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The Spirit is indeed nothing less than the Divine Love itself come down to dwell in us, and that we have only so much of the Spirit as we have of Love.
— ANDREW MURRAY
Love must ever give to its own, whatever the cost.
— A. W. TOZER
When I was growing up, the words "I love you" were rarely spoken in my family. While most kids hear them each night as they are tucked into bed, I was told that to say them too often would cheapen them. This was the general mood of my childhood. While my parents were very kind, generous, and good, they had little understanding of love, and so they passed that ignorance on to me. Affection was rare, not only between my parents and me but also between my parents themselves. I rarely saw any confirmations, expressions, or feelings of love expressed between them, and my parents' marriage would eventually end in divorce.
I Love Big Macs
Because love wasn't modeled in my home, I grew up understanding the word as the way to define good experiences or feelings. I learned to say things like "I love horses," "I love Big Macs," and "I love watching TV," but I seldom expressed love for people. It wasn't until I started to have strong feelings for boys that I got the urge to say "I love you" to another human being. With this emotional and hormonal change, my ideas of love began to grow. I soon came to view love as an intense feeling for another human being emanating from physical desire. My understanding of love stayed in this space for most of my early adult life, helping me to decide that love is fleeting, that it hurts tremendously, and that it is almost impossible to find. I gave my heart for short periods of time, soon to recant in favor of a new object of affection, as I went from man to man.
Love never really found form in my life, not until my true love came along in the person of Jesus. When I started to see what true love is, when I took a look at the Author of love, I started to get a more accurate, wholesome, and beneficial understanding of this seemingly unfathomable concept. According to God's Word, much to my surprise, love is less about how I feel, but more about what I do. It isn't about getting, but giving. It isn't about reward, but sacrifice. And it isn't about excitement, but endurance.
In the chapter of Scripture most recited at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13, we are given a godly description of a love lived not for self but for the loved one. A love that sees the object of its affection delights in that object and wants nothing but the other's welfare, even over self. In God's own words, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Cor. 13:4–8). If you look closely at this list of characteristics of love, you will see something striking, which is that it's got the fruit of the Spirit all over it. Patience and kindness are listed first. Goodness is a part of not being irritable or resentful. Gentleness is wrapped up in "it is not arrogant or rude." Joy is a part of rejoicing with the truth. Faithfulness is revealed in the words "bears all things, believes all things." And peace is seen in "does not insist on its own way." The only thing we can't immediately spot here is self-control; however, each of these responses to being tested by our loved ones requires some form of self-control.
So then, we can see that love is not just another fruit of the Spirit; it is the foundation of all of the fruit, a requirement, an essential first fruit before all others. And conversely, without each of the fruit, love would be nonexistent. Without love, all other fruit will be a cheap imitation of the real thing. As it says at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13 about this kind of loveless goodness, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (vv. 1–3). So then, the other fruit of the Spirit done without love are useless, nothing, a vapor in the wind.
Love Is Not Just a Feeling
Most of us grow up thinking that love is romance and ecstasy. We hear the words "You complete me," and we melt into a puddle of emotional goo. We understand that love is more than just feelings, but when those feelings of love are gone, we usually assume that love has gone as well, or perhaps was never there, because we are convinced in our heart of hearts that love is a feeling, and a very good one at that. But God's Word says nothing of the sort.
In 1975 the rock band Nazareth produced a hit song, "Love Hurts," and since then it has been the anthem of broken hearts across the globe. The truth is that love does hurt our selves, because love, if purely lived, strips us of all our self-interest, self-promotion, and self-protection. Love is bound to cause pain to our flesh, because it doesn't serve self but those it loves. That is why love is so hard and why so many of us fail at it time and again, because of our idea that love is meant to serve the lover instead of the loved one. Add that with the somewhat subconscious idea that love is all feeling, and together we have a hot mess. Love as it was never meant to be made.
But according to God's Word, love is something altogether different. If love were simply a feeling, God could not command it, at least not without equipping us to fulfill it. Feelings are not something that can be easily turned on and off. I cannot command you to feel fear or to feel elation; you can't generate these on command. It would be a cruel God who would command you to do something you are incapable of doing. But, as you know, God is good, not cruel, and so here is the secret to loving the unlovable: we are able to love those the world finds difficult because of God's great and all-encompassing love for us. When we love God with our all, his love pours out of us onto others in ways impossible for our flesh. So we are able to obey Jesus's commands to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to refuse to fight back or seek revenge because our love is an action in response to how he first loved us (Matt. 5:39, 44). So love must first be understood as dependent on his love for us, and our response to love must be action, not reliance on feeling good.
Growing up believing that love is all about emotions had put me into bondage to those emotions. I was taken hostage each time someone assaulted my feelings, broke my heart, or rejected me. I was a slave to how I felt in relationship to other human beings rather than free to love, regardless of return. But when I discovered this one simple truth about love, and that real love is content not to feel good all the time, I was able to give the kind of love that the Father had given to me, a love not found in what man does or doesn't do, but in who God is. After all, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). We are indwelt with this kind of love when the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. And this is the kind of love we are able to give through the power of that Holy Spirit, as we read in Romans 5:5: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." It is through this power only that we are able to love without pretense or deception, without pretending that we are loving when what we are really doing is responding to the good feelings we get from the relationships in our lives, and without lying to ourselves that we can love only when others love us in return. When you love wrongly, Jesus says, "what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"(Matt 5:46–48). So love is not about responding to how others make us feel but about the Holy Spirit's promptings in our souls.
If you take a close look at the love description in 1 Corinthians 13, you will notice that it is not a feel-good passage. It doesn't encourage good feelings, but hard ones. It doesn't command emotion, but swift and difficult action in the face of frustration. It is, after all, only frustrating or difficult people that require patience. And with those who bring out our envy and competitiveness, love demands the opposite. When others want something we don't want, when we are at odds, love doesn't insist on its own way. When people push our buttons, love isn't irritable. When they hurt us, it isn't resentful. Are you seeing the pattern in this love passage? The love defined in God's Word is all about responding in an unnatural but supernatural way to difficult and challenging people. So, the love defined in God's Word is not focused on self, but on denying self.
This is another thing we have to be reminded of as we study the idea of love, that it requires selflessness. Not surprising, since part of living by the Spirit means putting ourselves to death, as we read in Romans 8:13: "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." It is through putting to death our need to feel love and embracing our Spirit-led desire to give love that we start to experience this first and most important piece of the fruit of the Spirit. The study of love has to move away from feelings, requirements, and self-centered thinking and move toward Spirit and truth.
The Opposite of Love
If you ask most people what the opposite of love is, they would probably say hate. That makes sense, but it's not necessarily the best answer. Believing that love is lacking only when there is hatred is a dangerous notion that can lead to all kinds of pain and struggle.
I once counseled a woman who was having great difficulties in her marriage. Her husband was cold and distant, and she was at her wits' end as to what to do. So we began to meet to talk about her life from God's perspective. As I asked her questions and heard her complaints, I started to see a pattern. Her husband's biggest complaint was her continual yelling at her kids, which ruined the peaceful nature of his home. Every morning she screamed at the kids as she rushed to get them ready for school, and every night she screamed at them to clean up and get ready for bed, and her husband was turned off by all of her yelling. I told her the first thing she had to do was to quit yelling, but that didn't help; she continued to yell for yet another week. As we met again, I started to dig deeper, and as she told me that her kids were always disobedient and messy, I started to see the problem. "I know what it is," I told her one day. "What?" she asked eagerly. "You don't love your kids. You love yourself." "That's not true!" she adamantly responded. She was right by the world's definition of love, but I wanted her to see that although she might feel love for them, she wasn't expressing love for them, and therefore it wasn't love at all. Since all her actions were based on what she was feeling and wanting, her actual condition was one of selfishness. I went on to read her 1 Corinthians 13 and allowed her to apply it to her short-tempered, frustrated, record-keeping, selfish relationship with her kids.
"Does that sound like love to you?" I asked her. She was mortified. She had never looked at the actions of love as God defines it in direct relationship to her own life. She had never taken a real and self-assessing look at love from the outside in, and that was why there was so much strife, fighting, and bitterness in her household.
After taking a sober look at God's definition of love, she was able to apply it to her life and to change the culture of her home. Within a week, everything was different. The shouting stopped, the kids started to obey, and incredibly her husband started to soften toward her. This wasn't because of the effort she exerted but because of her new awareness of the life of Christ in her and his selfless love for her.
For weeks, months even, she had tried, through her own effort, to gain control of her emotions, to care for her kids without yelling, and to love her husband the way he wanted to be loved. She had known what she was doing was wrong, but she was powerless to stop. Why? Because she didn't have the Spirit in her? No, I believe she was filled with the Holy Spirit, but she was not mindful of that Spirit within her. But once she became utterly mindful of the life of Christ within her, of his Word and his will, she was able to change what was essentially self-obsession to true love. Instead of reading 1 Corinthians 13 as something to get, she now read it as a command to live out, one that the Spirit had equipped her to do. It has been my experience in talking with women that the quickest way to make a change in their lives is to become aware of the nature of the Spirit and his thoughts on the life of faith.
Understanding love is essential in the pursuit of love. Without this knowledge of who God is and how he loves us, we cannot express or experience true love, and without an understanding of what love isn't, we can't truly eradicate the areas in our lives where love is lacking. It is important, then, to realize that the opposite of love isn't hate, but selfishness. Thinking that the opposite of love is hate allows us to ignore the lack of love in our lives because it feels nothing like hate. I have found that most of the women I talk to about marriage problems have a list of requirements on love that are seen nowhere in Scripture. They have an unwritten writ, their own law, that they subconsciously believe has to be obeyed in order for love to be found in a relationship.
When this self-created law is broken by our husbands, we feel at liberty to judge and even punish them. When our husbands don't like our meals, when they comment on the messy house, when they don't wine and dine us on our anniversary, we see that as disobedience to our law of self, and we retaliate. This is the practical working out of a life that involves self in the definition of love. Whenever our well-being, happiness, or hope is wrapped up in what another person says or does, we are not living the love of 1 Corinthians 13, and we most definitely are not living life from the Spirit but from the flesh.
The act of biblical love is kind. It is caring, friendly, sympathetic, tender, and unselfish. The acts of the flesh are disinterested, detached, disapproving, cold, and argumentative. These are the exact opposite of biblical love and stand in direct defiance of the life of the Spirit that is inside us. When the men we love disobey what we believe they should be obeying, be it God's Word or our own, and we react with disapproval, disinterest, or arguments, then we are not acting in love, because each of these unbiblical responses is an antonym to love. While they are natural, human responses to conflict or pain, they are not biblical responses, and therefore they are not fruitful or obedient.
Why Is Love Commanded?
Love is the foundational evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, but it is also a biblical command. There are many reasons why God commands us to love one another, and at least five seem to stand out as the most obvious.
The first is the most important, which is that God is love. In 1 John 4:16 we read the most essential words on love in the Bible: "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." What does this short but important statement mean and how do we make sense of it? In answering this, I turn to John Piper, who answers beautifully when he says:
God is love. In a word I think it means something like: God's absolute fullness of life and truth and beauty and goodness and all other perfections is such that he is not only self-sufficient, but also, in his very nature, overflowing. God is so absolute, so perfect, so complete, so full, so inexhaustibly resourceful, so joyful, that he is by nature a Giver, a Worker for others, a Helper, a Protector. What it means to be God is to be full enough always to overflow and never to need — never murmur, never pout. God is love. The implications of this for the way we live are big.
Big is right, and in Ephesians 5:1–2 we see just how big the implications for each of us are when we are called to "be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fruitful Wife"
Copyright © 2012 Hungry Planet, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: What Have We Done? 9
1 Love 19
2 Joy 41
3 Peace 65
4 Patience 85
5 Kindness 103
6 Goodness 125
7 Faithfulness 143
8 Gentleness 161
9 Self-Control 181
Conclusion: Growing Abundant Fruit 197