Fruitful Living ~ Godly Love
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Fruit of the Spirit ~ Sunday, June 16, 2019
In the animated movie, ‘Despicable Me’, Gru is a criminal mastermind and supervillain who has his pride injured when another unknown supervillain steals the Great Pyramid of Giza, making all other villains look lame. Gru decides to do better and seeks to acquire a shrink ray in order to steal the moon. In order to steal the shrink ray, he pretends to be a dentist and adopts three orphan girls so they can enter his archenemy’s lair as girl scouts selling cookies. The cookies are actually little robots that help Gru steal back the shrink ray his enemy had stolen from him.
However, as soon as he gets the girls, Gru has difficulty getting them ready for the heist because they are rambunctious, busy with ballet classes, and just busy being kids. Eventually they manage to steal the shrink ray, and then he thinks he will leave them at a theme park, but they spend the day together and he finds himself being incredibly warmed by their presence.
He ends up treating the girls he adopted as his daughters, and as one critic summarizes the film: “Gru delights in all things wicked. Armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays, and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, he vanquishes all who stand in his way. Until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential Dad.” In the end, their love profoundly changes him for the better.
The Bible teaches something like that too, only the heart of the story isn’t about the effect of your love on your Heavenly Father, but of His on you! When He brings you to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, He sends His Holy Spirit to profoundly change your heart. Galatians 5 describes this as “the fruit of the Spirit,” a combination of at least nine characteristics that God’s Spirit fills your heart with because He now dwells in you!
The first on the list of the fruit of the Spirit is love! It is a quality that pretty much sums up the whole bible, and some have written that all the other characteristics flow from this one. The evangelist Dwight L. Moody explains: “Joy is love exulting; peace is love in repose; long suffering is love on trial; gentleness is love in society; goodness is love in action; faith, is love on the battlefield; meekness is love at school; and temperance is love in training.”
The Spirit mentions love first because He is pure love, and the core quality that characterizes his presence and the impact he makes in the hearts of believers in Christ is one of love. That’s what Jesus himself promised when he described the lives of his followers with these words: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
These days everyone loves talking about love. In many ways, it feels like we are in love with love! But what is love? Or more to the point, what is the character of this love that is a fruit of the Spirit’s presence in our hearts and lives as Christians?
In the English language we have one word for love. Maybe you already know this, but if not, it’s helpful to know that the Greek language has at least 4 different words to describe different kinds of love. There is eros love, from which we derive the English word “erotic” that describes love in terms of physical and sensual activity. Another Greek word for love is “storge” which is the kind of love that parents have for their children. You see it in the way parents want the best for their kids and are willing to make tremendous sacrifices for their own kids… even when the kids are unappreciativeg, even when they mess up, yes, even when they break their hearts. That’s storge love. Another Greek word for love is “philia” which forms for first syllables of the city name “Philadelphia” – the city of brotherly love. Philia is the love that friends have for one another. It’s the love that exists among those who have something in common, who have shared interests or passions. And lastly there is a word to describe supernatural love, God’s love for us: agape. Agape love isn’t the result of seeing something or desiring something or sharing something in common with another person. Agape love is produced by an outside condition. It is the inner condition to love, regardless of whether the recipient deserves it, or appreciates it, or responds to it.
When the Bible speaks of agape love, it generally describes it in terms action rather than a feeling. For example, consider the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), usually paraphrased as: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Works of love are connected to words of love. If someone says they love you, but in their actions they never show it, how true, how real is the sentiment? How we treat others speaks far more powerfully about our what characterizes our attitude toward them. This attitude of agape shows itself in how we treat others in our actions as well as in our words! These qualities are what characterize agape love. Agape love is thought-out decisions and determined effort to show love.
Another way to get a clearer understanding of agape love is understanding how it is contrasted with the way the word hate is often used in the Bible. Both usually emphasize action. Treating someone badly is equated with hate and treating someone well is equated with love. So when Jesus said, “Love one another,” He meant for us to show love even when it is not natural or easy—even when the other person is not appreciative or responding.
When Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25), he meant that husbands are to treat their wives lovingly all the time, even when relationally that’s the hardest thing for the husband to do. And generally, the more we show love, the more we will feel love.
Do you love others with agape love? For instance, is it a sincere and pure love if you tell your wife you love her when she goes to bed, then go to the computer and surf porn sites or look for ways to try to attract the interest of other women? Are you agape loving your husband when you don’t speak to him about what’s on your heart but instead speak in a derogatory way about him to your girlfriends? Are you agape loving your co-workers if you treat them nicely when they do things you like but resist them or run down their reputations to others when they’re challenging you to make some changes in yourself? Are you agape loving the Lord when you praise and worship him when things are going well for you but question and doubt the Lord when life gets difficult?
Are you an agape lover … the essential attitude of your heart is one of love, ready to speak and act in ways that show love regardless of the other’s behavior? (Incidentally, for the sake of clarity, agape love is unconditional love for the person. Because it is pure love it cannot approve and affirm sinful behavior. Unconditional love for a person prompts the willingness to address sinful attitudes and actions because your heart is characterized by wanting what is best for the other! That is why God’s love sometimes looks harsh, but the motive is always our good.) Is this how you love?
You might be saying, that it’s an awfully tall order to love like this, and you would be right. It is not only the first and most important of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit, but it’s also the hardest to do through human will. That is why it is a spiritual fruit and not an inherent human character trait. It’s also why God repeatedly calls us to love like this, because it is not in our nature.
Which is why we need Christ as more than just fire insurance from Hell. We need him so we can continue and grow in our Christian maturity! Our Christian growth in maturity is not self-realization, but rather Christ realization. As we grow, we become totally aware of one great fact: there is one God and we are not it. Our confidence in who we are is because of the work Christ has done on our behalf. As we grow, our utter dependence is upon our Lord and our confidence is in Him and not ourselves. People will always disappoint us. We will even disappoint ourselves. Christ, however, will not disappoint us, but gives us the care, love, and His grace that we do not deserve.
The longer Gru was in the presence of the three little girls – the more loving he became. What or who is shaping the fruit you share with the world? God's agape love changes the condition of our hearts! That’s why there is no substitute for time spent in connection and communion with the Spirit and His Word. Here the agape love of God flows into us from Christ. It is the surrender of our will to His. For in him we always find true, agape love, a love that moved the Father to give us His Son as our Savior. The love that moved the Son to give His life in replacement for ours. The love that moved the Son to send his Spirit to dwell within us, to overcome and overwhelm us with such incredible, extraordinary love, revealed in the lengths and depths he was willing to go to save you and me!
God's love is the ultimate power for us as Christians. His love fuels and empowers us to agape love others in every situation. Such love empowers us to turn away from living purely out of self-concern. God’s Spirit cleanses and frees us from such selfish, self-serving love, reshaping our hearts with the agape love of Jesus. In doing so he changes the inner condition of our hearts so that the real character of our hearts is one of agape love toward others too!
Ruby Bridges lived in New Orleans in the 1960s during a time of forced racial integration of the public schools. At 13 years old she was the first black child to attend the formerly all-white schools. Each morning Ruby walked through a protective phalanx of US marshals. But they didn’t shelter her from all the spit balls and taunts of the crowds. She spent each day alone with her teachers inside the school building—alone because the other students refused to enter.
One of her teachers would later tell an interviewer, “A woman spat at Ruby but missed; Ruby smiled at her. A man shook his fist at her, Ruby smiled again. Then she went up the steps and stopped and turned and smiled one more time. You know what she told one of the marshals? She told him she prays for those people, the ones in the mob, every night before she goes to sleep.”
That kind of love stands out. It shocks. It humbles. It changes people, and it even changes cultures. That is the kind of love the Spirit has equipped every Christian to live out. This is the love that the Spirit brings to your heart through the faith in Jesus he works in you! Amen.