When’s the last time you strolled through an apple orchard hunting for coconuts? Or bananas? Or peaches? Hopefully never. (If you have, we can schedule a time to sit down and talk.) The fruit you’ll find in nature always depends on the seed it sprang from. Unless you intentionally cut off a branch of the apple tree and graft on a new species in its place, that apple tree will only ever produce apples.
The human heart is a tree, and it yields crops of fruit revealing exactly what we are. At the moment we believe in Christ, an amazing thing happens: a new kind of tree is planted in us, God Himself, the Holy Spirit. He works quietly from the inside out. In Galatians 5:22-23, we are given a glimpse of this kingdom harvest: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at what the Bible says on each in turn. Let’s start off with love.
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
Love doesn’t necessarily mean an absence of pain. Joseph was simultaneously saturated in the care of the Lord and imprisoned for three years. This works on both a vertical plane (our relationship with Him) and a horizontal plane (our relationships with others). God so loved the world that He gave up His well-loved Son to ultimate pain on our behalf. When we equate love with not allowing hard circumstances to bring about the best for another person, we’re really giving into a selfish people-pleasing dance, not biblical love. Real love is strong enough to care more about the other person than about being liked.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Love takes all of who we are. Every area we find ourselves holding back is an area not yet expressing the fullness of love. When the Spirit grows His fruit in us, we can’t help being consumed by the enormity of God’s affection for us and overflowing with affection for Him in return.
Let Your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in You.
The most common modifier of God’s love for us is ‘steadfast,’ mentioned 202 times in the Bible. This matters! We can be confident as we go out and love imperfectly because we are loved so perfectly, so faithfully, so constantly. There is no way a believer can screw up royally enough to lose the Father’s love. He has seen our every failing—past, present, and future—and loves us just as much as He loves His Son who never did anything wrong. Oh, what wondrous love is this!
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Just as first responders rush toward danger when everyone else rushes away, love calls us to run in when everyone else runs out. Your sister won’t talk to you? Pray for her with compassion. Your girlfriend didn’t return your message? Reach out again. That woman at church is getting a divorce? Invite her out for coffee. Whether it’s a chance to exercise big love or little love, don’t be a fair-weather friend. Be a friend covered in tears or chocolate or dust or whatever Christ in you looks like at any given moment.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
(Song of Solomon 2:7)
To the single girls out there, trust God’s love for you to provide the right guy at the right time. There are ways to wait well (in purity, practicing creativity and joy, growing into a fuller version of yourself) in the meantime. Release your demands. As the old saying goes, love is like a fart: if you have to force it, it’s probably… not a fart.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Love according to the kingdom goes against our natural bent of pride and protectionism. This doesn’t mean we’re doormats with neither brains nor spines; it just means that at the end of the day, we don’t hold someone else to a higher standard than God holds us to. Once we recognize that that specific sin has already been paid for by every lash, every nail, every second remaining up on the cross, we can move forward in reconciliation with open hands rather than clenched fists. Our hearts are postured just as much toward the other person’s good as to our own.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Love is a revealer of the extent to which we’ve experienced grace. The natural outflow of a grateful heart is abundant love. As the Spirit moves in us, increasing our awareness of just how forgiven we are, the amount of our outward care will organically grow. I find this comforting because it’s not something I can/have to manufacture through self-will. If I just remember that I’m an apple tree and surrender to the Gardener, apples will come.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Love is radically sacrificial. “Just as I have loved you.” Think about the implications. He gave up everything for us. He washed feet, meeting real needs. He gave the gift of His presence, God with us. He laid down His life for our sake. Why would we reduce love to a sappy film genre or a pretty day on the calendar? Love is blood, sweat, and tears, and the glory that follows.
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 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
Anyone who covers the topic of love without mentioning this passage misses a huge gold mine of truth, but since I just wrote about it, we’ll leave it at this: God’s kind of love is distinct. It’s a work that only the Spirit can do.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.
Good news: love doesn’t ask us to check our brains at the door! We can bring all of our consideration and thoughtfulness into our care for one another. Thinking well enables loving well. Because everyone’s situation is unique, how we love will look a million different ways. But following the sway of heaven moment by moment informs how we are to love this person in this season.