Philippians 2:13 points out a spiritual truth that we too often forget: "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Obedience, maturity, and successful ministry are only possible when we allow God to work through us. This truth needs to be kept in mind when contemplating the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. The "fruit"—or end results of work—is of the Spirit. It is not of our own effort.
First on the list of the Spirit's work in a believer's life is "love." This is not the lust of eros or even the brotherly affection of phileo. This is agape, the hard, sacrificial choice that sent Jesus to the cross (John 15:13). The most complete description of agape is found in 1 Corinthians 13:
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. (vs. 1-3)
These three verses speak of religion and ministry. Dynamic preaching, limitless knowledge, unshakeable faith, and even extreme charity are nothing without a conscious choice to seek the welfare of another beyond one's self. Jesus made this point to the Pharisees in Luke 1:42-44—they tithed relentlessly and coveted the respect of public ministry but disregarded "the love of God." As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:5 and 16, when Christian ministry is performed for the purpose of garnering attention, that attention is all the reward that will be given; God will not reward acts done for selfish motives.
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. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
These verses delve more deeply into the characteristics of agape. The sacrificial choice to love is above honor and pride. Agape love chooses to be kind and patient in the face of insult. It is humble despite others' arrogance. It doesn't worry about honor or revenge. Because agape love is empowered by the Holy Spirit, it can ignore worldly values and focus on the hope that others will come to God, as well.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 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. 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. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
The last section of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of the permanence of agape love. Some gifts are temporary, but there will always be love. In eternity, when we have glorified bodies with sinless minds, the Holy Spirit will be able to manifest His character in us even more. "God is love" (1 John 4:8). It is essential to His nature, and when we love—when we seek to benefit others with no regard for the cost to ourselves—we show that we know God.
Nothing can artificially manufacture the love of God in us. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. It grows in His presence. As we allow Him to change us, we can love God and love others as we should. "If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12b).
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