HOW CAN WE CULTIVATE THE FRUIT OF LOVE?

A few weeks ago my Sunday Bible class unanimously agreed that we would study “The Fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22 and 23. After a general introduction to the context and the nine fruit Paul lists we moved to the first quality.

Probably no one is surprised that the fruit of Love is first in the Apostle Paul’s list of the nine fruits God wants and expects will be produced with the help of the Holy Spirit in Christians. In his book Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit author Christopher Wright observes, “In putting love first, Paul is echoing Jesus.” You probably remember Jesus’ response to the question about the greatest commandment that it is to completely love God. And he went on to say the second one is “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).

While I sat in our worship service before our class on love I began to wonder why many Christians are not more loving. Why aren’t we giving more attention to cultivating the fruit of love for others? As our pastor wrapped up his sermon four things came to mind that struck me as possible reasons why some of us are not more loving. I pulled an offering envelope from the pew and jotted down the four reasons.

As I made my way to our classroom I thought about the reasons I jotted down and realized the four were two pairs that are related. I think some of us don’t cultivate the fruit of love because we take others for granted and are perhaps even selfish. Others of us aren’t giving attention to cultivating the fruit of love because we are disengaged and aloof.

I was not totally sure of the meaning of the four things I mentioned that get in the way of cultivating love for others and so I looked up some definitions. To take others for granted “means to take advantage of, show no appreciation for, or undervalue them.” To be selfish is to be “concerned excessively or exclusively for oneself.” To be disengaged it to “release or detach oneself (withdraw).” Finally, to be “aloof is not to be friendly or forthcoming, but rather to be cool and distant.”

Is it possible that because some are selfish and take some people for granted that the fruit of love is not growing? And could it be that because some are aloof and don’t want to be engaged with some that the fruit of love is not growing? There are many reasons we could give for not being more loving. It seems to me that we need to be aware and careful as we consider how to express and show love to others.

While we may wish it were automatic that as Christians we would produce the fruit of love, we know it isn’t. To produce the fruit of the Spirit we need to invite the Holy Spirit to help us and cooperate with Him as He helps us grow and mature in all the fruits. Perhaps a beginning point is to remind ourselves that Jesus instructed his followers to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I think we all know people who are easy to love and others who are hard to love, but that does not exempt us from loving them. As we make the effort to grow in our love for others we must be wise. We also need to be on guard and not allow those we love to become dependent upon us as that would not be healthy for them or us.

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WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE, WAS TENNYSON RIGHT?

Most of us are somewhat familiar with the poet Tennyson’s observation “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Apparently not everyone agrees with Tennyson’s observation because with the passing of time his observation has been turned into a question, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”

My sense is that the answer to the question would depend upon people’s experiences with love. I don’t know if Tennyson was referring only to people, but we all know that even though we do love people, our love is not limited to people. For example, in my life I have loved many pets that eventually died. I grieved the loss of each one, but never regretted loving any of them.

In terms of my work as a pastor, I have served and left four churches. My first experience was as a summer intern youth minister. As I left that church to return to college I was stunned how hard it was for me to leave.

Following my summer internship I got a part time youth minister position close to the college I was attending. I stayed there for five years, but eventually accepted the opportunity to serve a small church near the East coast. As we pulled out of the church parking lot in our U-Haul I could not hold back the tears.

The same thing happened 10 years later as we went to the airport to head to California where I had the opportunity to plant a church. Some 33 years later I was embarrassed (although I should not have been) to cry as I began my drive to Texas after I said good-by to three of my best friends with whom I played golf.

All of us have lost loved ones (family and friends) and grieved their passing. I could go on with more examples but I think the point is clear. All of us have loved and lost in a variety of ways and situations.

Let’s return to Tennyson’s observation as well as try to answer the question people have asked in light of his statement. While some may reject it, I’m confident the majority would agree with Tennyson’s observation, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But how do we answer the question, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”

In a 2012 article Dr. Jennifer L. Kunst suggests “We ask, wouldn’t it be better to protect ourselves from the pain of loss by never loving—really loving—at all?” Some may ask that question, but I don’t think many do. Dr. Kunst reminds us that “painful feelings of loss are an inevitable part of love. To be true to my best self, I must embrace the reality that the more I love, the more painful the loss.”

Perhaps the questions we might ask ourselves are, “Is it worth it? Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” My answer is a resounding yes. I agree with Dr. Kunst, “How sad it would be to live our lives in a mode of self-protection that costs us some of the most precious experiences of life: to love and to be loved.”

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PUT IN YOUR NAME

Since it was Valentine’s Day this past Sunday I preached about love from I Corinthians 13. This passage is the most profound piece on love ever written and I call it “The Bible’s Love Song.” I call it a love song because it can be divided into three stanzas. And it is a love song like no other love song that has been or ever will be written.

Verses 1-3 provide the first stanza and it tells us Love Is Essential. Verses 4-7 give us the second stanza and Describe Love telling us what love is, what it does, and what it doesn’t do. Finally, verses 8-13 form the third stanza and tell us Love Is Eternal.

The first stanza proclaims that without love wonderful speech, great spirituality, and sacrificial giving aren’t that impressive. And it is a troubling thought to think someone could speak in tongues, have the gift of prophecy, fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, have a faith that can move mountains, or sacrifice everything, and yet not have love.

The third stanza proclaims that contrasted with prophesy, tongues, and knowledge, love will endure and continue forever. In the here and now faith, hope, and love all remain. Nevertheless, some day our faith will become sight and our hope will be fulfilled. But because it is the greatest, love will last forever.

But it’s the second stanza I want us to focus on. In the message I did what I have done many times before suggesting that we all substitute our name for love in the description Paul gives. To make clear what I was saying I read verses 4-7 putting in my name in place of love. And after all these years of being a Christian, a pastor, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, and many other roles, I was overwhelmed. More than any other time I had used this illustration in the past, I realized how far short I fall in terms of living out and showing this description of love.

I invite you to read these verses (possibly out loud) putting your name in place of love:   4 [your name] is patient, [your name] is kind. [Your name] does not envy, [your name] does not boast, [your name] is not proud. 5[Your name] does not dishonor others, [your name] is not self-seeking, [your name] is not easily angered, [your name] keeps no record of wrongs. [Your name] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [Your name] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In doing this I hope you are convicted, challenged, and encouraged as much as I was when I did it in front of the church on Sunday. “Dear friends let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (I John 4:7 and 8).

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