Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Understanding the fruit of the Spirit - "love"

Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

The great listing of the "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23 comprises the practical outworking of the Spirit-filled life. In the wider context of Galatians 5:16-25, we find Paul urging the Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" and "to be led by the Spirit". We find him contrasting the "flesh" and "spirit" as he does in Romans 8:1-11. Many of the themes that we find in Paul's later letters are first developed here in Galatians. The Spirit-filled life is both about experiencing God in fuller measure by empowerment and about the life-practical moral virtues that accompany such a life. It must be immediately underscored that Paul does not refer to "fruits of the Spirit", rather, the singular "fruit". As a collection of fruit, it appears Paul intends all nine fruit of the Spirit to be taken together. 

Ways in which we can categorize the fruit of the Spirit
The famous expositor of the scriptures J. Vernon McGee once explained how he organizes these nine virtues or "fruit of the Spirit". The first three he labels "inward fruit" (love, joy, peace). The second set of three fruit he labels "outward fruit" - which is - virtues by which we relate to others (i.e patience, kindness, goodness). Then in the final set of three, McGee uses the title "Godward fruit" or "upward fruit", which refers to the fruit we use in our walk with God (hence, faithfulness, self-control, perseverance). I find McGee's treatment very helpful, since he places each heading in a diagram of a triangle. The first two sets comprise the bottom points of the triangle; whereas the top-most point representing the so-called "God-ward" fruit.

Such a categorization like J. Vernon McGee's aids in knowing how to perhaps apply the nine-fruit. Truly with Paul's listing of three sets of three, such a pattern is a typical Jewish way of presenting a poetic text - with the three sets of three signaling completeness, soundness and balance. One could say that in each set of three, the first fruit in each set functions as a "head fruit", which, if listed out, would appear as follows:

love          patience        faithfulness
joy            kindness         gentleness
peace        goodness        self-control

Other commentators have noted this "triad" or "triple-triad" pattern. The great commentator Alexander MacLaren notes: 

"It is perhaps not too artificial to point out that we have here three triads of which the first describes the life of the Spirit in its deepest secret; the second, the same life in its manifestations to men; and the third, that life in relation to the difficulties of the world, and of ourselves."     

Focusing briefly on the head of fruit - "love"
When we consider that these fruit are the fruit of the Spirit, we must grasp the fact that we cannot produce them on our own. The flesh cannot replicate these fruit. When we think of "love", love refers to the manifold ways in which God expresses His love - especially as we find it in the Bible. Whatever God loves, and how He loves, translates into the Christian expressing such love towards the same types of objects, people and things. In the Bible we find at least five different categories or expressions of God's love (these thoughts are partially influenced by D.A Carson's work - "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God"):

1. God's internal love, chiefly highlighted for example in how the Person of the Father loves the Person of the Son.

2. God's benevolent love toward His creation. As Jesus notes in Matthew 5:45, He makes it "rain on the just and unjust". In Genesis 1 we find God declaring "it is good" on seven occasions.

3. God's general love which He expresses towards sinners. Such love is chiefly seen in John 3:16. The term "world" refers to the class of humanity. We know in Mark 10:21 that Jesus loved the rich young ruler, even though the young man, as far as we know, never trusted in Christ.

4. God's redemptive love towards His people whom He sets His affection, calls and then who respond in saving faith. God's people are those whom He has pledged to preserve until the return of Christ. Passages such as Acts 20:28 and 1 Timothy 4:10 distinguish the love of God in general for all men with that of His redemptive love towards His people.

5. God's love for righteousness. God loves what is right because He is Holy. He rules by righteousness and lovingkindness (Psalm 89:14; Jeremiah 9:23-24). God esteems what is just and fair, since He is by nature just and fair. Oftentimes Christians will speak of the "things of God", including "prayer" and "the Bible". Such things and means of grace constitute the righteous things that God loves.  God's wrath is His goodness expressed against what is unjust. Some have suggested that God's wrath is God's love expressed negatively and repulsively against sin. 

Life practical expression of the fruit of "love"
Now these five expressions of love are all expressed by God. They are as it were tributaries fed by His love and fed back into His love. The Person of the Holy Spirit - being God - brings the Christian into contact with such expressions. What this means then for the Christian is the following with respect to the fruit of "love": 

1. As with the first expression of love, the Holy Spirit will enable me in the fruit of love to love the Son with the love of God.

2. As with the second expression of love, the Holy Spirit will enable me to have a greater love and appreciation for His creation.

3. Thirdly, the fruit of love, when partaken in faith, gives me a burden for the lost - just as God does in His general love toward them through the general, legitimate offer of the gospel.

4. Fourthly, we can love our fellow believer in a profound, Godward way. To love the Son, the creation, unbelievers and believers in each of the expressions of which God loves is unique. Only the Spirit can make such love possible.

5. Finally, to love the things of God - i.e righteousness, means I will adore the scriptures as my daily food (Job 23:12); love to talk to the heavenly Father and other such disciplines which esteem God in His holiness.  

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