Here is what Paul in 1 John 4 declares: “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.”[NIV]
We become more and more loving as we move closer to God, because God who is Love shines such a bright light on our own interior darkness, that the darkness can no longer exist in the light of Love. Every step along the way entails the Spirit transforming our inner states gradually so that we can love. Thus the goal of the spiritual journey is to be able to love as nearly like God’s love as we can–without manipulation or qualification or exclusion or any attempt to judge or define or limit who the object of one’s love is. How could we think that we could exclude this person or that one from our love, because all of us reflect the image of God, created as we were in that image?
The enormity of this task looms over us in Paul’s writings. In 1 Corinthians 13 he speaks of how the things that we hold dear—especially, giving to the poor, but also speaking in tongues, having the gift of prophecy, knowing all mysteries and knowledge, having the faith to move mountains—is nothing without love. That’s why we really need God’s love in transforming our inner condition from self-seeking to loving. Part of this epistle has been read at every wedding I have attended –love is patient, love is kind, does not boast etc. Love is a free-flowing positivity towards the person, creature, creation before us, not just the” love of our life.”
I am beginning to see the connection between the passage above in 1 Corinthians and the one about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. In Galatians Paul instructs us to “walk by the Spirit,” contrasting that with following the desires of the flesh—“immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Note that Paul says the fruit—not fruits– of the Spirit is all these things, best captured in the word love.
Love’s connectedness is joy to the heart; love requires an inner being at rest, at peace with itself; love means abiding in what is, forbearance; love demands kindness to all; love is goodness, not self-seeking, but seeking the good of all; love is gentleness, not judgment or harshness, not ever hatred; love is self-control, it flows out to others because the one who loves sets aside his or her own desires. Love is not complete without all these other qualities. Can you imagine love that is impatient? or unkind? or not embracing the truth of what is before one? or love without gentleness? or love without goodness? or love that is self-seeking? or love that is not joyful? Love does not exist in these scenarios, it cannot.
Love does flow out of us as we are transformed by the Spirit, but not to the debasement or detriment of ourselves. The one who loves lives in the kingdom of God, of heaven, totally supported and loved by the Creator who loves all. There is a flow of love out and right back in –we live in the Spirit, in the fruit of the Spirit ourselves, blessed by the blessing we are to others, filled with the same love and support that we are giving out. I don’t think there is anything more attractive in this world than unencumbered love; once we’ve experienced it, we will give up anything to have love in our lives. That’s how essential God’s love is to us. It’s the water we drink and the food we eat, it’s what our bodies and hearts and souls crave, and the more we experience it, the more we want to live in love, being love, being one with love.