Sunday, April 25, 2010

It All Starts With Love

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galations 5:22-23 NKJV

One of the things I like about God's lists is that He usually always starts with the most important part listed first. It is no different here where God tells us what the fruits of the Spirit are, and lists them for us. In a way, this list is related to the list we discussed a few weeks ago, and that is the list of the spiritual gifts. Why is that? Well, if you look closely at the passage we looked at, Paul says an interesting thing when he finishes with the list of gifts.

And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 12:31b 13:1-3 NKJV

What Paul tells us here is something very important that many believers miss, and that is this; the Fruit of the Spirit is more important than the Gifts of the Spirit. You see, we can produce work on our own, but only the Holy Spirit can produce fruit. So our responsibility is to live in the Spirit, thus allowing Him to work through us to produce fruit. How do we do that? Well, let's begin where we finished last week, and that is by looking at our "makeup"!

Ask any woman what the first thing is that she puts on when doing her makeup and I bet you most would say her "foundation". In the list of the fruits God gives us in Galatians, the first thing He tells us is "love". Obviously love is not only the most important, but if you look at the rest of the list it seems everything else is a result of that love. So in a way. you could say that love is the foundation upon which all the other fruits are built. The word here for love is "agape" which in the Bible describes the love that God has for us. Some of the best definitions of this kind of love that I have found, and use when teaching on agape, come from Ray Stedman, late pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto California. I have chosen to list just two of them for you.

(1) Agapē; commitment of the will to love and uphold another person
(2)"Agape, or God's kind of love, is a deliberate choice to act for the best interests of another person."

It is unfortunate that so many people confuse "agape" love with "eros" or sensual love, which is a love based on feelings and is never used in the Bible. I have often heard people say that they just can't love another person for one reason or another, but the Bible tells us here that as believers, by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we do have the capacity to love anyone with agape love. Agape is the foundation of the gifts of the Spirit, and if we look closely at the nine gifts listed, I believe we can see what God is trying to show us.

Have you ever heard the expression "Joy stands for Jesus, others, and you"? I remember learning that one in Sunday school when I was just a kid, and by looking a little closer at this list I think I know where that came from. Try dividing these nine gifts into groups of three and then categorize them. What I see is that the first three are directed towards God,(Jesus), the second three towards (others), and the last three towards us,(you). If it helps we can say the gifts of the Spirit are "directional"; Godward, manward, selfward.

When we begin by choosing to love God just as He has loved us, we experience the joy that comes from having a relationship with our Father just as Jesus did.

"These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and [that] your joy may be full.
John 15:11 NKJV

Accepting Jesus into our hearts and choosing to live in a relationship with God not only produces joy, but also as a result allows us to experience the peace of knowing God is with us no matter what the outward circumstances of our lives might be.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV

Who doesn't want to experience a life filled with joy and peace? Has there ever been a time in your life when you encountered someone who seemed ridiculously happy and you wondered what in the world their "problem" was? Guess what? That should be us. The "foundation" we need to put on as often as necessary is to simply remind ourselves that we have entered into a loving relationship with God the Father who has promised to give us joy and peace so that others see in us the effects of making that choice.

It all starts with Love.