Chracter Traits of the Spiritual Life (Love)

 

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:

Love

It would be helpful for us to examine and discuss many of the character traits that God wants to produce in our life, nurtured by the power of the Holy Spirit.  These are not human and fleshly traits, but they are a special manifestation of God’s own character in our life.  Let’s list some of these qualities and note the meaning of them, along with some of the leading Scriptural references that will aid you in a more detailed study on your own.

Love

We begin with love since it is the foundation for all of our virtues.  Do you have difficulty wishing the best for someone who has harmed you?  Do you reach out with genuine concern toward one who has been unkind or hurtful toward you?  Do you go out of your way to help another person in need of your aid?  Do you choose to put aside your personal interests and welfare if you can manifest a sincere regard for another person?  These expressions will show whether or not you have true love in your heart—a love that is actively seeking the welfare of another.

Love is the greatest virtue that comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the first in Paul’s list at Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love. . . .”  Peter also recognized loves’ importance for he wrote, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8).  He tells us that this love only comes through a genuine conversion to Christ: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1:22).  This “fervent” love arises from a heart and soul that has been purified by God through Christ when we believingly obey the truth of the Lord.  Love’s priority may be seen in Paul’s succinct command: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).  Paul says that love is so crucial that we cannot be saved if we lack sincere love: “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (16:22).

This subject is so vast that it is difficult to condense the Biblical information down to a brief treatment.  Jesus said that love is the priority, for the “great” or “foremost” command is love: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and the second is similar: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31; Matthew 22:36-40; cf. Luke 10:25-28).  Love for God and others were commands that can be traced back to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).

This requirement for love is based on God’s prior love for us.  “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  God demonstrated this love when He gave the Lord Jesus: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).   This special divine love was also manifested by the Lord Jesus.  How do we know this love?  “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).  Because God loved us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39), the Lord was able to command us to have a special love for others, for the very children of God. 

When Jesus came, He added a new dimension to the love commands that were given during the era before He came.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  Our Lord says that we are to love each other with a special love—a love that is modeled after His own love for us: “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”  (See also 1 John 3:16-18; 4:10-11, 20-21.)  Tertullian tells us that when the pagans in the coliseum would see the closeness of the Christians as they were suffering martyrdom, they exclaimed, “Behold!  How they love one another!”  Would the pagans say this of us?

One Greek word for love was philia, which indicated a fondness “which develops as persons are attracted to each other and build a relationship within or outside the context of family.”[i]  While it would be enriching to study this word, we are primarily concerned with another term, agape.  “In ordinary speech this was a rather weak word, conveying fondness or pleasure,” but “the NT adopts and infused [this term] with unique meaning.”[ii]  This is the term that expresses God’s love for the world in the giving of the Son (John 3:16).  It is the love of Christ in loving us to the point of death (Ephesians 5:25). And it is a personal love about which Paul writes, “The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). 

This agape love (the verb is agapao) is a giving love, as the verse above states.  “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  If we love one another, we will give our lives to each other in loving service.  Someone has said that we can give without love, but we can’t love without giving (see 1 Corinthians 13:3).  In one of the most moving accounts of love I’ve read, Robert McQuilkin described his decision personally to care for Muriel, his wife who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.  He said that he loved her when she had her full mental capacity and will love her until death would take her.  For years he did serve her, even when she could no longer recognize him.  Love gives and serves like this.

Love is the cement that binds the members of Christ’s body together.  Paul speaks of the hearts of Christians been “knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2).  The Hebrew writer also commands, “Let love of the brethren continue” (13:1).  Paul wrote of this love within the family of God: “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).  When he wrote his second letter to the same people (2 Thessalonians), Paul was able to say, “The love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater” (1:3).  Christ Himself issued the command for brothers and sisters to love each other: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12; cf. v. 17; 1 John 3:23; 2 John 5). The apostle John gives the underlying ground for this mutual love: “Let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).  He then urges this love for the saints by saying, “The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (4:20).  See further at Ephesians 1:15 and Colossians 1:4.

In one of the most masterful portions of Scripture, Paul describes the meaning and expression of love:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

If we truly love others, we will be patient with them, we will be kind to them, we will not be jealous of them.  If we have such love, we will not brag or manifest arrogance.  We will not act unbecomingly, or seek our own, or become provoked.  In all of these ways and more, the Christian who loves will treat others as God has treated him.  Let us love!  “Now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

 



[i] Lawrence O. Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 420.

[ii] Ibid.



 

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