By Pastor Glenn Pease
Howard Thurman in Disciplines Of The Spirit, tells of one of the most unusual jobs. A large General Hospital hired a high school girl to be there mice petter. Her sole occupation was to take white mice out of their cages several times a day and pet them. They had learned that when mice are made to feel loved and secure they give much more authentic results in experiments. When they are relaxed and given a sense of well-being, they better cope without panic.
Science is confirming all the time that God is love. It is finding that all God made needs love to be at it's best. People who love their garden and their plants produce better crops and more beauty. Love is the universal need of all life. Dogs and cats can admit their need for love. They thrust their heads into your hands and face, and demand to be loved. But man likes to be independent and not admit to needing others, even though it is the number one need of man for happiness. There are endless numbers of movies and novels where people delay love and even lose it because they will not admit their need. This is the ultimate in pride, for God Himself is willing to admit He needs love. The first commandment is that we love God with our whole being. Paul in Romans 8:28 says that God works in all things for good for those who love Him. In I Cor.2:9 he writes that no mind can conceive of what God has prepared for those who love Him. In time and in eternity the best is reserved for those who love God.
Jesus did not hesitate to declare His need for love.. He needed the love of His heavenly Father, but He also needed the love of man. In John14 He repeated His need often. In verse 15 He said, "If you love me you will obey what I command." In verse 21 He said, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love and show myself to him." In verses 23-24 Jesus sums it all up with these words, "If anyone loves me he will obey me, if anyone does not love me he will not obey me."
If God the Father and God the Son long to be loved, it is the height of folly for any man to deny his need for love. Ashley Montague writes from the point of view of a scientist-
"The study of love is something from which scientists long shied away.
But with the increased interest in the origins of mental illness, more and more attention is being paid to the infancy and childhood of human beings. What investigation has revealed is that love is, beyond all cavil or question,the most important experience in the life of a human being.
Show me a hardened criminal, a juvenile delinquent, a psychopath or
a "cold fish," and in almost every case I will show you a person resorting to desperate means in order to attract the emotional warmth and attention he failed to get but which he so much desires and needs. "Aggressive" behavior when fully understood is, in fact, nothing but love frustrated, a technique for compelling love-as well as a means of taking revenge on the society which has let that person down, disillusioned, deserted and dehumanized him. Hence, the best way to approach aggressive behavior in children is not by aggressive behavior toward them, but with love. And this is true not only for children but for human beings at all ages."
The Scripture and science agree, the greatest of these is love. Love is the highest virtue man is capable of giving or receiving. You cannot give God or man any higher gift than the gift of love. The highest goal of life is to be like Christ. The only way to approach this goal is to be a person filled with love. This is the same as saying one needs to be filled with the Spirit for He is the source of love. The fruit of the Spirit is love. The more we are filled with the Spirit of Christ the more we will have the fruit of love.
Many say that the sign you are filled with the Holy Spirit is that you will speak in tongues, but that is an experience that occurred only in Corinth and was not an issue in any other church of the New Testament. The real sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit, and the first fruit and main fruit is love. The most loving Christian is the most Spirit-filled Christian. Paul links the Holy Spirit and love in Romans15:30 where he writes, "I urge you brothers by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit...." In Col.1:8 he writes to them and refers to "Your love in the Spirit." The Holy Spirit is the channel by which the love of God fills the heart of man. Paul makes this clear in Rom.5:5 where he writes, "God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us."
The love of God that enables us to love our neighbor as our self, and to love one another, and to love our enemies all comes into our heart by means of the Holy Spirit. He produces the fruit. We cannot make it grow by works. All we can do is to let the Spirit have control, and He makes this Christ like fruit grow. We can plant and we can water, but God gives the increase. We cannot make fruit grow, but we can provide the cooperation that makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to use our hearts as fertile soil that will be fruit producing. We can't make anything grow, but we can provide the environment for things to grow.
We are responsible for preparing the soil of our hearts. We do this by clearing it of the rocks, trash, and brush that makes growing anything unlikely. Our soil gets hard and the seed cannot penetrate and take root. We get stubborn and set in our ways, and do not yield to the Holy Spirit. Christians need to be flexible and ever open to the winds of the Spirit, and to the new fires He may wish to kindle in our hearts. Lawrance Kusher gives us an illustration on the human level.
"When my wife and I were first married, for example, we believed
that our "true love" enabled us to read one another's minds. Based on
this youthful fantasy, we spent great amounts of time and energy
choosing the wrong birthday presents for one another, each pretending
we loved gifts we didn't.
As we grew older and our love matured, we gradually realized
that even great love only rarely penetrates another's soul. Indeed,
I suspect, real loving stands reverent precisely in the mystery of
another's unknowable, unfathomable self. And so, as an act of
love, we reached a mutual, unspoken decision: We began to drop
not-so-subtle hints about what we really wanted. This not only
made shopping easier ("This is exactly what she wants!") But
receiving presents became much more fun ("Why this is exactly
what I wanted!") If you really love someone, don't make them
guess what to give you."
Love grows by communication. God did not just let His people guess how to love Him. He gave them clear instructions. The Tabernacle and Temple where they were to show their love in worship, sacrifice, and praise were revealed in most minute detail-nothing was left to guess. God gave His Word and Jesus gave His teaching so we could know exactly how to love Him by obedience. For the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love in us, we need to be listening to the Word and applying its truth to our daily lives. Listening, learning, worshiping, praising, living a life pleasing to God, these are all part of the atmosphere we provide for the Holy Spirit to work in to produce love. When love is produced in us, like other fruit it has seeds, and will reproduce itself in others.
Chuck Swindoll gives us an illustration in his book, Simple Faith. "Among the many plays and musical performances I have attended, none has ever gripped me like Les Miserables. When these playwrights and composers decided to put Victor Hugo's classic novel on the stage in the form of a dramatic musical, a masterpiece was created for the public to enjoy. When my family and I saw the performance, we were moved to tears...literally. To this day, its scenes and songs often return to mind, bringing fresh delight." He goes on to tell the gist of the play. Jean Valjean is released after 19 years in the chain gang, and is treated kindly by a saintly Bishop. But his prison experience has scarred him and hardened him, and he repays the Bishop by stealing some of his silver. Caught and brought back by the police, Valjean is shocked when the Bishop tells them he gave him the silver. This act of love that kept him a free man had an impact on him like nothing before, and he vowed to never be the man he was.
The policeman, Javert, however, hated him and was determined to put him back in prison. Javert treats him with contempt, but Valjean will not retaliate. He turns the other cheek, and he loves his neighbor, and he lives a life of love. In the end he overpowers his enemy, and overcomes evil with good. The last line in the theatre production captures the essences of it all-"To love another person is to see the face of God."
I think it says even more clearly-"To love another person is to let them see the face of God." The love of the Bishop helped Valjean see the face of God, and he was changed forever, and his love then helped others see the face of God. God is love, and so wherever love is seen you are getting some glimpse of God. That is the beauty of this first fruit of the Spirit. It makes us attract others to see God and desire to taste of the fruits He can produce in lives. Love is the best witness there is, for nothing is more attractive and enticing than love.
All the works of the flesh that Paul lists in Gal.5:19-21 are the efforts of man to get love without God. All sexual immorality is a hunger for love. All the hate, jealousy, and envy of others is a hunger for love. We get angry and create problems because we want love. Studies show that almost all, if not all, anti-social behavior is a cry for love. Man in his flesh seeks the food of life-love, but what he gets is garbage instead. Only love can meet his deepest needs. The Christian is to reveal to the world an example of true love in contrast to the devil's fakes.
What is true love? It is feeling and doing what Jesus would feel and do in the same situation. Jesus was Spirit filled and thus always loving. If you can honestly say I am feeling and doing what Jesus would feel and do, you are being as loving as you can be. When you love you are as near to God as you can get, for God is love. It is the number one characteristic of God's nature, and to be a channel of that nature in the world is to fulfill the ultimate purpose of being a person made in the image of God. This is also the ultimate pleasure. Remember, fruit means enjoyment. It is from the Latin fructus, which means enjoyment. Where love is joy is right behind. The greatest pleasure in life is love. You cannot find a greater pleasure, for it is a taste of God's greatest pleasure.
We are forced, however, to look at the paradox of love. If it is the ultimate in enjoyment and pleasure, why did it become so costly to God to love man? It cost infinite pain and thus we are stuck with the paradox of love being both pleasurable and painful. In a perfect world love is only pleasure, but in a fallen world love hurts, for love desires the best for its objects no matter what the cost, and this means pain. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, and Jesus so loved lost men that He gave His life on the cross for them to be restored to the favor of God. It was painful, but also the highest pleasure. Jesus endured the cross with joy, for He looked to the eternal result for Himself and the redeemed. Love's goal is always the highest peak of pleasure, but to get there it often has to go through painful valleys of suffering. This is true, not only for God's love, but for the love of parents and mates.
Love often hurts in a fallen world, but love is willing to hurt, for that is the price for ultimate pleasure. One who will not suffer for another does not love the other in any meaningful way. All God-like love is willing to bear pain for the sake of another's well being. The Good Samaritan was good, and was used by Jesus to illustrate love, because he was willing to pay the price of interrupting his own plans for the sake of another who needed help. The Priest and the Levite may have had better theology than the Samaritan, but they were not willing to suffer any pain for the sake of the injured man. They may have had gifts, but they were of no value to the kingdom of God without the fruit of love.
The Good Samaritan was despised and rejected by the leaders of God's people, but Jesus made him a hero. Why? Because he had what really matters to God. He had the first fruit of the Spirit, which is love. He had the kind of love that is willing to suffer for the pleasure of God and the pleasure of man, and this is the fulfillment of the whole law. Loving God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself means to be willing to suffer pain for their pleasure. The goal is always pleasure, but the means to it may be painful. Love will pay the price of pain to gain this pleasure.
What this means is, love is a chosen self-limitation for the sake of another. God and Jesus both made choices that limited their sovereign freedom to do as they pleased by creating man, and then redeeming him. If God was unloving and self-centered He would have ended the plan with Adam and Eve, or at lease by the time of the flood. He would have taken Noah and his family also, and called it quits. To pursue the plan of salvation all the way to the cross was love beyond our comprehension. We cannot match the love of God, but we can grow this same fruit, and be willing to limit self for the sake of others.
This is what parenthood is, and what marriage is, and what ministry is. All forms of love are choices to limit yourself for the sake of others. It sounds like sacrifice, and it is, but it is also the way to the greatest pleasure for the self. Those who want only self-pleasure, and will not limit their pleasure for the sake of others, will end up with very little pleasure. Those who limit their pleasure for the sake of others will end up with the greatest pleasure. This is the way of love and love always ends up with the greatest pleasure.
Ibsen in his poetic drama Peer Gynt, has a hero who is a reckless and irresponsible dreamer whose motto is, "To thyself be enough." He visits a lunatic asylum where he believes people are not themselves, but the director says it is here that people are most themselves, themselves and nothing but themselves. They are all totally self-centered with no tears for others woes, or cares for any others needs. He realizes he has been a failure by being self-centered. He finds healing in the love of the heroine, solveig. It is a message, on the human level, that without love life is barren of all fruit that will last.
Even the secular world knows the truth about love that is why most secular songs, plays, and movies are about love. The problem is, the highest love man knows without God is sexual love, and when this becomes ones highest value, it becomes an idol, and leads to all sorts of perversions. It is not that human love is bad, for it is God-given and one of life's greatest gifts, but when it is seen as the ultimate it becomes an idol, and leads to depravity.
Some wise men have seen that all human love is to be a means to a greater love. Plato said, "All loves should be simply stepping stones to the love of God." If men would just realize this, and keep on stepping up the stairs of love to the love of God they would find that love that never fails. We sing that Jesus never fails, and Paul in I Cor.13:8 says that love never fails. Love that reaches the God-like, and Christ like level, because it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the love that never fails, and is always the right thing to do.
It does not succeed in the sense that it always wins its object. Jesus failed to win many that He loved, and He wept because they would not accept Him. The point is, Jesus never made the wrong choice. His love never failed to keep Him in the center of God's will. He could love His enemies, and though He could not always win His enemies, He never failed by being unloving to them. Because Jesus never failed to love, He never failed to be a true representative of God the Father. This is to be the goal of everyone who wants to live a life pleasing to God, for this is a life filled with pleasure for the self as well.
Love never fails, does not mean the loving Christian succeeds in all he or she attempts to accomplish. It means they always please God without fail. God never says, "I am not pleased with your loving spirit toward your brother or your enemy." God is always pleased with love, and, therefore, love never fails to achieve life's highest goal, which is to please God. That is why Oswald Chambers said, "Love is the beginning, love is the middle, love is the end." God made us in His image, and thus, we are made to love, and when we do we fulfill our very purpose for being. It is life's highest success.
What is the purpose of life? It is to become what God made us to be-images of Him. This is achieved by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, for these nine fruits are love displayed in all of its aspects. Someone has described them like this-
Joy is love's cheerfulness.
Peace is love's confidence
Patience is love's composure
Kindness is love's consideration
Goodness is love's character
Faithfulness is love's constancy
Gentleness is love's comliness
Self-control is love's conquest.
The point is, the more these nine fruits characterize your life, the more you fulfill your purpose for being, for you are a reflection of His love, which is to say, you are Christ like. Some years ago New York city had a murder mystery that was finally solved by the arrest of several notorious criminals. One was Jack Rose, who after he was convicted and imprisoned said, "I always believed that there must be a God somewhere. But when I gave Him thought, I felt He was so far away, and so occupied with great things, that He knew nothing about me. I am sure I never would have become a criminal if the thought had ever entered my mind that God cared anything about me." The world is filled with people who do not know that God loves them because there is no Christian who is communicating that love to them. The poet says-
Do you know the world is dying
For a little bit of love?
Everywhere we hear them sighing,
For a little bit of love.
When we make choices to communicate the love of God to the lost, then we know we have gone beyond natural love to bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Every Christian needs to be praying the prayer of Dr. Will Houghton, former president of Moody Bible Institute.
Love this world through me, Lord
This world of broken men,
Thou didst love through death, Lord
Oh, love in me again!
Souls are in despair, Lord.
Oh, make me know and care;
When my life they see,
May they behold Thee,
Oh, love the world through me.
Even the desire to pray this prayer is a sign that you are growing in the garden of your life the fruit of love.