“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, revelries, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:19-24).
As we read this scripture it should be rather evident the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are describing our actions, not our feelings. This is the point we made at the end of last week’s lesson. Our actions reveal who we are. Our conduct and our character are tightly knit together. The first trait required to have a fruitful life is love. Unfortunately, love has been greatly misunderstood. We like to define love in terms of feelings and emotions. Thus, we can say that we no longer love our spouse, that we have “fallen out of love,” and experienced “love at first sight.” But Vincent’s Word Studies In The New Testament made the point that love “is less sentiment than consideration.” The scriptures repeatedly describe love in terms of actions and consideration, not as feelings or sentiment. Paul’s description of love bears this point:
“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; is not provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Please notice that Paul does not describe love in terms of feelings. Love is not warm fuzzy feelings. Love is not an emotional “whoosh” that comes over us. Love is defined by actions. Notice that love is not self-centered, but is the consideration of others. I believe we would be correct, therefore, to define love in the New Testament as a constant, continual decision to actively seek out the best interest of another. As we examine the scriptures this morning, I want each of us to see how the scriptures define love as a decision to do good for another above ourselves.
The Love of God
Why not start with one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In this passage we see what love truly looks like. God loved the world. According to our definition of love in our society today, we would say that this is enough. We would submit that God just has some sort of feeling for us. But notice what John tells us about love. God loved the world so that He gave up His only Son so that we would not perish. This passage defines love as an action and as a decision. God made a decision to actively seek out the best interest of humanity by giving His only Son.
Paul made a similar point to the Romans, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8). Notice again that God’s love was a decision to act in our best interest. This leads us to another important point about love: love is something that is seen and demonstrated. How do we know that God loves us? We do not know that God loves us simply because He says so. Words do not carry much weight, but actions do. We know that God loves us because of what He has done for us. God showed us His love for us by giving His Son, by creating the world, by giving us blessings, and by offering a relationship with Him in the kingdom. Therefore, when we speak about loving God, God is not saying that we love God by having good feelings within ourselves. We are not always going to have good feelings about the things we know are right and things that we know we ought to do. Loving God is making constant decisions to seek out God’s interests. This is exactly what John tells us in 1 John 5:3,”For this is the love of God, that we keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” Quite simply, loving God is the decision to seek out the interests of God, which is keeping His commands.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this command from Him: the one who loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).
To be found fruitful requires each of us to love God by loving one another. Notice that John says we do not love God if we are not loving others. Again, love is not being defined as a feeling. God is not asking me to have warm emotional feelings for other people at all times. Rather, God is asking each of us to make constant decisions to actively seek out the best interest of others. How can seek out the best interests of others?
Love is a decision to give, whatever the cost
One of the challenges of being ask by God to love others is that this requirements means that we make a decision to give to others, no matter how great the cost to ourselves. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). John describes for us the need to be ready to give of ourselves to others regardless of the cost. The next verse bears out this point: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). We are called to compassion. How can we close our hearts to others and think that we love God? How can we think that God’s love is in us if we choose not to give, whatever the cost? We are called to be compassionate with one another. We are to be giving toward one another. Love is a call to action. Notice the next verse: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Saying that we love each other really does nothing, in terms of the scriptures. We are called to love by our actions. We need to be compassionate. When we see the needs of others, we show that we love God by doing things to help others. Further, our love for each other is to be abundant and overflowing. “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Our love is not to be sporadic for each other, but continual. Thus, I go back to our working definition: Love is a constant decision to actively seek out the best interest of another.
Love is a decision to forgive
Another challenge placed before by loving God is that we are called to forgive others. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13). The giving of our heart extends to forgiveness. We are not allowed to hold grudges or be bitter toward others. When we are wrong, we are to let the offense go. We are not to retaliate. We are not to return fire with fire. We are to continue to decide to actively seek out the best interests of others. We are to realize that God will be judge and will bring justice upon evildoers. It is not up to me personally to be rude, ugly, or mistreat people because someone has mistreated me.
Love is a decision to serve
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13-14). Love is about service. Too often we think of love in selfish terms. We say within ourselves that if so and so loved me, he or she would do this or that. But this is selfishness. Love does not concern itself with what the other person is doing for me. Love concerns itself with what is in the other person’s interests.
We need servants right now. If you see that living the fruitful life includes loving our brethren, but do not know where to start, look at the list of people in the bulletin. We have so many people that need our attention that if you saw only one person per day you would be unable to get to everyone in a week. Worse, some of those who have been servants have been struck down with their own difficulties that must be tended to. Therefore, we need more workers and more servants right now to be looking to help their brethren during these difficult times.
I hope we will apply all of these principles to the home as well as toward one another. Everything we do needs to be motivated by love. “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Loving our spouses, children, and parents is the constant decision to actively seek the best interest of the other. In marriage, we are making that declaration. In that sense, there is no such thing as “falling out of love” or having “love at first sight.” Sight has nothing to do with it. Feelings have nothing to do with it. We are making a commitment, a repeated decision, to seek out another’s interest above our own.