Love

Original Date: 
Sunday, April 22, 2018

Matthew 22:37-38; assorted verses from 1 John The Fruit of the Spirit: Love

Loving the Giver
Many of you are familiar with a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I know Jay has mentioned it in a sermon or two, and I know some of your small groups have studied it. Basically, the premise is that there are 5 ways that we all communicate or receive love: Words of Encouragement, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Gift Giving.

I believe that I’ve mentioned this before: I’m married to a gift giver. There’s no doubt that one of Beth’s love languages is the giving of gifts. She loves to pick out gifts for the family.

Christmas at our house is not a one or two gift affair. When we pass out the presents before opening them everybody has a small mountain in front of them. Everybody, that is, except for Beth herself. Obviously, she doesn’t buy presents for herself. And I subscribe more to the gift giving philosophy of buying one, substantial, thoughtful gift. But not Beth.

I mean, she gives nice and thoughtful gifts. But she also likes to deal in volume. So she wraps up everything. We get toothbrushes and candy. We get new pajamas and nice shirts. We get movies and CDs. We get practical stuff and fun stuff. Big items and small ones. She just can’t help herself. She loves to give gifts. I’m pretty sure she already has some of next year’s Christmas presents bought.

And Easter? Let me tell you about Easter baskets at the Muilenburg house! Beth figures that Jesus coming back from the dead is at least as big a deal as Jesus being born, so why shouldn’t there be gifts? Muilenburg Easter baskets are like gift bags at the Oscars. Not only is there candy, there are gift certificates and DVDs and jewelry and toys. You’d be amazed how much she can fit in a basket.

Now, I’m not complaining. Being married to a gift giver is a pretty good gig. If you don’t have a gift giver in your life, you should get one.

Over the years I’ve gotten some pretty great gifts. There’s the UNI blanket that hangs on the wall and another UNI blanket that I use to keep warm. There’s the UNI stone in our front yard and the UNI canvas table for tailgating. Over the years, I’ve gotten more UNI t-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants than I can count. Last year, we moved into a new house, and we have an entire basement that we are decorating with UNI stuff, so I’ve got a pretty good idea what theme my gifts will follow for the next few years.

Now, here’s my point: as much as I enjoy being on the receiving end of Beth’s gift giving, and as much as I love my UNI sweatshirts, Beth is still far more important to me than any of the gifts. I love Beth much more than the gifts she gives me.

I appreciate and I enjoy the gifts that she gives, I love them as an expression of her personality and her care for me, but she will always be more important to me than anything else. Even if the gifts would stop coming, I’d still love her. I’ll always love the giver more than the gift.

What If God Were Absent From Heaven?
Now, think about that with relation to how we feel about God. When it comes to God, what do we love more: the gifts or the Giver? Are our feelings about God driven by what He can do for us—get us out of Hell, provide us with good health, bless us with a family and a job and a home—or are they based on Who He is?

John Piper wrote a book called God is the Gospel and his point is that our love for the gifts God provides should always take second place in our hearts to our love for God Himself. Piper asks the question:

“If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?” (p. 15)

If our answer to that question is not a resounding NO! then we are committing one of the most prevalent sins of all: we are guilty of loving the gifts more than the giver. That is, if we could imagine ourselves being happy in a world of blessings in which God was absent then we are breaking the first and greatest commandment.

The First Fruit
Two seeks ago we started a new sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit. For the next two months we are going to be looking at Galatians 5:22-23:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

This list is what it looks like to have Christ-like character. This is the natural result (the fruit) of having the Sprit in your life. As people who belong to Jesus, our goal should be to demonstrate these 9 characteristics.

And so, our sermon series is going to consist of us looking at the items in this list one at a time. This week we’ll look at love. Next week joy. And so on.

When we started the series we also handed out some prayer cards that have John Stott’s daily prayer printed on them. Part of that prayer, which addresses all three members of the Trinity, is a request that the Spirit would make His fruit ripen in our lives. The challenge is for all of us to pray this prayer daily. I got some text messages the first week with pictures of the card, placed strategically for daily viewing. If you didn’t get one, there are more cards available at the information desk.

Today’s topic, then, is the first thing on the list: Love.

Allow me to make a few observations on this text, then we’ll be looking at a couple of other passages.

For one thing, I’ve seen more than a few commentaries that point out that the word for “fruit” is singular. The suggestion, then, is that the fruit of the Spirit is only one thing—love. If we read it this way, then, Paul is saying that product of the Spirit in our lives is love, and the eight things in the list after this are a description of what our love should look like. If that is the case, then the list here would be similar to the list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 13 in which he describes love as being patient, kind, not self-seeking, and so on. Read this way, we can clearly see how important love is.

On the other hand, limiting the Fruit of the Spirit to just one item seems counter to what Paul is trying to accomplish here. The power of the list lies in the fact that it’s just that: a list. I prefer James Boice’s interpretation when he says: “The singular form stresses that these qualities are a unity, like a bunch of grapes instead of separate pieces of fruit.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 498) I think the whole list should be thought of as the (singular) fruit of the Spirit, but each one is important, like individual grapes in a single cluster.

The other observation I want to make is that it is not at all clear who the object of our love should be as a result of having the Spirit in our lives. Love, as you have probably heard, is a verb. Love is something we do. I could add to that: Love is a transitive verb. That is, it is a verb that requires an object. “I love pizza.” “I love the Panthers.” “I love my family.” (not necessarily in that order.) To say that you love begs the question: what, or whom, do you love?

So, we need to ask: Does the presence of the Spirit in our lives create more love for God? Or does it create more love for other people? Most of the commentators I have looked at suggest that this is about our love for other people. They make the case that having the Spirit in our lives leads us to more generous love with the people around us. They point out that Paul talks about loving your neighbor just 8 verses earlier (Gal. 5:14).

And that makes sense. But I’m going to go the other way. I think what Paul has in mind first and foremost here, is love for God. I think the first fruit of the Spirit is a deeper devotion to God. And I say that for a couple of reasons.

One is that love for others is mentioned later in the list, with the word “kindness.” Some have even suggested that the first three items are more God directed, or vertical, characteristics; the second set of three are more other directed, or horizontal, characteristics; and the third set of three are more self-directed. or inward, characteristics.

And, the other reason I think we should be thinking of this first fruit as love for God is because of the greatest commandment.

The Greatest Commandment
Many of you know the verse. We talked about it quite a bit last fall with the neighboring series. It’s Matthew 22:37-38. Jesus is in Jerusalem, the week of His death. And He’s engaging in verbal duels with the scribes and teachers of the law who want to trip Him up and discredit Him. So one of them asks: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And here’s how Jesus answers:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

It’s supposed to be a trick question: How can Jesus pick one from all the commands in the Old Testament? If He says one is more important, isn’t He downplaying all the rest? It He takes a stand against adultery, then they can ding Him for being soft on murder.

But Jesus makes it simple. It starts with love. Love God. That’s what all the law and prophets are pointing to (v. 40). Love God.

So that’s how we’re going to start our look at the 9 different fruit of the Spirit. The first fruit is love. Love for God. I’m going to say that the first fruit that must ripen in the lives of Christians is to really love God.

Genuine and Intense
Now, I stuck that word “really” in there for two reasons

First, to really love God means to genuinely love God.

This is what I was getting at in the introduction. It’s not genuine love if you only appreciate the gifts but are indifferent to the giver. You wouldn’t think much of me if I said to Beth: “I really like the present you gave me, now please leave me alone.” Likewise, when we appreciate God only for the blessings that are coming our way, that’s not genuine love.

Jesus says that we must have heartfelt, sincere love for God. We must esteem Him and value Him and care about Him because of Who He is. He is the pearl of great price. He’s the treasure buried in the field. He’s the greatest good in the universe.

You cannot be a Christian and not love God. You cannot hate Him, or be indifferent to Him. You cannot fake your love for Him.

Or there will be Hell to pay.

Listen to how the apostle Paul ends his first letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 16:23:

If anyone does not love the Lord–a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!

That sounds kind of harsh, but it’s also true. People who do not love the Lord are cursed. You cannot be a real Christian and not love God. Loving God is not optional. It’s essential. It’s necessary.

So, when I say the first fruit that must ripen in the lives of Christians is to really love God, I mean we must genuinely love God.

But I also mean intense love for God.

My youngest daughter, Ellie, used to be a real chatterbox. If there was silence for too long, she would say something, even if she didn’t have anything to say. One of her favorite things to do was to say: “Hey Dad…” And I’d say, “Yes Ellie?” And then she’d realize she didn’t have anything planned, so she’d go: “…ummm, I love you!” And sometimes, just to mix it up a little, she’d say: “I really love you!”

And it never really gets old to hear, because I believe she really does love me. Even if she’s just looking for something to say, it’s still pretty cool. She loves me with everything she has.

And that seems to be what Jesus is getting at when He says that we are to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. Jesus is talking about the kind of love that holds nothing in reserve.

So when I say the first fruit to ripen in our lives is to really love God, I mean we must intensely love God. With our whole being.

How Do We Know?
Now, how do we know if we really love the Lord? What does this kind of real love look like? There are a lot of people who like to think of themselves as real Christians, but they have no real love for God. How do we know if we really love God?

A lot of things could be said, but I’d like to direct you to the book of 1 John. John is often called the “Apostle of Love” because love is such a frequent theme in his writings. And 1 John is a letter all about helping Christians know if they really belong to God. There are five things I’d like to point out from the letter of 1 John that indicate a real love for God. Five marks of real love.

He First Loved Us
First. If we really love God there will be a belief in His Son. Our love for God begins with His love for us.

That’s what 1 John 4:19 says:

19 We love because he first loved us.

We love God not because we are so smart or clever or perceptive. We love God not because we are so generous and large-hearted and good. Rather, even though we were rebel enemies of God, God has chosen to love us first.

This is the gospel. We love God because He first loved us. Even though we were in rebellion against Him, God gave His One and Only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Here’s how 1 John 4:9-10 puts it:

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

If we don’t get this, we really can’t say that we love God. Our love for Him springs out of His love for us. We must believe in His Son.

And, by the way, this gives us motivation to love God. Not just for the gift of salvation, but also for what it says about who God is. God is imminently lovable.

We, in our fallen condition, were not lovable, but God loved us anyway.

God, on the other hand, is absolutely lovable. He is good. He is perfect. He is holy. He is glorious. He is beautiful. He is wonderful. And He is profoundly and particularly gracious and self-giving.

Do you believe in God’s Son? Do you know how much He loves you? And are you loving Him in return? If we really love God, then we will believe in the gospel.

As the Deer
Second. If we really love God there will be a thirst for fellowship. If we really love God, then we will want to be with Him. We will desire His presence. 1 John 1:3:

3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

Fellowship. Interaction. Doing life together.

If we love God, then we will want to know Him: what He is like, what He likes, what He dislikes, what He wants, what He thinks. We will want to communicate with Him, talk to Him, listen to Him, relate to Him in a personal way.

We will want intimacy with God. That is, we will want to spend time with Him.

I think of Psalm 42:

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

I’ve heard that when a deer is spooked or wounded or hunted, it will instinctively run to water. I used to think that was because it wanted to hide its scent. But that’s not it. It’s because the deer knows that water is life. It can’t survive without water. So whenever it is threatened, even as it flees, it wants to be as close to the source of life as possible.

Does that describe the inclination of your heart, when it comes to God? My friend Matt says that Psalm 42 “describes a deadly thirst for the living God.” Do you thirst for God like that?

If you love somebody, you want to spend time with them. You want to interact with them and deepen your relationship with them. Do you have that with God? Do you thirst for fellowship with God?

Do you have a regular appointment to meet with God? Hopefully, weekly attendance at worship is a regular appointment for you. But is there more? Do you make time to pray? To read the Bible? To take walks and just talk and sing and pour out your heart to God?

If we really love God, then we will desire to spend time with Him. We will thirst for fellowship.

To Obey
Third. If we really love God there will be a desire for obedience. Our love for God will play itself out in the way that we act. 1 John 5:3:

3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

On the night before the cross, as Jesus huddled with His disciples and coached them to abide in Him, He said: “Remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.” (John 15:9-10) Essentially, He said: “If you love me, then you will do what I command.”

Now, why is that? Is this because Jesus is on a power trip and He just wants blind and slavish devotion to His every whim and desire? No, Jesus is nothing like that.

Instead, our love for Him will lead us to respond to His grace and kindness with a desire to please Him. Our love for Him will lead to a recognition that His commands to us are actually in our best interest. As the verse says: “His commands are not burdensome.”

And, more than that, our obedience will spring out of a desire to be like Him. Whatever we love, we desire to be like. Have you ever noticed that? When you truly love someone, you want some of their admirable qualities to become manifest in your life.

So what has He commanded? We can find it in the pages of the Bible. He commands a lot of things: Love for enemies, prayer, hard work on the job, honesty, purity, forgiving those who sin against us, honoring our parents, generosity, and more.

Christians do these things not because they are trying to earn their way to Heaven, but because the gospel has changed their hearts and given them a real love for God.

Do you have a desire for obedience? Not a perfect desire. Not an absolute desire. And not perfect obedience. But a desire to obey. A desire to become like Him by doing what He says to do.

If we really love God, then we will have a desire to obey Him.

Do Not Love the World
Fourth. If we really love God, then we will have a hate for His enemies. Our love for God will lead us to despise what God despises.

Did you know that God’s children are supposed to hate? We are. We are to hate what God hates.

Not necessarily people. Certainly not individuals. But God has enemies and they should be our enemies as well.

My friend Matt points out three categories of enemies: The World, The Flesh, and The Devil. Matt calls them the external, the internal, and the infernal enemies of God.

The world is the world-system, society’s coalition against God. The flesh is the Bible’s way of talking about our sinful nature. It’s the remaining corruption left over after the Lord enters our life. And the Devil is the Devil. God’s arch-enemy. The fallen angel leading the spiritual rebellion against God.

The world. The flesh. And the Devil. The external, internal and infernal enemies of God and thus our enemies as well.

And the Bible says that we should hate them all. Here’s what 1 John says about this, thinking specifically of the world. 1 John 2:15:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Now, the “world” here is a Biblical way of talking about God’s enemies. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love creation or that we shouldn’t love people who are trapped in the world’s system.

But it does remind us that God’s enemies become our enemies. We can’t love the ways of the world and at the same time claim to love God. We can’t nurture and feed our sinful flesh, and still claim to love God. (cf. Rom 8:8) We can’t be friends of Satan and also claim to be friends of God.

If we really love God, then we will hate the things He hates. Do you hate the enemies of God?

Whom He Has Seen
Then, fifth and finally. If we really love God, then we will have a love for His friends. Our love for God will be expressed in our love for others. 1 John 4:20:

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

This is the other way to read the word “love” at the beginning of the fruit of the Spirit. We’ll talk about it more when we get to the word kindness. Loving God means loving people. If we truly love God, we will not only hate what God hates, but we will love whom God loves.

So, if we look at our own lives and see no genuine love for other believers, we need to ask whether or not the fruit of love for God is really ripening in our lives.

One morning after Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. They had a fish breakfast on the shore and nobody was happier to see Jesus than Peter.

But Peter had denied Jesus three times. He hadn’t loved Jesus.

He hadn’t wanted to be with Him during His trial. He hadn’t obeyed Him by staying awake and taking up his cross. He hadn’t hated His enemies. And he hadn’t loved His friends.

He had abandoned Jesus and denied that he even knew Him.

After they finished eating, three times Jesus asked him: “Do you really love me?”

And each time, Peter said yes.

And Jesus said, “Okay. Show me. Feed my sheep (that is, love my people) and follow me.”

I think that Jesus is asking us the same question today:

“Do you really love me?”

If your answer is yes, then Jesus is saying to you:

“You’ll believe in what I did for you at the cross. You’ll stop trying to save yourself.
You’ll have a thirst for fellowship with me. Let’s get together. Get to know me.
You’ll have a desire to obey me. Do what I command.
You’ll have a hate for my enemies. Don’t compromise with the world, don’t give in to the flesh, don’t listen to the devil.
And you’ll have a love for my friends. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The first fruit that should ripen in the lives of believers is the fruit of love. Really loving God.