The Apostle Paul liked love. I mean, really liked it. Spent hours thinking about it and studying it and writing about it to other people. One of his most famous writings on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. A passage so famous for weddings and sermons.
But what is love? Is it this personification of an external force that our society seems to worship? Free love, true love, unrequited love, unconditional love? A love that always is x and never is y?
A force greater than love few would be hard pressed to find or imagine.
But when we look at what it means for us to be loving people as Paul talks about? To have love drip off of us like Spirit fruit? An outpouring of Spirit fuelled and Spirit inspired love?
When Paul begins to speak of the fruit of the Spirit, he begins with love. Because love is where it begins.
“We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19.
Love begins with God, that he loves us, ultimately and sacrificially.
Love is his greatest commandment, to love God and to love others.
But it begins with the Love God has for us, the love that, once we realize that magnitude and mercy of it, can bring about no other response from us than to love him in return.
We love because he first loved us.
Now the hard part
Love other people.
The work that God does in us does not play out in a vacuum. If we are in community as God intends then the work that he does in us reflects him in our relationships.
When we see that person who glows with kindness and acceptance, encouragement and joy, it changes the air of the room.
When we see that person who fogs the room with a petulant or negative tone, spoken or unspoken, it colors the community around them.
When we see a person who has chosen sharing burdens over judgement, they reflect the love God has showered on them.
When we see someone how has forgiven not only the big but the small grievances and tragedies, we see God’s Spirit at work in them.
When we see selfishness turn into self-sacrifice as we gather another’s yoke around our neck, we see the Spiritual fruit of love tumbling out.
And what a gift to others.
As I allow God’s love to permeate those dark, crabbed, and hostile places in my life, I expand. I expand in my capacity to love others, I expand in my ability to receive more of God’s love. Because it’s cyclical. As God’s love starts to soak into our soul, we turn our eyes outward as the love outpours through acts of love and service to others. We begin to see other places in us that need the gentle touch of God’s love and in turn, see other places where we can share that love with others.
What a gracious cycle.
As I look into my own life, I can see where my capacity to love without judgement, to forgive, to serve, and to help has changed. It changes as I seek God’s truth and his love for me. It changes as I submit joyfully and tentatively to his Spirit’s guidance in my life.
And it’s a journey. Anyone living in an old house knows that once you start peeling away layers there are always surprises. Some good and some trouble. As God peels away my layers so I can know and experience more of him, he unearths issues in my spiritual and emotional wiring.
But his love can fix even the biggest problems. And what was old and broken and hidden is made new in his love.
And this breathes new life into me. As I move towards others in community I feel my capacity for loving them broaden. For my family, my friends, my church family, those in the world around me, I am learning the ceiling in my own capacity to love. But God’s love changes my potential to love.
And that is where I start to bear fruit that honors him.