Rev. Smit is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada. Previous article in this series: December 1, 2006, p. 111.
Some time ago we considered an introduction to the truth of the fruit of the Spirit, which is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. At that time, we focused on the concept of the fruit of the Spirit itself. Now we will resume our meditative sketch of the fruit of the Spirit with an examination of each individual aspect as those aspects are mentioned in other parts of Scripture.
According to Galatians 5:22, the first of the nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit is love. Being first in the list does not mean that it is the first link in a long, loosely connected chain. Being first in the list means that love is fundamental to the whole fruit of the Spirit. Love is fundamental to the life of the justified and the sanctified believer. Because it is fundamental and vital to our new life in Him, Christ commands us to live in this love. In John 13:34-35, He said, “Little children . . . a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” He who by the working of the Spirit heeds that command of Christ and bears forth that pleasant fruit of love will then also be energized to bring forth the sweet fruit of joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance.
It is worthwhile to note that when Scripture speaks of the child of God and of love together, it frequently connects the two in the form of an exhortation. However, that is not so in Galatians 5:22. The Lord, through the inspired apostle Paul, does not exhort us to produce the fruit of love. The exhortation to love God and the neighbor may certainly be implied, but it is not explicitly stated.
What is the significance of the fact that Galatians 5:22 speaks of love as part of the fruit of the Spirit and as a spiritual reality in the sanctified child of God, but that Galatians 5:22 does not exhort us unto that love? The absence of the exhortation reminds us that the love that the redeemed and renewed children of God must express to God and the neighbor is the fruit of the Spirit. This love is not our work; and its existence in our lives does not have its source in us, nor is its continued existence dependent or conditioned on us, our faith, or any of our works. The Spirit of Christ is the miracle worker of the fruit-life in and through His people. The Spirit cultivates and nurtures the living branches, who have been ingrafted by Him into Christ Jesus. He is the agent of the Father and Christ to work by His sovereign, almighty, and irresistible grace in His elect regenerated people the fruit that God has foreordained that we must produce. When in this life we begin to learn and enjoy that fruit-life of love, that reality is not due to us, but it is the work of the Spirit. The Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit receive all the glory and the credit for this wonder of the fruit-life of love appearing and being exercised in us and by us.
How then does the Spirit cultivate and nurture that fruit of love in and through us throughout our life? He cultivates and nurtures love by the means of grace: the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Powerfully and irresistibly the Spirit calls us unto newness of life. In the justified, He works by the means of grace to purify us unto the production of love. He turns us from the hatred of our old flesh and leads us forth into the love of our new nature in Christ Jesus.
Consequently, it is vitally important that we attend a church where the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is most purely preached and the sacraments are faithfully administered according to the ordinances of Christ. By the means of grace, the Spirit uses many passages in Scripture, including John 13:34-35, to work in us the fruit of the exercise of true love. By the living Word of Christ, the Spirit of Christ cultivates, fertilizes, waters, and rigorously prunes us unto faithful production of the sweet fruit of love.
What is this fruit of love? True love is first of all love towards God. “I will love Thee, O LORD, my strength” (Ps. 18:1). True love is the spiritual activity of knowing Jehovah and delighting in Him. It is the pursuit of fellowship and communion with the triune God in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. He that loves God desires to know Him in all His glory and truth, especially as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus. This is evident from the psalmist’s confession in Psalm 18, in which he not only declares that he loves Jehovah, but also declares the reasons for his delight in communion with Jehovah: “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Ps. 18:2). For those glorious reasons, true love delights in God as our God in Christ Jesus and pursues blessed communion with Him.
As the apostle John reminds us frequently in I John 3-4, we must love God, and we must love our neighbor who is brought providentially upon our pathway. True love for God is demonstrated in our love for the neighbor. Therefore, in I John 3:23, the apostle John declares: “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” We learn that true love towards the neighbor seeks spiritual communion and fellowship in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. That is fellowship sought not in just anything, such as sin or false doctrines of men, but rather in a faithful confession of the name of Jesus Christ according to His Word and the truth. This we must exercise towards one another.
Now, to understand the quality and characteristics of this love that we must exercise, the Lord, in John 13:34-35, adds the sole standard of that love: “. . . as I have loved you.” Do you want to know what this love is that we must exercise towards one another? Look at Christ’s love towards you. Have you seen and tasted that love? According to the standard of the quality, sweetness, and beauty of Christ’s love towards you, so love one another.
As a result, what this love should be and how it ought to be exercised is not to be determined against the standard of what we feel like doing or not doing. We often attempt, and then fail, to exercise love in that way. Often our standard of love is whether it feels convenient or seems right to us in our own eyes. But that is not correct. The true standard that we are called by Christ to follow is clearly stated: “as I have loved you.”
How did Christ love us?
He gave Himself for us. He did not take anything from us except our guilt, in order to satisfy God’s justice for our justification. In all His work for us, He gave Himself for us who by nature are nothing and totally unworthy. Even though while He died for us we hated Him, yet He gave Himself for us.
He loved us unconditionally. He did not love us because we loved Him. He does not love us now because we love Him. He will not love us tomorrow because we love Him. He will not embrace us in His covenant love only if we embrace or desire to embrace Him first. We are not required to meet certain conditions before He seeks us and draws us unto Himself. Christ loves us unconditionally.
He loved us entirely. He did not withhold from us part of Himself. When He redeemed us by His complete sacrifice on Calvary, He did not hold anything back. He gave His heart, mind, and strength for us and to us. He even poured out His soul unto death for us.
Christ loved us faithfully. He never gave up on us half way or near to the end of His work of our redemption. It is not true that He loves us today, but tomorrow maybe He will not. His love was, is, and shall be unswervingly faithful unto us.
Christ loved us to the greatest extent of self-denial required. He wanted not His will, but the Father’s will to be done. Whatever was necessary for the salvation of His people, that was His will. Unto the fulfillment of that will of God, He denied Himself totally.
Christ loved us with a purpose. His purpose was always our salvation. He did not love, except unto the salvation of the objects of His love. Those whom Jesus loved were those whom the Father gave to Him from eternity. All those whom the Father chose in Christ, Christ loved unto the end of His earthly life on the cross. And such alone He continues to love with the purpose of our eternal salvation in glory with Him.
Finally, Christ loved us with a holy love that was always consecrated unto the Father first. His love is pure. His love is sinless. His love was and always is in harmony with the glory of the Father. Because Christ loved and loves the Father, Christ loved and loves us whom the Father gave to Him eternally. In His love unto us, Christ always has one eye of delight upon the glory of our Father.
As Christ loved us, so now must we love one another.
This does not mean that we can love entirely as Christ did. After all, Christ is our Lord and Savior, and, as a result, it is impossible that our love could redeem ourselves or anyone else from sin and death. Furthermore, our love is rooted and totally dependent upon His redeeming love unto us. Although we may never attain to the glory and power of Christ’s saving love, we must, nevertheless, pursue the standard of Christ’s love in the new man of Christ. The love that is revealed in Christ must be a delight to us, and to imitate that love of Christ must also be our delight.
An impossible standard for us to obtain? It certainly is for us. However, that forces us to see that Christ is not only the standard of this love, but Christ is also the perfection of that love that we must exercise to one another. Furthermore, Christ is the only and never failing fountain of that true love. Since we are living branches united to Christ, our Root and Tree, in Him we receive this love. Therefore, our desire must be that we produce this fruit of love out of Him by the working of the Holy Spirit in and through us.
In that hope, we must love one another. We must love our spouses and our children, even in their most undeserving behavior. We must love our parents in spite of their weaknesses and faults. We must love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. In fact, we must love our neighbor, who can vary from time to time in God’s providence. To such there must be exercised the fruit of love.
Our love must give. It must not take and abuse for carnal and selfish motives. It must not give and expect that it be returned. It must forget self and deny self. As Christ gave Himself for us, so must we give ourselves for the sake of the other.
Our love must not be exercised to one another only after certain conditions regarding the personality of the other person, and how well he has treated us, are first met. As Christ loved us, even when we were the least deserving of His love, so must we exercise the love of Christ towards one another.
Our love must be holy. Our love must not be carnal or motivated by lust or sin. True love cannot be enjoyed in the fellowship of sin and separation from God. Our love must be consecrated first to God and then to the neighbor according to God’s Word. As a result, true love will not compromise and stray into paths of sin, but, in contrast, it maintains a clear view of the beauty and glory of our holy Father and the spiritual salvation of one another.
Oftentimes we face the difficult and practical question of how to love someone who does not live in daily repentance but walks in a sin. How do we love those who by their walk of life or their denial of the truth show that they hate God and Christ? How can we love such?
It is true that we cannot love the wicked in their sin. There can be no communion with the ungodly, and there may be no attempts for the godly to have spiritual fellowship with the ungodly (II Cor. 6:14-18). There can be no true fellowship with the impenitent in his sin. Unrepented sin remains a barrier over and around which the ebb and flow of true communion cannot pass. Until sin is forsaken and there is reconciliation, there can be no true fellowship of love in Jesus Christ.
Hence, to love the wicked means that we may not tolerate their sin. We may not let the impenitent have the satisfaction of a soothed conscience in the thought that we no longer are offended by what they consider to be just another way of life. In one way or another, we must address sinners and their offense, which divides and separates them from full communion. The influence of our example, our conversation, or our attempts to call them to repentance should irritate and prick their conscience and force them to think about their sin and their duty to repent in the light of God’s Word.
In that way, our love is both holy and purposeful. It is holy as God is holy. And it has the purpose to seek the repentance of the impenitent and their escape in Christ Jesus from spiritual ruin.
If the Lord so wills that the barrier of the offense is removed through the way of repentance and reconciliation, then communion and friendship may ebb and flow between two hearts joined in the Lord and in the peace of His shed blood. Therein will be enjoyed the sweetness of the fruit of true love as Christ has so loved us.
Let us seek the Lord earnestly in prayer for His grace and Spirit, in order that we may have this fruit of love more and more. What a delightful life and privilege it is to be the blessed recipient of the love of Christ and to love one another as He loved us.