The more I study love–for God and others–the more I realize how short I fall. <insert short jokes here>
Seriously, I have come face to face over the last few months with myself. And it ain’t pretty. With all my heart I desire to reflect the love of Christ to those around me, but I keep falling into those traps of selfishness, pride, and insecurity. God’s Word is our plumb line, our true north, the standard by which we measure ourselves. And according to His definition of love, I’ve got a long way to go:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, NIV 84).
As I have searched God’s Word over the last few months, I have come to understand one very important truth: I can’t love like that. I’ve tried. I finally have come to terms with it. I’ve spent the last four months trying to grow in love, and then it hit me! I don’t grow in love by focusing on love. I grow in love by focusing on Jesus.
Growing in Love
Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God. It’s not an emotion, it’s not a good feeling, it’s not something that comes and goes; it’s not something we manufacture or something we decide upon.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us. Notice the word fruit is singular. In the Greek, the word is karpos, which means “the fruit of trees, the fruit of one’s loins, or metaphorically, that which originates or comes from something, an effect, a result.” In other words, if the Spirit of God dwells within you, a believer, then the fruit is the effect or result of the presence of the Holy Spirit within. He doesn’t come to us in only joy and kindness, or just love to some and goodness to others. The Holy Spirit produces one fruit in each of us, and we have all of Him that we need.
The problem is that we have a sinful nature residing in us, too. The above passage begins with Paul urging his readers to “live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). We have to choose which one will lead. Our job is to cooperate with the Spirit of God and allow Him to live His love through us. So how do we do that?
Crucify the Flesh
First, we have to crucify the flesh. Jesus said we were to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). Paul said he had been crucified in Christ and that he no longer lived to himself, but Christ lived in Him (Galatians 2:20). He goes on in Galatians chapter 5 to say this:
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with it passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
We have to make a daily decision to deny our flesh by not feeding it what it wants. That’s why I can’t love. My flesh wants to envy, boast, and be proud. My sinful nature is self-seeking and easily angered.
So, I can’t love properly, but I can choose to deny those unloving, sinful desires. Here’s a key to doing that:
“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
Did you get that? It’s all about what we set our minds on. If I choose to dwell on prideful thoughts, jealousy, or anger, then I allow the flesh to lead me and I won’t bear much love in my life. But I can choose to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Cooperate with the Spirit
Second, we must cooperate with the Spirit:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25).
So, to keep in step with the Spirit, we have to set our minds on what the Spirit desires. So what does the Spirit desire? I believe the Spirit longs for us to be fully devoted to God.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).
To remain in Him means that we abide with Him and dwell in His presence. That starts with our personal relationship with the Lord. We can’t just be religious and think we will walk in love. To remain somewhere means we started out there, and we stay there. But apart from Him (when we get in the flesh and do our own thing) we accomplish nothing.
That’s why I can’t love on my own. And neither can you. But what we can do is resist the sinful nature with its desires and surrender to the Holy Spirit. We can abide in the Vine by spending time with the Lord every day, reading and studying the Word, praying, worshiping, and fellowshiping with other believers.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
He’s given us a command we can’t obey in the flesh, but thank God: He can love through a heart surrendered to Him.