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The Fruit of the Spirit is Love - Galatians 5:22a

As Christians we are to not merely tolerate one another, but love one another selflessly, even to death

Galatians 5:22a; 1 John 4:8; John 21:15-17; 2 Peter 1:3-7; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 Peter 4:7-11

Jan 29, 2012 12:00 AM

MP3 audio icon To-Know-Him-Is-To-Love_01-29-2012.mp3 — MP3 audio, 14601 kB (14952200 bytes)

For many years, the best known Bible verse was John 3:16.  But in recent years, as you know, John 3:16 has been challenged for the top spot by Matthew 7:1 (in the King James Version) - Judge not, that ye be not judged.  However, I believe another verse, or another portion of a verse, may have both of those verses beaten for being the best known, most familiar biblical passage in America - 1 John 4:8 - “God is love.”

For at least a century, the liberal thinkers within Christendom have succeeded in convincing us that God possesses the single attribute of love, and that to an infinite degree.  He directs that love towards all people indiscriminately and equally while seriously neglecting all other divine attributes.  We’ve been taught that God is love and very little else.  God possesses a kind of blind, ignorant, emotional love that somehow does not recognize people as sinful and rebellious.  And this is the fertile false doctrinal ground in which all kinds of lies grow and prosper such as, “God loves you just the way you are.”  That one sentence instantaneously removes the necessity for repentance from sin in many people’s minds.

This naïve idea of God loving men to the neglect of His justice and holiness is extremely dangerous.  It causes critics to ask the question, “How could an all-loving God allow so much suffering in the world?”  It also causes others who claim to be Christians to say things like, “My God would never elect some people to salvation and not others.  My God is not like that.  My God would never send people to Hell”

This warped perception of a God who is strong on love but really weak on wrath and condemnation and the punishment of evil has caused some of us to lean so far in the other direction that we hesitate to even recite the phrase “God is love.”  When I quote that verse, I feel compelled to follow it up and balance it out with Psalm 7:11b - God is angry with the wicked every day. These liberal ideas about God’s love has actually made the discussion of the love of God very complicated.

But what makes it even more complicated is the largeness of the topic of love.  In a few weeks we’ll have a holiday that is simultaneously enjoyed and hated by millions - Valentines Day.  It’s supposed to be about love.  But is it?  What is love?  On Friday night we saw a sign outside a local church that says, “Money buys the dog, but only love wags the tail.“  Does that help us understand biblical love?

The Bible says in 1 John 4:8, God is love.  So if God is love, then is love God?  If A = B, then doesn’t B = A?  Is God’s love like Valentine’s Day love?  If not, then what IS God’s love like?  Is it like the love I felt in the 10th grade towards my girlfriend which only lasted a couple of months?  Is it like Tina Turner’s song, What’s Love Got To Do With It? where she says “What’s love but a second hand emotion?”  Is there no real substance to love?

If I asked you to quote a Bible verse with the word “love” in it, how long would it take you to think of 10 examples?  Lots of passages quickly come to mind: “For God so loved the world”.  “What manner of love is this, that we should be called the children of God.”  “This is love, not that we loved Him, but that He first loved us.”  “Love one another.”  Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Love the Lord your God. . ..“  ”Husbands love your wives.”  “Love is patient, love is kind.”  “The greatest of these is love.”  “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  “Love not the world.”  “Love your enemies.”  If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them (Luke 6:32 ESV).

According to one search I performed, there are 281 verses in the Bible that contain the exact word “love”.   And some verses have it three or four times.

So when Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is love, what is He talking about?  An emotion?  A feeling we’re to maintain towards others?  A very basic word study reveals that the Greek word is agape, a word that has been used and misused for decades within Evangelicalism.  Also, there are two different Greek words in the New Testament which are unfortunately translated with only one English word “love”: agape and phileo.  They are not synonymous words.  Agape speaks of a selfless, intimate but not sexual love for others; a sacrificial love.  “Phileo” is generally understood to be brotherly or familial love.

The best text in the New Testament to explain the difference between phileo love and agape love is John 21.  Look there with me for a moment. The context is the 40 days after Jesus rises from the dead and before He ascends into heaven.  Peter and the other apostles had been instructed by the Lord to go to Galilee and there they would see Him.  So they go to Galilee and while they are waiting, Peter says to the other disciples with him, “I’m going fishing” and they say “We’ll go with you.”  So they head out, fish all night and catch nothing.

The next morning, a man on the shore (who, unbeknownst to them, is Jesus) shouts to them from the shore that they should be fishing on the other side of the boat.  So they throw the net over the other side and catch so many fish the net will hardly hold them all.  Then John says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”  Immediately, Peter the fisherman leaves the biggest catch of his life, dives into the water and swims ashore to be with Jesus and have breakfast with Him.  Now look at verse 15.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you."  He said to him,"Feed my lambs." 16 He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love [agape] me?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you."  He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love [phileo] me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love [phileo] me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you."  Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17 ESV)

Jesus caused Peter to be grieved, he was heartbroken because of the difference in the two words Jesus used: Peter do you love [agape] me?  The word implies love even to the death.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV).  Peter knows how much Jesus loves him.  That is not in question.  Jesus does not say, “Peter do you know how much I agape you?“  He doesn’t have to ask that question.  They all know without doubt that Jesus has displayed the greatest love a man can give for His friends, even for the friend who denied he knew Him three times.

Because of his desertion, Peter knows better than to tell Jesus that his love for Him is such that he would give his own life for Christ.  He miserably failed that test.  Yes, Peter likes Jesus.  He likes Him a lot.  And he is greatly distressed that he cannot honestly say because of his own sin against the Lord that he loves Him with all of his heart, even to the point of death.

And that is the whole point of the question: “Peter, do you phileo me?“  “Do you like me?”  “Of course I do!  Lord you know I do!“  He likes Jesus, but he does not yet love Him with no regard for his own life.  But we know the rest of the story.  Soon, Peter will indeed agape, he will love Christ with all of his heart.  He will fearlessly preach the gospel to the very people who crucified the Lord when he receives the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, because the fruit of the Spirit is real, selfless, sacrificial love.

The word Paul uses, agape or phileo, depends upon the context.  For example, 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, If anyone has no love [phileo] for the Lord, let him be accursed.  Our Lord, come! If a person doesn’t even like the Lord Jesus, if he doesn’t even have a familial love, or the love that good friends share, then let that person be condemned.  May they be accursed.  The one who doesn’t at least have phileo love for Christ does not know Christ.  They have not believed the Gospel.

There’s another passage which shows the distinction between these two kinds of love, 2 Peter 1, beginning in verse 3.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection [phileo], and brotherly affection with love [agape]. (2 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)

As believers, we are to have both brotherly affection and sacrificial love towards one another.  It is not sufficient for us to call each other brother or sister and to enjoy being members of this spiritual family and love one another as spiritual siblings.  Do we agape, do we really love one another deeply, from the heart?  Would you be grieved like Peter if I asked, “Do you even like each other?” We call each other family, we say God is our father and Jesus is our brother.  But do we really love each other like family?  And that is before we even talk about life-sacrificing love for one another.

The word Paul uses in Galatians 5 for the primary fruit of the Spirit is not phileo, but agape.  The fruit which is generated in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is the exceptional love that sometimes even leads to the laying down of our lives for one another.  Paul did not say the fruit of the Spirit is like.  Nor did he say the fruit of the Spirit is tolerance.  Yes, sometimes there are things about us that we may not particularly enjoy about each other, but do we truly love each other in spite of those things, or do we merely tolerate one another?  Without the Spirit-given fruit of self-sacrificing love, we have to ask ourselves if we have been truly born again.

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13 and we’ll see just how fundamental this particular fruit of the Spirit is.  Some of you are thinking, “I was wondering how long it would take him to get to 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter.”  You cannot afford to tune out what I’m about to say because you’ve already heard a thousand sermons on love from 1 Corinthians 13.  Please listen carefully.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13 ESV).

Regardless of any other giftings or abilities the Lord may have granted to us, if we do not exercise sacrificial love towards one another, we are like useless noisy gongs, we gain nothing, we are nothing.  What does that mean?  To speak in the tongues of angels without love is just noise!  To have great wisdom and understanding of the deepest of spiritual mysteries without love makes me useless to the Body of Christ.  To have faith enough to be able to speak to this mountain and cast it into the sea, without love, is a worthless faith.  If I’m willing sacrifice all my earthly possessions for the sake of others, and if I’m willing to sacrifice my own life for others even by the excruciating death of being burned alive (which is how I take what he is saying), but my sacrifice is not motivated by the love of God, it is all for nothing.

  • We’ve got these little baby bottles which we’ve decided to fill up between now and Valentine’s Day with our loose change for the sake of A Woman’s Concern.  Why are you doing that (if you’re doing that)?  What is your motivation for contributing to the offering basket each week or each month?
  • Why do we come here and share our prayer requests and pray for one another?  Do we pray for one another once we leave this building?
  • Why does Kathy play the piano and print up the bulletins for us week after week?
  • Why do so many of you prepare food for the rest of us every Sunday?
  • Why do you voluntarily watch our children in the nursery every week, a virtually thankless job?
  • Why does Sam prepare the recordings of the sermon every week for our webs site?
  • Why does Rob work on our web site?
  • Why do I spend hours and hours writing sermons each week to preach to you again and again and again, year after year?
  • What is it that motivates us to do all this church stuff?


If any of us do these things for any reason other than because we are motivated by sacrificial love for God and for one another, a love that is generated in us by the Spirit of God, then there’s really not much point in doing it.  It is for nothing.  It is noisome.  It is pointless.  It is vain.  It is worthless.  That is how important this fruit of the Spirit called love really is.

Notice verse 4 - Love is patient and kind. If we look back at Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians we see that patience and kindness are there.  This seems to imply that all of the fruit of the Spirit is built upon the foundation of love.  It is agape love that provokes patience.  Patience, kindness, and all the fruits of the Spirit grow from this soil called love.

The fruit of the Spirit is a package.  The fruit of the Spirit is not like the gifts of the Spirit.  God may give one of us a certain gift or two, and someone else different gifts to be used for the sake of the church.  But the fruits of the Spirit are all cultivated in each of us.  All of these fruits are characteristics the Spirit works in every believer.  But the greatest of them all is love.

Now I could end this message by saying something like we all need to search our own hearts, to be honest with ourselves like Peter who knew he did not yet love the Lord Jesus as he wanted to or as he ought to.  But really, when has anyone ever loved the Lord as he ought to?  I could end on that note, but I’m not going to do that.

Rather, I’m going to say this: In spite of a very pleasant outward demeanor that I see among us nearly all the time, I’m tempted to think we must really believe the fruit of the Spirit is tolerance.  I believe many if not all of us, myself included, have thought that phileo love, brotherly love, is sufficient.  And as long as we never get outwardly, observably upset with one another, then we must really love each other a lot.  But  that’s not entirely true.  We are often guilty of merely tolerating each other and sometimes we don’t even do that very well, rather than loving one another even with a familial love, brotherly love.

Do we love each other deeply?  Do we even love each other like family?  Or is it just a superficial tolerance of each other?  Are we genuinely concerned about one another to the degree that, if it were necessary, we would give our lives for one another?  Or have we confused putting up with each other with Holy Spirit-motivated love?  Just how difficult is it for us to look past the things we don’t care for in our brothers and sisters in this room for the sake of love?

There is a passage of Scripture which contains the word love that I did not mention earlier, but you are all familiar with it.  Peter said, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  A multitude of sins.  He should know.  If we’re going to really love each other as the Bible prescribes for us, we will have to look past our own needs, we will have to sacrifice our own lives, we will have to deal with, and then look past a multitude of sins in those around us.  Listen to brother Peter:

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV)

Do we really love the Lord?  Do we really love each other?  Love for God and each other is the foremost evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:10 ESV)



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