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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Love

June 3, 2012

 

Sermon:  The Fruit of the Spirit Is Love
Text:  Galatians 5:22-23; I Corinthians 13; Philippians 2

 

Spartanburg, South Carolina, has fourteen certified roadside markets, businesses that specialize in locally grown fruits and vegetables.  Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and peaches are currently available.  Clare can hardly wait until figs and nectarines are harvested.  I am looking forward to tomatoes, sweet corn, and cucumbers soon and to apples, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins in the fall.

Throughout the summer season here at Morningside, we will have an opportunity to enjoy fresh produce.  Do not get me wrong, though.  We are not going to set up a market.  Now, if you want to bring some tomatoes and offer them as the first fruits to the high priest, that will be fine.  He will be glad to receive those.

I preached a sermon one time about the joys of homegrown tomatoes, and our family was covered up with tomatoes the following week.  Our son Erik later suggested, “Dad, it’s time for a sermon about sweet corn.”

Throughout the summer season, we are going to talk about fruits not grown in a garden, but fruits of a different kind identified by the Apostle Paul as the Fruit of the Spirit. 

Look with me at Galatians 5:22-23, a passage I want you to write on the tablets of your heart.  Paul includes nine elements here that he identifies as the Fruit of the Spirit, fruit that God desires to see our lives:  “The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  These fruits do not just happen automatically.  They do not crop up; instead they must be cultivated, nurtured.

My purpose in spending nine Sunday sermons on one passage of Scripture is so that we, as Christians, can cultivate in our lives these specific qualities.  Over the course of the summer, we will consider each characteristic of the Christian life Paul mentions in this text.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was a part of what was called the District 7 Choir.  The director at that time, Pauline Crews, was all business.  She wanted her choir members to sing by the book and appear presentable at all times.  That year the choir was scheduled to perform at Memorial Auditorium.  While traveling on the bus to the auditorium, I sang a song that was not a part of our concert agenda.  A girl sitting near me heard the words, got sick on her stomach, and threw up all over her new dress.  She was not happy.  Her mother was not happy, and Mrs. Crews was not happy.

The next day Mr. E.P. Todd, the school’s principal, called me to his office.  Mr. Todd was legendary.  Later the elementary school was named for him.  I had never before been called to the principal’s office, but I knew of a huge paddle there.  I had never seen Mr. Todd use it, but I was worried.

When I saw Mr. Todd’s face, I knew he was not happy either.  He started our meeting with, “Kirk, you have really upset Mrs. Crews.”

I answered, “Yes, sir.”

“You have also upset this girl in your class and her mother.  Explain to me what you were doing on the bus.”

“Mr. Todd, I was just singing as we were riding to the auditorium to present a program.  I was just singing a song.”

“I want you to sing that song to me now.”

I stood there in the office, eyeing both that big paddle and Mr. Todd.  He did not crack a smile as I sang these words:

            Nobody likes me.  Everybody hates me.  I guess I’ll go eat worms.
            Big fat juicy ones, long slim slimy ones.  Gee how they squiggle and squirm.         
            Bite their heads off.  Suck their juice out.  Throw their skins away.
            Nobody knows how a man can survive on worms three times a day.
 

“Kirk, where did you learn that song?”

“My mother taught it to me.”

“Please do not sing on Mrs. Crews’ bus ever again.”

“Yes, sir.”

That was my last experience with a choir of any kind.

The song I sang that day begins with a lie.  It is wrong to say that nobody loves you, that nobody likes you.  That claim is just not true.  You are, in fact, loved.  At times people do not especially feel loved.  At times everyone thinks they have been left out when it comes to receiving a portion of love.

Our society is guilty of trivializing love.  General Motors sells a pick-up truck named LUV.  A disposable diaper is named LUVS.  We talk about loving athletic teams, loving flavors of ice cream, loving this song or loving that hair style, loving all kind of objects.  When we use the word love in that way, we make its meaning very trivial.

The Bible includes four Greek words for love.  Eros is sexual love, romantic love, passionate love, physical and sensual love.  This spine-tingling love is addressed in the Song of Songs, which is a rather steamy book.  So often in our society when people talk about love, they are referring to that spine-tingling emotion.  Jesus talks about eros when he addresses lust.  He traces the sin of adultery right back to the dragon’s lair of a lustful look.

A second kind of love described in the Bible, philia, is the close friendship one has for another, maybe the friendship between best friends.  It is brotherly love, as in the word Philadelphia, which means the “City of Brotherly Love.”  Jesus says that he is our friend.  He even declared, “I call you my friends” (John 15:15).  He is with us in everything, participating in all our joys and victories, as well as in all our struggles and defeats.  We even sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

A third kind of love mentioned in the Bible is the Greek word storge.  It is the love of family relationships, the love of parent for child and the love of child for parent.

The love that is greater than any other love is agape.  It is committed, unconditional love that seeks only the best in others.

If you search the works of literature, philosophy, and history of ancient Greece, you will find that eros, philia, and storge are used rather frequently.  Agape rarely appears in the secular writings of the Greek people.  In the religious writings of the New Testament, however, agape appears quite often.  This love is a Christian distinctive.  We understand, at least in a beginning way, the kind of love that God has for us.  John 3:16 speaks of this love:  “God so loved the world – us – that he gave his only begotten Son.”  Agape love, which defines the Christian experience, puzzles so much of the world.  “See how they love each other?” they said of the early Christians.  “They will know we are Christians by our love,” states a song.  This agape love, different from the three others, is the first component Paul includes in his list called the Fruit of the Spirit.

In some ways we could regard the entire story of the Bible as a love story – from the creation of the world to the protection of the Israelites, from God’s sending a Savior and to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  This Book sends us a simple but powerful message:  God loves us and expects us to love each other.  When Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he goes back to the Shema that says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your strength’” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Then he refers to the Holiness Code found in Leviticus 19:18 and says, “There is a second commandment like unto the first:  ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”  What is the Christian message in a nutshell?  Love God with all that you have:  heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love other people as if you were the other person.  The word agape is used in both instances.

I invite you to turn to I Corinthians 13, a chapter that defines the Christian distinctive of agape love, committed love.

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.

My preference at Verse 7 is the wording of older translations, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

What does this passage say about the kind of love that we are to cultivate in our lives?  It tells us that authentic love…

–          Shows patience and kindness, using words and actions that are gentle, encouraging, and supportive

–          Harbors no envy or jealousy of time, space, recognition, promotion, or growth

–          Rejects pride and arrogance

–          Treats others with respect, understanding their value, recognizing their feelings and emotions, honoring their history, and offering hope for their future

–          Builds up another person, refraining from insult or sarcasm, a word that means “cutting the flesh”

–          Considers the needs of others rather than insisting on its own way and putting its own needs, schedule, and finances ahead of another

–          Presents no threat of physical or emotional abandonment

–          Discusses, resolves, and forgives, leaving the past in the past and keeping no record of wrongs

–          Rejoices with those who rejoice in the truth, not in evil or wrongdoing

–          Accepts others as equals, refraining from passing judgment and imposing a dictatorial relationship

–          Accepts imperfection in the beloved, including mistakes, errors, and faults

–          Believes a person’s word, eliminating the need for interrogation and drill

–          Speaks the truth in love, not creating false fear, harsh judgments, or false insecurities

–          Listens to the truth about its own faults and need for improvement

–          Bears all things, endures all things, looking for a new life-giving way of creating a path that is fair, safe, and empowering for all parties

One student observed, “Love may never fail, but it doesn’t make straight A’s either.”  That conclusion is absolutely right.  Our love is imperfect.

If Clare and I sat down and went through this list together, she would say, “Kirk, I see that you need some improvement here.”  I would probably see areas in her love that need improvement as well.  Agape love is not perfect, but we must ask, Is it growing?  Are we cultivating this very important fruit by looking at Jesus?  We see the supreme example of agape love in him.

Children come into this world entirely self-centered, believing that they are the center of the universe.  The child I held in my arms last night believes she is the center of the universe.  Why shouldn’t she?  We treat her like she is.  The time comes when children find out that they are not the center of the world.  Love, as it matures, must become humble.  Only loving with humility, which we see in Jesus, would allow the washing of feet.  Ephesians 3:18-19 says, “being rooted and grounded in love, we may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length and height and depth; and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”

Paul describes, in that great hymn of Philippians 2, our love, which is supposed to emulate Jesus’ love.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
     did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
     taking the very nature of a servant,
     being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
     he humbled himself
     and became obedient to death—
          even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
     and gave him the name that is above every name,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
     in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
     to the glory of God the Father.

The love of Jesus is not only humble; it is also sacrificial.  Think about what he gave for us.  He gave his life.  Paul writes to husbands, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  A husband is not to lord it over his wife but to be a servant.  Paul writes in Romans 5:8 about the sacrificial love of Christ:  “God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he laid down his life for a friend” (John 15:13).  In Jesus, we have received the perfect love, “love divine, all love’s excelling.”  John writes in his first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love” (I John 4:7).

Can this love be cultivated in our lives?  We can agree that no one, except for Jesus, has perfect love.  Only divine love is perfect.

Simon Peter declared his love for Jesus just before his arrest, saying, “Lord, if I have to go to death with you, I will go.”

Jesus’ response was, “Simon, Satan has sought to sift you.  Before the rooster crows in downtown Jerusalem, you are going to deny me three times.”  Jesus’ prediction came true.

Following Jesus’ resurrection, Simon Peter told his colleagues, “I am going fishing,” which meant that he was returning to the way of life that he knew before signing on to be a disciple.  His first night out fishing, he caught nothing.  Early the next morning Simon Peter and other disciples in the boat looked toward the beach and saw a figure standing by a fire.  This person was expecting them to catch fish, but they had caught nothing.  The person, Jesus, called out to them, “Have you caught anything?”

No fisherman wants to hear that question after fishing all night but not catching anything.  Do not ask that question until you get a chance to look in the cooler and see if any fish are inside.

Jesus suggested, “Cast your net on the other side of the boat.”  Scripture tells us that they pulled in a net full of fish – 153 to be exact.  Why so precise a count?  William Barkley suggests only 153 countries were in the known world at that time.  Catching that exact number of fish was a way of saying, “You are fishers of men who will reach the world.”

While eating breakfast, Jesus spoke to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”

Here Jesus is asking Simon Peter if he loved with agape love, with a committed love.

We see here a play on Greek words.

Simon Peter responded, using the word philia, not agape.  “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.”  He was saying that he loved Jesus like a brother.

Jesus asked a second time, still using the word agape, “Simon, do you love me?”

Again Peter answered using philia, “Lord, I love you.”  Peter could not say, “I love you with agape love, committed love” because he had denied Jesus three times.

Jesus asked one final time, “Simon, do you love me?”  This time, however, Jesus substituted the word philia.

Peter responded, “Yes, I love you like a brother.”

What did Jesus do here in asking the same question three times?  He erased Simon Peter’s three-fold denial.  What else did Jesus accomplish here?  He wanted Peter to love him with agape love, committed love, but Peter just could not quite do it because he knew that his love was imperfect.  The sting of denial was still in Peter’s heart.  Peter was able to answer yes to Jesus’ final question, “If you cannot love me with agape, would you love me with philia – like a brother?”  By the end of his life, Peter was a Christian filled with agape love.  The Lord Jesus had cultivated that in Peter, and he can do the same for us.  We must understand that Jesus always loves us with agape love.

George Mattheson, who was engaged to be married, developed an eye problem.  He learned from his physician that in just a matter of weeks he would be permanently blind.  The doctor encouraged Mattheson to talk to his fiancée about this medical condition’s effect on their future together.

George told her about his eye ailment and asked her to consider marrying a man who would soon be blind.  After giving the matter some thought, she said, “George, you are right.  I want to break the engagement.”  His heart broken, Mattheson returned to his room and wrote the hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.”  Everyone wants that type of love.  It is the love that will never fail us, the love that will not let us go, even when other loves fail.

When we realize that the Lord Jesus loves us in that manner, he cultivates within our soul a desire to love others in the same way.  Agape love is the very first quality listed as a Fruit of the Spirit.  In many ways learning to love has everything to do with the other fruits being cultivated within our soul.

Do you know this love of Jesus that will never let you go?  If you have never accepted this love, could I invite you to make the decision to acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of your life?  If God has laid this on your heart, we invite you to respond to the deep, deep love of Jesus.

Kirk H. Neely
© June 2012
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