In my last Holiness Matters post, we discussed an introduction to the Fruit of the Spirit. We’ve had a good start into our study of how the Holy Spirit transforms and cultivates his work in us.
We will begin with the first three characteristics Paul lists. In the context of Galatians 5, Paul has spoken about the fruitless deeds of darkness, listing 15 works of the flesh. Then he turns to the Fruit of the Spirit, 9 characteristics of the resulting work of the Holy Spirit in our character and lives.
We could think of this list as prioritized, but I’m not sure that Paul prioritized the list. Certainly love is a foundational characteristic of the Spirit’s fruit. But all of the characteristics are important. Let’s begin by looking at love and the importance it has in our character, walk with God, and life as a believer in Jesus.
Paul begins with one of the hardest characteristics to emulate. In English, we can think of love in so many different ways. What kind of love is the Holy Spirit working in us? In the original language, there are four words for love. We can easily be confused when we speak of the kinds of love. But in Greek, each has a specific meaning.
Two of these Greek words for love are prominent in the New Testament. Agape is the word for unconditional love, without strings attached. We don’t demonstrate it on our own without knowing Jesus and his unconditional love for us.
The other prominent word in Greek for love used in the New Testament is phileo, brotherly love.. It is based on a relationship, but it has its limits. But Paul uses agape, unconditional love. Without the help of the Holy Spirit and Jesus, we will have the hardest time demonstrating this on our own.
Some people are hard to love. Their personalities and actions make it difficult for us to commit to unconditional love. But Jesus demonstrated this love no matter who was on the other end of his love. He is our example. With his help, we can love the unlovable.
We’re much more used to brotherly love. We can love with conditions. If someone wrongs us, we don’t feel they deserve our love. If someone is not part of our inner circle, the love we give may be a little less than unconditional.
In 1 John 4:7-12, the apostle John makes unconditional love one of the tests of knowing God and abiding in him. We can’t wiggle her way out of this one. John tells us that if we don’t unconditionally love other people like Jesus did, we are not born of God or know him (1 John 4:7).
That’s pretty harsh! But this is part of the test of knowing God and being a Christian. We must demonstrate the love of Jesus to everyone we meet, Christian or unbeliever. No one should need to meet certain criteria for us to love them. The Spirit gives us the ability to love.
We don’t learn to love unconditionally all at once. Every fight we get into with another person is a test of our ability to love them unconditionally like Jesus. Every person who wrongs us is a test from the Spirit to love instead of hate or seek revenge. We won’t pass every test.
If we fail to show unconditional love from time to time, it doesn’t mean we are not born of God or don’t know him. John says this about all Christians, that they love unconditionally because they are born of God and know him.
Unbelievers have an uphill battle to demonstrate unconditional love regularly. Christians can unconditionally love because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). Jesus loved us and taught us how to love like he does. And the Holy Spirit is our teacher today to love like Jesus.
When we love others like Jesus, we share God’s character of unconditional love (1 John 4:8). God is love, and we can love others like him when we operate in the Spirit’s power.
God showed us his love by sending Jesus to die on the cross as a sacrifice in our place (1 John 4:9-10). Think about this for a moment. We can show God’s love to those who don’t know him. We can be Jesus, show his character love to them.
In a small way, we emulate God’s character by being Jesus to others. Love is an action. We can’t tell someone we feel unconditional love for them. The only way they feel God’s love in us is when we act on it.
The Spirit builds unconditional love and us through fellowship with other Christians (1 John 4:11-12). Loving one another in Christian fellowship perfects our love. We practice unconditional love and get better at it.
The Christian life is not meant to be one of drudgery. We don’t live under a spirit of fear or act like we are constantly being persecuted and suffering. To be sure, there is trial, persecution, and suffering in our lives.
But we focus on the joys of life. Even in the midst of our suffering we concentrate on the joy of the Lord. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Instead of dreading the persecution and suffering that may come, the Spirit gives us joy deep inside. It combats our situation, one of our greatest weapons against despair and depression.
Christians can suffer times of depression. But the Lord’s joy is a tool that benefits Christians. God’s joy in us is deeper than the trials we face, the storms of life, and the wind and waves surrounding us.
Because of our eternal destiny and blessed hope in the Lord, we don’t endure our situations with gloom. We know God is still on the throne despite our trials. Suffering trials is a light and momentary burden compared to the glory we will see (2 Corinthians 4:17).
James 1:2 describes a joy that realizes God’s deeper purposes when we meet trials. In the trials we suffer, God works his greater purpose of transforming our character. What begins with the testing of our faith ends in the complete person who lacks nothing.
Joy isn’t an emotion but a deep-seated joy that overcomes every situation. Like an iceberg, above the surface may not be joyous, but the joy beneath anchors us in scriptural truth lived out. Our underlying joy is greater then the happiness of circumstances. Our underlying joy rests in the hope of God’s declared promises to be our reality.
A lot of people misunderstand the biblical definition of peace. It does not mean that there is no war or no fighting. Biblical peace is a harmony among all people and throughout creation. The Bible describes it as the absence of harm or danger.
God is the God of peace (Romans 15:33; Philippians 4:9; Hebrews 13:20) who brings his peace to us in times of tribulation and trouble. Despite the storms around us, his peace brings his presence to us.
Ultimately, God will bring peace to the earth and to his people by crushing Satan (Romans 16:19). One of my favorite images of peace in the Bible is Philippians 4:7. Paul explains the piece God brings as a peace that passes all understanding.
Sometimes when God brings his peace into our hearts, stills our souls before him in the midst of circumstances out of our control, we are reminded that he is in control. It goes against everything that makes sense. And yet it makes perfect spiritual sense.
The perfect peace of God calms the storm within us. He brings us an assurance that goes against everything happening around us. It’s like being in the eye of the tornado. Though the storm threatens our life, we rest in God’s peace.
The Spirit brings God’s peace to us. We are bundle of nerves as the danger swirls around us. Where fear could easily overtake us like a rushing flood, God’s peace rushes in instead. He brings the very thing we can’t conjure up for ourselves. He chases the fear away and brings his everlasting peace.
These first three characteristics of the resulting fruit of the Spirit’s work in our character go against the tide of the outside world. No matter what we face in this world, we can rest in the Spirit’s work in us.
He brings an unconditional love we cannot have without knowing God and being his children. His joy overwhelms us with an expectant hope in our future with him when we face trials. And his peace floods our hearts in the midst of the storm.
Everything that the Spirit does in us counteracts what goes on in the circumstances of life. This is why the psalmist often refers to God as our Fortress and our Rock. We can run to him when the storms of life seek to destroy us.
Leave a comment and tell me how you have relied upon the Spirit’s love, joy, and peace welling up in you when the trials of life come. How has the Spirit’s changes in your character prepared you for life’s trials?
Our next post will focus on the next three characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit, patience, kindness, and goodness. Stay tuned for the next installment as we talk about how the Holy Spirit cultivates his fruit in us.