Cultivating the Fruit of Love
If you were to do a search on the word ‘love’ in the Bible you would find that it is scattered throughout the pages of Scripture. In fact, the word love appears in almost every book of the Bible. Love is a central theme of God’s own nature and character and his revelation to man. Three of the most significant themes of the Bible are faith, hope and love. In 1st Corinthians 13:13 the apostle Paul writes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Here we see that love is the apex of the Christian life. In fact, I would venture to say that the rest of the fruit of the spirit (joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) flows out of love itself.
But what is the ‘fruit of love’ and how does the Bible define it?
Firstly, if we were to look at a more worldly perspective on love it might look something like:
- Love is primarily based on feelings and emotion
- Love is having my needs met
- Love is based on conditions and the performance of others
- Love is self-focused (self is the object)
The above definition is why so many people fall out of love. They are largely basing love on an emotion and the barometer of having their personal needs met. While I am definitely not minimizing the importance of feelings or genuinely having our needs met in relationships, this is not the biblical definition of love or the fruit we are called to cultivate.
From a biblical perspective love is something completely different. Here is a sample of what the Bible conveys concerning love:
- Love covers all wrongs (Proverbs 10:12)
- Love is sincere (Romans 12:9)
- Love builds up (I Corinthians 8:1)
- Love does not indulge in the sinful nature but serves others (Galatians 5:13)
- Love is patient and kind (I Corinthians 13)
- Love is not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily angered (I Corinthians 13)
- Love does not keep a record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13)
- Love does no harm to its neighbor (Romans 13:10)
- Love seeks to love and pray for enemies (Matthew 5, Romans 12)
- Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10)
- Love strives to be one in purpose and spirit (Philippians 2:2)
- Love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8)
- Love drives out fear (I John 4:18)
- Love is primarily God and other-centered (Matthew 22:37-40)
In 1st John 3:16 the apostle John enlightens us on the ultimate biblical definition of love by stating, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Here we are informed that the true essence of the fruit of love is humility, other-centeredness, and self-sacrifice. The apostle Paul elaborates on the concept of Christ’s example of sacrificial love in Philippians 2:5-8 as he writes that Christ: made himself nothing, took on the nature of a servant, humbled himself, and became obedient to death. Christ demonstrated the heart and soul of the fruit of love by laying down his life for us that he might personally pay the penalty for ‘our’ sin, restore us to a right relationship with God, and enable us to have life to the full (John 10:10).
One would think that the direct opposite of love is hatred, and in many ways it is. However, the ultimate antithesis of the fruit of love is self-centeredness or self-preoccupation. The more we are inwardly motivated by a love of self the less we will grow and mature in the fruit of love. In Philippians 2:3-4 the apostle Paul elaborates more on this biblical concept of love as he calls us to, “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.” Here we are called to actually have an inward, humble attitude that others are more significant than we are, and that we are to look to their interests more than (or at least as much as) our own. This type of love is other worldly and often not an easy thing to do, yet this is the very fruit of love we are called to cultivate.
So how do we cultivate this fruit of love? The only way to cultivate true love is to gradually and inwardly let go of self. There is no magical formula, pill, or step-by-step procedure to weed out selfishness and self-centeredness. It is a slow process of dying to self. The simple matter is that the more we hold on to self and selfish desires the less we will grow in love. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) It appears that sacrificial and loving acts are a universal language. Wherever you go people are impressed with those who sacrifice their time, energy, and very lives for the sake of others. In fact, everyone I meet with tells me they feel a genuine sense of goodness inside when they have reached out and done something for the sake of someone else. This is because this kind of love flows out of God’s very nature and character, and is the kind of love he intends for us to display as his people. Cultivating the fruit of love simply starts by taking the proactive step to do something outside of yourself for the sake of someone else.