The Spirit's Fruit: Love

According to The Beatles, love is all you need. Of course, you won’t actually learn anything about love from their vapid lyrics, yet we need to learn about love, if we are to know God, and live glorifying him and blessing others.

Unquestionably, 1Corinthians 13 is the text that readily comes to mind when we think of love. There, Paul speaks of the preeminence of love as the greatest human character trait or virtue; greater than faith or hope. It should go without saying that for Paul faith, hope and love are understood in accordance with all of God’s written revelation. It is faith and hope in God, and the love of him of which Paul speaks. Along the way, he delineates what love is. It is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth, as well as bears, believes, hopes and endures all things. These affirmations, however, have to be understood within other texts that Paul also wrote in Romans 13:8 and Galatians 5:22-23.

In Romans 13:8 we read, “Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The law of which Paul wrote was the Ten Commandments and we know this because in the next verses Paul lists the commandments not to commit adultery, murder, theft and coveting. He concludes that section by writing, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Neither the Old Testament nor the New teach that obedience to God’s law is unnecessary, as if all that matter was our sincerity, or what we thought was a good effort at obeying God. No, actual obedient behaviors and motives are required by God, which means conforming our life—our words, thoughts and actions—to God’s law. Anything less is sin of which we must repent. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize we fall dreadfully short of conforming to this standard. What a blessing to know that God is love and that His Spirit resides with those who trust in him for their salvation. Here is the key to understanding how we are able to obey God’s law.

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul gives us a list of the fruit of God’s Spirit. Notice that it is fruit and not fruits. In other words, all the moral character traits listed in those two verses are organically united to each other, and ought to be understood as aspects of each other in one organic whole. I would submit to you that one of the proper ways to read that list is to recognize that it is another way of Paul describing love. In other words, that we might as easily put a colon after love rather than a comma, and recognize that Paul is saying that the fruit of God’s Spirit is love and it manifests itself in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Truly, each of these things listed after love are demonstrated in distinct ways, but are they also not manifestations of one another?

Do we not recognize that a parent who demonstrates patience with their child is thereby demonstrating kindness to them, revealing that they are at peace with where their child is in their development, and also demonstrating their faithfulness to their covenant obligations as a parent? Is it not true that a young couple that desire to marry yet abstain from sexual relations before marriage demonstrate patience with God’s providential timing and their love for God’s law by being faithful to their covenant obligations to one another prior to marriage? Is it not true that a husband who responds with gentleness to his wife’s frustrations is exercising some measure of patience and kindness? Doesn’t the mother who is growing tired of having to repeat herself to her children yet exercises self-control and says what needs saying yet once more, while not delivering harsh words, not demonstrate patience, kindness and gentleness?

All such actions are not only a demonstration of the various attributes that comprise love, but also remind us that the purpose for these human relationships governs how we ought to conduct ourselves in them. This purpose is God’s glory, or what reveals his character. This is why the greatest act of love was God the Father sending his own Son to die on a cross to pay the penalty for sin and break its power, so that all who trust in his Son might know freedom from sin, or be able to demonstrate the love of God. And that’s all the love you’ll ever need.       

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.   


David Smith