Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Part 2...Love Galatians 5:22-23, John 15:9-17

Larry Norman made a very profound observation in his song 1973, that summed up the hippie free love movement of the 1960’s he sang “The Beatles said all you need is love, then they broke up”. It could be the song of the church as well couldn’t it. We use the word Love and see it as a characteristic of God and the essence of our response to God displayed to each other yet...

And Love is a word in our culture that has so many different meanings and understanding attached.

In the book ‘The fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (Trask and Goodall, 2000) that I’m using as a basis for this series the chapter on Love starts with two illustrations of that.

One comes from a minister working with a couple on their wedding. They had written their own vows and while they had kept most of the traditional wording there was one major change.

They wanted to say ‘for richer and poorer; in sickness and in health; until we no longer love each other.’

The second illustration comes from the book letters to an unborn child by David Ireland. Dying from a crippling neurological disease he wrote a series of letters to the child in his wife’s womb that there was a good chance he would never meet.

In one of his letters he wrote

“ Your Mother is very special. Few men know what it’s like to receive appreciation for taking their wives out to dinner when it entails what it does for us. It means that she has to dress me, shave me, brush my teeth, comb my hair, wheel me out of the house, and down the steps open the garage and put me in the car, take the pedals off the chair, stand me up, sit me in the seat of the car, go around to the other side of the car, twist me around so that i’m comfortable, fold the wheelchair, put it in the car, go round to the other side of the car, start it up, back it out, get out of the car, pull the garage door down, get back in the car, and drive off to the restaurant.

And then, it starts all over again; she gets out of the car, unfolds the wheel chair, opens the door, spins me round, stands me up, seats me in the wheel chair, pushes the pedals out, closes and locks the car, wheels me into the restaurant, then takes the pedals off the wheel chair so I won’t be uncomfortable. We sit down to have dinner, and she feeds me throughout the entire meal. And when it’s all over she pays the bill, pushes the wheel chair out to the car again, and reverses the same routine.

And when it’s over-finished-with real warmth she’ll say “honey, thank you for taking me out to dinner.” I never quite know what to answer.”

We have many different understandings when we use the word Love. The Greeks had four different words for love to articulate these differences. Two that are not used in the New Testament.

Eros, which is sexual and romantic love, it’s the feeling you feel when you feel the feeling you’ve never felt before. I think this is the one that the couple getting married had in mind when they thought of people falling in and out of love, because it is that emotional love.

Then there is Storge, which is a word used to denote family loyalty. It’s the special bond that you have within your family.

The two uses in the New Testament are

Phileo, which we are used to hearing in the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. It is the idea of friendship and companionship. In the New Testament it is used of the love we should have for each other in the church and to life in general. We need this companionship. The Old Testament example is the relationship between King David and Jonathon.

Then there is Agape. It for the Greeks was the highest ideal for love. It is a love that is an act of the will. A love that put the good of another person before one’s own. It’s the word that is used in the list of the fruit of the spirit. It’s the word that Christians found readily described the love we have been shown in Jesus Christ, and to express the depth of the Love Christ calls us to share with each other.

We are looking at the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. There have been many ways of trying to categorise the list of the nine fruit: love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Breaking down and grouping them in different ways, but Gordon Fee says really with love being first on the list that the rest could simply be an explanation of what it means to love. As we had read out to us today Paul had already told the Galatians that the whole of the law and the outworking of the Christian life could be summed up in the commandment ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’. At the end of his list of gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul had told the fractured and divided church that in the end only three things would remain faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love and then in the next chapter we have the wonderful ‘love is...’ passage where Paul articulates the virtues of this Christian love and in that list are seven of the fruit of the spirit. In the passage we had read out to us from John’s gospel, Jesus also points to love as being the expression of believers abiding in Christ. Jesus sums up his ethical teaching by saying because you abide in my love, love one another. We see Jesus choosing of us to be his followers was that we might bear much fruit.

In fact this emphasis on love as a virtue is unique to Christianity. There are many lists of virtues in the writing of the ancient world and other faiths and the nowhere is there the emphasis on love as in there in the New Testament. There are many other lists of Christian virtues in the New Testament and the only constant is the one Jesus gave us: That we should love one another.

Love is at the heart of our understanding of God. The passage in John 15  starts off by articulating the relationship between Jesus and his Father “just as the father has loved me...” the unique Christian understanding of the trinity is based on Love. That there are three persons within the Godhead; but in this community of Love, this three, love each other so much that they can only be described as one.

Love is at the heart of our understanding how God chooses to relate to us. We too are invited into a relationship with God because of God’s love for us... Just as the father has loved me so have I loved you now remain in my Love,’ says Jesus. The wonderful articulation of that in John 3:16 ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son...’. In fact John will go on in his first epistle to the dispersed and suffering church to say ‘we know what love is not because that we love God but that he first Loved us and sent his son to be an atoning sacrifice.’

Love is at the centre of how we are to respond to God. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is ‘and he replied that it was to love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

God’s love is the example of that love we are to share. ’Greater Love has no man’ says Jesus ‘than he lay down his life for his friends’, this as he shared that last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. This is the example that you and I as followers of Jesus have. This is the Love we have received. A persevering, making the first move, forgiving, restoring, self sacrificial love that we have freely received from Jesus, it is the Love that we abide in and it is the Love that Jesus calls us share for and with each other and that will bear much fruit. I mentioned it last week that the purpose of fruit is to reproduce the tree that it grows on. Jesus reproduces his love in us and we are to allow the spirit to use us to reproduce that in others.

The love that we are called to share is a communal love. Billy Graham says ‘ love for others is the first sign that we have been born again and that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.’ All the way through the new testament, the emphasis on church is not a building or even a service of public worship it’s being a community, that loves each other and that communally loves its enemies and those around it sacrificially. People say well I want to follow Jesus but I’m not sure about the church. I know they are talking of what we would call the institutional church. But Jesus and his family kind of come as a package deal. Being a follower of Jesus is a team sport.

Being communal means it goes beyond simply being in church together. We are simply a crowd when we gather for worship. Jesus ministered to the crowd but he invested most of his time and energy into relating and caring for and loving into a smaller community. The early church meet as a large group for worship and teaching but it also had a whole other raft of relational things happening behind that. People meet in each other’s homes, they shared meals together, they shared resources together with those who had needs. To allow this love for one another to grow we need to move from being a crowd to being a community.  

One of the dangers of such a community is that it can become inward looking and inward focused. But the love we have received and that we share is a including and welcoming love. AS we have been welcomed into God’s people so we are to be looking at sharing that love outside ourselves and welcoming people in: In to our church, our homes, our lives, our faith.

The love we have received and are called to share is a forgiving love. It commits itself to the other person despite the slights and hurt and wrongs that are done. We are a forgiven people a community of grace and we need to be forgiving and grace filled to one another.

The love we have received and are called to share is a resilient love. Remember love never gives in. That’s why patience and faithfulness are fruit of the spirit. It sticks with each other and seeks the others good no matter what. The Old Testament story of God’s dealing with Israel that is the story told over and over again, that God is continually faithful and patient with his people.

Former TV evangelist Jim Bakker, who was sent to prison for fraud, tells of these qualities of love that were shown to him in a very simple act. In his book I Was Wrong he remembers.

"Not long after my release from prison, I joined Franklin Graham and his family at his parents’ old log mountain home for dinner. Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) had prepared a course dinner. We talked and and laughed and enjoyed a casual meal together like a family.

During our conversation, Ruth asked me a question that required an address. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out an envelope. My wallet had been taken when I went to prison. I had not owned a wallet for over four-and-a-half years.

As I fumbled through the envelope, Ruth asked tenderly, “Don’t you have a wallet, Jim?’

“This is my wallet, I replied.

Ruth left the room, returning with one of Billy’s wallets.

Here is a brand-new wallet Billy has never used. I want you to have it,” she said."

He concluded

"I still carry that wallet to this day. Over the years I have met thousands of wonderful Christian men and women, but never anyone more humble gracious and in a word,”real” than Ruth Graham and her family. ”

We can talk of this love in great cosmic terms but it is a love that works itself out in everyday small and real actions, in hand's on ways as the spirit leads us and we walk in the spirit.

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