Over the next weeks, we will be going through each of the fruit of the Spirit and looking at exactly what they are and how we can apply these characteristics to our lives. For the first one, we will be looking at the attribute of love and how the Bible defines it.

Love (Greek, agape; Antonym: hatred)

The word rendered love in Galatians 5:23 is agape in the Greek and one meaning for this expression is “unconditional love.” This word which is often used in the New Testament was a word to which Christianity in the first century gave new meaning. Another interesting tidbit is that outside of the New Testament, it rarely occurs in Greek writings during that era. Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest interest of the other, no matter what the other person does. Let me say that last part once more, no matter what the other person does. Agape is a self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider what it can get from the other person. Agape is a love by choice and it refers to one’s will rather than to one’s emotions. To put it another way, agape is not a feeling; it is a willed action. Often when I love someone, I might not feel like doing it at all. Often, we have to make ourselves love with agape love. As the Scriptures states with great clarity, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is agape.” (I John 4:8) Meditate on that: God is agape; God is love. This is what the Scriptures declare in simple terms. His love is not based on an emotional impulse and it is not fleeting. As you can guess, beyond any other feature, agape is the most important character trait any person can have.

I once came upon the words of American novelist Jack Kerouac, which perfectly epitomize the opposite of agape love; he wrote: “So therefore I dedicate myself to myself, to my art, my sleep, my dreams, my labors, my sufferance, my loneliness, my unique madness, my endless absorption and hunger, because I cannot dedicate myself to any fellow being.” On the reverse, if we had to picture an image of agape, it would have to be Jesus on the cross, giving all of his life and laying it all on the line. Even in his own words he shares the immensity and importance of this characteristic. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) So on some level, tied to this fruit of the Spirit is the quality of sacrifice. Agape is a sacrificial, self-less love. The love of agape is often thinking about the needs of others, even in non-consequential ways (e.g., how often do you have to have it your way or how well do you give your time away to others?).

As one sad and startling example of this—in my private practice in counseling I would often work with teenagers and I was astonished at how over and over, they would share that they just wanted their parents to spend time with them. All they wanted was for their dad or mom to put away their own selfish lives (e.g., their jobs, their televisions or computers, their recreations, etc.) and really engage their lives. Sadly, in almost every case, these were kids from Christian homes. As stated above, the opposite of agape is hate. Almost in each instance, do you know what these teens believed about their parents? That their parents hated them in some way and that is why they never spent any time with them. Their parents were caught in their own selfish worlds and had neglected what mattered most. This is just one of the dangers when we don’t engage and learn how to agape love in every aspect of our lives.

Below are some questions you can ask yourself as you attempt to apply the fruit of agape to your life: How well do you love unconditionally? How well do you love when it is entirely up to your will versus “feeling” like it? Who is in your life that you need to love, but you just don’t feel like it? How genuinely sacrificing are you? How often do you give your will over to another person and do what they want, especially those closest to you? How selfish are you? How well do you put yourself in uncomfortable or costly situations to love someone? What do you need to do to change in your life to become more loving?

In: Spiritual Formation
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