2016

Walking through a store, you can’t help but to hear the random cry of “but I want it!” The scream is shrill, piercing, and you know it is a small boy or girl that is screaming for something.  Then, I hear “But you have so many other toys at home.”  “It doesn’t matter, I want it!”  The child probably has an already over-flowing toy box that isn’t able to contain all of the toys.  There’s a mountain of toys in another room, sprawled out everywhere.  You can’t walk through the living room without stepping on a matchbox car, and you can’t take a bath without finding a rubber toy floating in the tub with you.  There’s legos on the kitchen table, and a discarded bike lying out on the carport.  The fact of the matter is not what toy brings the child the most enjoyment and allows the child to disappear into the wonderland of imagination to create stories of adventure and drama, heroes and villains, cowboys and Indians, car chases and rescue vehicles.  Instead, the focus is on having the newest, or having the “mostest” toys.  As we grow up, we pride ourselves as being able to depart from the materialism.  We pride ourselves on being able to purchase things that are needed and we balance needs with wants.  We buff ourselves up, thankful that we are able to depart from that mentality.

When we go into our spirituality, we are taught that less is more, and that we should not seek the material things.  Where that place of the heart is concerned, we spend our time at spiritual events and we focus on the activities.

In a world where things are so quantity-driven, we as humanity have been chasing the things that give us a sense of quality.  We like the nicest and next big thing and look to the things that give us a sense of identity and give us the results that we want.  And the church is no exception to that.  The church is no departure away from that sense of status and it is no departure away from the quantity-ness of our society.  The life of a Christian is no exception to the quantity trend.  We hold programs and activities designed to attract people, we count our “visitors” that darken the doorways and we keep record of our attendance numbers.  We count ourselves successful when we have more people in the church today than we did a year ago, have raised more than our missions offering goal, or exceed the expected donations for a random drive of clothing or food.  We congratulate ourselves when we find value in numbers.

Unfortunately, we are never called to be concerned about quantity of people.  We are not called to keep attendance records or to programming and events.  We are not called to spend our time and efforts focusing on how we can grow our church numbers.  We are not called to make these things our focus and priority.  We are not called to make material or worldly growth a priority.  So many people would give you the statement to say that checking attendance and keeping record of numbers are not bad or sinful.  However, if I am honest, I’m not going to say that, because doing so tends to forget the individual behind the number, and it erases people of their individuality and their humanity and gives them the label of “visitor #2” instead of John.  It’s so easy when we do that, to just count it as a victory to add to the cause, instead of a person.  And when we do that, we forget to see the people as people, and we don’t invest in them.

We are not called, as a people, to numbers.  We honestly aren’t called to keep record of attendance, we are not called to keep track of numbers.  We aren’t supposed to worry about all that.  Instead, we are called to something more.  We are called to nothing higher than our own personal growth of ourselves, to the side of the God who loves us and who shares his life to us.  We are not called to the growth of the church, but to the relationship that we have with our Creator.  Never, does God say to us, to focus on the growth of the body of Christ, but he says to us, “Come near to me.”  He calls to us “Come close to me.”  “Know me.”

One of the most meaningful passages of scripture continue to be brought up time and time again recently.  I’ve continually heard and re-heard these verses.  In my college years, I spent some time in an in-depth study of this chapter as part of some discipleship training I experienced while serving in a church in Boone.  The passage that this training was based upon is as follows:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

-John 15:1-8 (NIV)

I won’t delve into an in-depth discussion or exposition of this passage, but I think that it is clear that it is our duty to remain close to the true vine, and to continue to grow in him.  As we grow, we go through seasons of our lives where we are pruned, or cut back, painfully exposed to the elements of the world that is designed to help us grow.

The purpose of our pain, and our existence is that we produce fruit.

The modern church seems to think that fruit is in numbers.  The modern church seems to think that success is fruit, and that as long as we are adding new people to the body of Christ, then we are growing and we are producing fruit.

Nowhere in the passage does it tell us to add more people to the belief of Jesus.  Instead, it is all about us abiding in God, and finding ourselves and our identity in Jesus.  Instead, it’s all about remaining connected.  It’s about discipleship, the intentional seeking of a closer relationship with the Creator through study, meditation upon scriptures, and through other experiences in which God communicates to us.  It’s about us seeking God and being discontented with just meaningless things, but seeking to be changed and transformed by the power of God.  It’s not about numbers.  It’s all about personal growth and growing intimacies with God.

But…it tells us to produce fruit?  What is fruit?  Is it apples?  Oranges?  Well yes, those are fruits, but this is not the kind of fruit that the scripture talks about.  In the context of the scriptures, it doesn’t even really talk about the expansion of the faith or missions.  Later in the scriptures, Jesus talks about how the disciples are to remain in love and they are to back that love up with actions.  And that, my friend, is all about discipleship.  Jesus even tells them how they are to grow and how they are to mature, and it is because….

“When the Friend I plan to send you from the Father comes—the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father—he will confirm everything about me. You, too, from your side must give your confirming evidence, since you are in this with me from the start.”

-John 15:26-27

So, basically, he says that the disciples will be given a spirit that will not only confirm everything that Jesus said he was, but he will also come, and give you the power to produce fruit and will produce fruit in your life too!

When I first considered the question of “What is fruit?”  God gave me a new awareness of what “fruit” is considered.  It’s not numbers, but instead…

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

We don’t see fruit that way, do we?  Generally, fruit, as Jesus was saying, I don’t think he was talking about numbers or growth.  I think he was talking more about discipleship.  He was talking about how we grow nearer and nearer to the father, and as we grow nearer, then we embody the fruits of the spirit.  And that, my friend, is fruit.

That is what we are called to produce.

Not numbers, not church growth, but individual, spiritual fruits, that allow us to live in relationships with each other.

When we do that?  That’s when the church numbers start to grow.  That’s when people experience the saving love of God.  That’s when we start to make a difference in our world.


I feel called to start a series, about the fruits of the spirit.  In this process, I will examine all of the fruits of the spirit, using scripture, personal experiences and concepts to confirm that which I think that the Christian is called to produce in their life as fruit.  I will be examining each of the fruits of the spirit and will be using discussions.  I don’t know how often I will post, but I will finish this series.  Stay tuned for more updates!