The Fruit of the Spirit: Love, part 1


This article is about the nature and necessity of Christian love according to God's Word. 

The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Walter Marshall wrote that, "the great duty of love" is "the principle fruit of sanctification" (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Direction XI, section 4, paragraph 3). 

"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. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:22-24).

Seeking the Good of Others

There is much to say about biblical love that mirrors Christ and honors God. To start, let's say that love is seeking the good of others even at cost to yourself. This spirit of love defines practical Christianity.

"See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone." (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Love is the opposite of self-serving; it serves others. Love is the opposite of self-seeking; it is self-emptying. Love is the opposite of selfishness; it is selfless. Only the Holy Spirit can create and cultivate this kind of love within us. Love is a fruit of the spirit, not of the flesh.

When God saves us, the Spirit fills our hearts with a genuine love for God that none can take away. 

"We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

He also fills us with a genuine love for others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [21] And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20–21).

And also,

"So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).


"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him" (1 John 3:17)? Thank you, Holy Spirit, for purifying our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9) and for pouring into them the beautiful and liberating love of God Almighty (Romans 5:5).

To summarize, our faith in Jesus expresses itself toward others in love.

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6)
"The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5)

I appreciate the vivid language of 1 Timothy 1:5. Love "that issues from." It means that love flows from. Love springs forth from. Love emerges and moves outward from. From what? Love pours out of "a pure heart" (a heart purified by the Spirit), "a good conscience" (a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ), and "a sincere faith" (a genuine, heartfelt, and total dependance of Christ for eternal life and all the blessings thereof). This love can only pour forth from the heart of a sinner united to the risen Christ through faith by the grace of God. This is what matters: "only faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

The Imitation of Christ

Christian love is unique. It is self-consciously modeled on Christ's gracious love for us. 

"And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2; cf. John 13:34; 15:12).

Christian love is a duty. It requires commitment. It requires action. And all the commitments and actions of Christian love are defined by the truth of God's Word, not human speculation, church tradition, or personal preferences. 

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).

What kind of love must we pursue? We must pursue love born of the Spirit according to Scripture. This kind of love honors God and brings glory to the Name of Christ Jesus.

Has the Holy Spirit filled your heart with a Christ-like love for the Father and a Christ-like love for others? All glory, honor, and praise to Christ, because these twin loves born of the Spirit are a result of new life in Christ on the basis of His death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:1-10). Therefore, any discussion about genuine, godly love in our hearts must also be a discussion about the great mercy and power of God expressed and freely given in the exalted Savior, our Lord Jesus.

The Necessity of Love

How important is love within a local church? If we do not have love, then nothing else matters, even the greatest of good works or the most "impressive" of ministries. 

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

A mean-spirited person who does a lot of work in the church is a hypocrite. He wants to be seen as a good person and feel like a good person who does work for God and others, but he does does not love others and, therefore, is "nothing" and gains "nothing." To many churches, pastors, and Christians measure devotion and spirituality by works and jobs in the church. But the performance of works and jobs can never give an accurate measure. Love is the measure. Love is the test. Love is the fulfillment of God's holy law (n.b., Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 7:21-23).

In John 13:34–35, Jesus says, 

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Biblical churches shine forth the love of God when, among other things, church members seek the good of each other even at cost to themselves. Christians are to be walking, talking, living, breathing examples of a Christ-like love for others, i.e., a selfless and self-emptying kindness that zealously and humbly seeks to serve others for the glory and praise of God. 

Beloved, we have been called to this. Where can a person go to witness, experience, and be convicted by a God-give, cross-shaped love in this sin-cursed world? They can go visit the nearest Spirit-filled, biblical church.