Love is probably the most well-known fruit of the Spirit, but it is also probably the most misunderstood. How do we make sure we are demonstrating real love?
Think of all the ways the word love is used today: “I love you, man.” “I’m falling in love!” “Only true love can break the spell.” “I love this chocolate.” “Tell your sister you love her and are sorry for hitting her.” “I don’t love you anymore.” “If you loved me, you would let me ….”
What is love?
“Love” has been horribly abused in today’s world. It has wrongly been used to describe selfish sexual lust. It’s been given as an excuse for passively enabling terrible sins to continue in the lives of loved ones. It’s been seen as an uncontrollable emotion that leads to destructive behavior, or as empty words thrown back and forth with no substance.
The love that is listed as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is much different. It is translated from the Greek word agape, used here to express the highest form of love that comes through the Holy Spirit. The love we are supposed to be demonstrating must be a godly love, which comes from God, the being who personifies this attribute.
Notice 2 John 1:6, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it” (emphasis added throughout).
The love Christians are expected to demonstrate as a fruit of the Spirit is based on the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). Love can be defined as outgoing concern demonstrated by following the commandments God has written in the Bible. The 10 Commandments show both how to have a true relationship with the Creator (appropriate respect and worship practices) and how to interact with and treat other human beings (avoiding what the Bible calls sin, which destroys relationships).
What is love? Love is a great gift from God. The Bible tells us that love suffers long, is kind, does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and never fails (paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 13, often called the Love Chapter).
Becoming more like God
God is love. The apostle John describes this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
God loved the world so much that He gave up His Son to face torture and crucifixion, taking the penalty of sin on Himself, so that we might have our sins forgiven and have access to His Holy Spirit (John 3:16). Those who say they are Christian and who strive to walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6) realize that God wants us to demonstrate the selflessness of love because He wants us to become more like Him.
Humanity has tried for thousands of years to get by without loving God or loving one another, and it hasn’t worked. The world is full of misery, pain, death, suffering and many other horrible realities. The world’s version of love unfortunately does not come from God, but rather from Satan, an embittered fallen angel who will stop at nothing to twist anything good God has given to man.
Why does God want us to demonstrate love? It is who and what He is, and He wants us to experience that and show those around us that they don’t have to settle for Satan’s mirage of shallow or twisted love.
An example of love to follow
A good example of love for our fellow man and love for God can be found in how Jonathan behaved toward David (found in 1 Samuel 18-20). It was a difficult time. David had been chosen by God as the next heir to the throne of Israel; and Jonathan’s father, King Saul, hated this.
Jonathan’s father was seeking to kill David. But Jonathan’s unselfish love toward David was so great that he did not resent or hate David for being chosen by God, instead of him, as heir to the throne. He also defied his father’s sinful behavior, putting a higher value on love to God and outgoing concern for his friend (what is right) than loyalty to a family member bent on sinning.
The example of Jonathan flies in the face of so many modern notions of love. Jonathan didn’t enable sin to please others. He didn’t help only if it was a benefit to him, and he didn’t leave God out of the picture.
An example to avoid
A very sad example of the wrong kind of love can be found in the story of how one of David’s sons, Amnon, “loved” his sister. The story is found in 2 Samuel 13, and it occurred many years into David’s reign as king of Israel.
Amnon let his heart and sexual lust guide him to the point of being physically ill because he could not possess his sister Tamar. When he finally had opportunity, he raped her and then immediately afterward spurned her, apparently forgetting how much he “loved” her. Even aside from the horrors of rape, Amnon’s “love” was nothing of the sort. It was selfish, sinful and certainly damaging.
The outcome of this was devastating to Tamar, who lived the rest of her days in isolation. Amnon also earned the hatred of his half-brother Absalom, who later murdered him.
Amnon’s “love” didn’t care that rape is a sin and that there would be dire consequences. It led him away from God and away from basic decency. Even modern society would look at this example and be appalled. Unfortunately, most today would not make the connection between Amnon’s selfish and physical/sexual-only view of love and the views permeating modern society.
Love self-examination questionnaire
- What is my definition of love? Does it coincide with what God has revealed?
- Do my actions show God’s love? Or do my actions show the world’s idea of love? Why?
- Does my love mainly benefit me? Or does my love largely benefit others?
- Do I love God more than any human being? What evidence in my life shows this?
How do we demonstrate more love?
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to guess that love is the most important fruit of the Spirit, simply considering that God is love. So how do we show more of it?
- Continually ask questions in our heads regarding our actions. (Was that action loving to God? To my neighbor?)
- Write down selfish thoughts when we catch them and determine how to change the thinking from inward to outward. (For example: “I don’t have time for his problems—I just need some ‘me’ time” compared to “My friend needs someone to listen to his problems right now, so I’ll stick around a little while to help him out if I can.”)
- Study and internalize God’s 10 Commandments (instructions about how to love God and our fellow man), and then strive to follow them every day of our lives.
Modern society promotes wrong types of “love” that have done everything short of completely destroying humanity. Christians are to be the beacon of a different love, a love that will ultimately save humanity.
Read more about God’s love in the articles “God Is Love” and “Love of God.” For more about the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, see our article “The Fruit of the Spirit” and the links to the other eight.