In the last few chapters I have emphasized the fact that Paul used the device of contrast in highlighting the difference between one who walked in the flesh and one who walked by the Spirit. Paul was doing this in order to respond to teachers who insisted that maintaining one's perfection before God required adherence to man-made religious rules and prohibitions. He taught them that to remain perfect before God they had to walk in the Spirit, not keep man-made rules.
He began explaining this idea by describing the life or walk of the unspiritual person, and gave examples of the things that this kind of life would produce. Next, Paul described the virtues and qualities in the life of one who followed after the Spirit. In the previous chapter I explained that the fruit of the Spirit was produced by the Spirit as we submitted our will to Him. I also said that we practice this submission when we submit to His word, submit to His power and submit to His ministry. Our active bending and submission to the Holy Spirit's will in these ways would produce the Spirit's fruit in our lives as a natural outcome.
In verse 22, Paul briefly refers to some of the results or fruit that submission to, or walking by the Spirit, will produce:
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
In Galatians, Paul only gives us a sampling of the things that the Holy Spirit creates in us, but we must go elsewhere to understand the nature of these things. As far as love is concerned, this first fruit of the Spirit is described in detail in another of Paul's letters, I Corinthians 13. In order to explain what Paul means by love as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, therefore, we need to examine I Corinthians.
In chapters 1-12 of I Corinthians, Paul provides a series of instructions in response to the many problems present in the Corinthian church. From issues of unity and sexual immorality to instructions on marriage, the proper use of Christian liberty and proper order in worship. He finishes discussing the correct function and use of spiritual gifts in chapter 12, and ends this chapter with the statement that in order to deal effectively with their many problems, they should follow a more excellent way, the way of love.
Paul is not suggesting that the following description of love was something in itself to be pursued to the exclusion of other things like unity among the leaders and teachers, sexual purity, peace in marriage, enlightened Christian living, proper worship and use of spiritual gifts. His point in directing them to a more excellent way was to encourage them to pursue these things with the character of love that he will so eloquently describe in chapter 13.
In Galatians he explains that the only way to cultivate love is to walk by/submit to the Holy Spirit. In Corinthians he actually describes in detail the nature of this fruit the Holy Spirit creates in us. Also, in Corinthians Paul describes the character of Christian love and how different it is in comparison to other types of affection and affinity that humans experience.
The Character of Christian Love — I Corinthians 13:1-12
In describing the character of love Paul reveals three important elements about love that make it the excellent way a Christian should pursue in all matters.
1. In Christianity, Love is Essential
You can have the trappings of religion and even display the dynamic signs, but if you do not have love, you are missing the essence of what Christianity is all about. For example, a car with a lovely interior, flashy colors, lots of controls and buttons on the dash, but no motor, is essentially useless. He uses three examples to demonstrate that love is essential in Christianity.
1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Even if one displays miraculous signs but does not love, his signs point to nothing and are useless. Signs are used to verify that God is near, but without love the signs are meaningless because God is not where love is not. Jesus rebuked those who taught that their ability to perform signs was enough.
22Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'
- Matthew 7:22-23
2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Knowledge, the ability to preach or prophecy, or a strong faith is no substitute for love. Paul says that the object of teaching, the result of knowledge, the fruit of one's faith is, "love from a pure heart" (I Timothy 1:5). All of the teaching we receive is to create love in our hearts, and if we do not love, we have obviously not put what we have learned into practice.
3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Even zeal and generosity are misguided if not motivated by love. People will die for ideals, donate millions to causes that help others, but if they do it because of pride or misguided loyalty, their sacrifice is useless. Only the giving out of love is honored by God. God looks into a person's heart and if its power, knowledge and works are not grounded in love, they have no value in His sight. Love is the essential ingredient in all matters as far as God is concerned.
2. In Christianity, Love is Visible
4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
There are some things like power, faith and works which are legitimate if based on unseen love within a person's heart. There are also visible attributes that are unmistakable signs that a person has love, and Paul gives examples of these. Christian love is visible because it is...
- Patient: A willingness to bear with other people's meanness, weakness and offenses without losing a loving attitude.
- Kind: The doing and saying of good.
- Is not jealous: Envious of another's blessings, fearful of losing one's own blessings.
- Does not brag/arrogant: Boastful, haughty, proud.
- Does not act unbecomingly: To be thoughtless, uncaring.
- Does not seek its own: Selfishness.
- Is not provoked: Bad tempter, over-sensitive.
- Is not counting wrongs: Vengeful, a "get even" attitude.
- Does rejoice in right: Loves to see right done, not wrong.
- Does bear all things: Capacity to suffer much without complaint (everybody suffers, some complain more).
- Does believe all things: Not suspicious (not a gullible person, but not overly suspicious either).
- Does hope all things: Not pessimistic or negative, puts matters into God's hands.
- Does endure all things: A willingness to bear with injury, inconvenience and hardship without losing a loving attitude.
When we see these things in people, what we see is the character of Christian love. Note that these signs are not based on emotion, how one feels about something, sexual attraction and love, mutual interest and service, or the love between friends and family. The love that Paul describes here is Christian love and it is based on a decision, not a feeling. We decide that this is going to be the nature of our character, and through the power of the Holy Spirit directed by the word of God, the Lord creates this love in our hearts a little at a time as each day goes by. We are not born with this kind of love, we cultivate it through prayer, practice and perseverance in the trials that we experience. This is one of the reasons why God allows us to suffer trials, so we can cultivate Christian love.
3. In Christianity, Love is Eternal
8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
This passage raises many questions as to the meaning and reference of the word "perfect" in verse 10. Some say this refers to the completion of the New Testament canon. Others say this refers to Christ and His return. When we focus on this particular verse alone and exclude the passage as a whole, however, we lose the sense of what Paul is saying here. Paul has been describing the character of Christian love, and in this final section he makes the point that love is eternal, and this is its most important feature.
- "Love never fails. " (verse 8a)
- Love never "falls away" or "is always present." This is another way of translating this passage.
Of course, the reason for this is that love is from God and represents His essential nature, this is why it will always exist.
The Corinthians had been focusing their attention on the temporary things, those things that would pass away in time. They had put the emphasis on the means rather than on the end or goal. Their spiritual gifts and abilities were there only to enable them to get started in the faith, they were not a goal in themselves. Paul urged them to grow up and recognize the true objective of their Christian walk which was the development of the character of love that he has been describing. Their true maturation would come when they recognized that love was the objective, and it was the objective because it was the essence of their experience with God. He wanted them to realize that love would be the everlasting experience of Christianity, not the temporary gifts of prophecy, tongues and the like. He then finishes the passage with an extraordinary statement concerning faith, hope and love.
The Greatness of Love — I Corinthians 13:13
13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
After describing the character of love, Paul places this virtue and experience at the pinnacle of spiritual values. This is his conclusion after stating the various qualities of love, but Paul does not answer the question, "why?" Why is love the greatest, how is it greater than faith or hope? What is it about love that exalts it above these other qualities necessary for Christian life?
In Galatians, Paul mentions that love is the first result that comes from walking in the Spirit. In Corinthians he goes one step further by exalting Christian love above the already precious attributes of faith and hope.
Why Love is the Greatest
There are three basic reasons why Paul would claim that Christian love is greater than Christian faith or hope.
1. Love is Eternal
Faith and hope are necessary to bring us to salvation and maintain our spiritual lives while we are here on earth. For example, obedient faith puts us into Christ (Galatians 3:26), and constant hope maintains our faith (Galatians 5:5). Once we reach heaven, however, faith and hope will no longer be necessary because we will see God face to face (Revelation 22:4). There will be no need to believe as true, we will actually be in His presence. We will also experience the glorified body, the one without sin or death. We will, therefore, no longer hope for it, we will actually have it. In heaven, only love will remain to be experienced perfectly and forever.
In heaven we will love God perfectly because we will know Him and do His will perfectly. We will also love ourselves perfectly because we will be sinless, and thus not experience shame, regret and the other negative feelings associated with sin. Finally, we will love others perfectly too because Satan will no longer divide us. We will all be together in Christ, perfectly suited and united in perfect peace and love.
Love, therefore, is the greatest because there will be nothing left to respond to in faith, nothing left to hope for, only love will remain to experience and rejoice in forever.
Love is the greatest because...
2. God is love
John did not say, "God is faith" or "God is hope" he said, "God is love" (I John 4:8). The essence of God's character is love. Love is what motivates His actions and defines His being. Love is the greatest virtue because to love is to know God ultimately and do His ultimate will. Faith believes what God says, hope expects what God promises, but love does what God does.
Faith and hope are the best characteristics of the human heart, but when people love they have become spiritual people and the true children of God (I John 4:16). All religious people believe and hope, only godly people love as God loves. Love is the greatest because it is the defining characteristic of a Spirit-filled person. The true faith and a genuine hope are expressed in Christian love. Without love, faith and hope are worthless.
Love is the greatest because...
3. Love is the Power of Life
It is not our faith that has the power to save us, it is God's love that saves us. Faith is our response to that love.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- John 3:16
Love is what motivated God to set the entire plan of salvation into motion. It is not our faith or hope that draws people to Christ, it is the love of Christ we show them that brings them to faith and hope, and eventually to their own love of Christ for others. The disciples had favor with all the people (Acts 2:47) largely due to the love that they witnessed among Jesus' followers. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have..." faith? Hope? No, "If you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
There would be no faith or hope if it was not for love. Love was there first, and love will be there last and forever.
- Love was the power that created us.
- Love was the power that saved us.
- Love is the power that sustains us.
- Love is the power that identifies us.
- Love will be the power that resurrects, glorifies and exalts us to the right hand of God forever.
To summarize: the Holy Spirit creates love within us in the following ways:
- He reveals God's love for us in the gospel, and this engenders our faith which naturally leads to our salvation.
- He maintains our hope of heaven through His loving ministry to us each day.
- He creates the loving image and character of Christ in us as we submit to His word, His will and His way throughout our Christian lives.
- He will complete the perfect work of Christ in us when He separates us from our sinful flesh at death and equips us with a glorified body at the resurrection.
Walking by the Spirit begins the process of creating perfect love in us, and resurrection will complete it.
- What is signified by contrasting walking by the flesh and walking by the Spirit?
- What is significant about listing love as the first fruit produced by the Holy Spirit?
- Answer the following questions from I Corinthians 13:
- Why is love essential?
- What are visible attributes of love the in the life of a Christian?
- In what ways is love eternal?
- What are various meanings of "perfect" as Paul states in I Corinthians 13:10?
- Why is love the greatest of spiritual gifts?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?