The fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is a description of the attitudes and mind-sets that we develop as we give our lives more and more over to God, as we give up the world’s viewpoints and adopt a broader, truer way of thinking and being. As the fruit ripens in us, we are less and less of the world and more and more of God. To me, the fruit of the spirit are a definition of love as God loves all whom He designed in His image. This post is the beginning of a series of posts on the fruit of the spirit, each one broadening the definition of love in God’s kingdom.
There is so much in us that needs to be healed, that needs to be confronted, that needs to be transformed— our own self-images, so often negative, our judgments of ourselves and others, our own preferences and desires for how we want our lives to go, our pain and suffering and more. As God highlights these issues in us and we give them up to Him to heal, as we see our own limitations and ask God’s help with them, as we seek to follow what He suggests for us, there are ways of being that will be challenged in us and also need to go. How else can we ever approach our own created nature without the assumptions and goals and the world’s ways of thinking? How else could we ever come to know our purpose and what would fulfill us? Without deeply listening to the ‘still small voice of God,” [2 Kings 19:12] we would still be captive to the world and its ways.
So, we start with love, love that is, as God expresses His love of us, for His creation. First of all, we know that God knows everything about us—the good, the bad and the ugly as the old western title put it—and still He loves us with an abiding love. To me it is the Parable of the Prodigal Son that best expresses God’s love for us. Although the father knows that the errant son has spent all his inheritance in riotous living, still, there is the father awaiting his return. He welcomes his son with open arms. There is no chastisement, no reaming him out for his terrible choices. Instead, there is a celebration, a fatted calf killed and a huge welcome home where he was given back his place in the family.
The son must have been surprised, shocked even. He had thought he might as well be a servant in his father’s house as to be a servant in someone else’s. And so, he headed home. But there was no anger directed at him, no lowering of status. Only the “good” brother wished for a punishment for him, but his father clearly was welcoming him with open arms.
When we repent, turn our lives back to God, we experience the same welcome, the love, the celebration, for all is forgiven. God begins immediately to show us how to become our created selves. This is love. This is forgiveness. This sets aside any judgment of us. He calls us throughout our lives to come home to Him, to rest in Him, to follow Him, and if we are willing, we will live a life of fulfillment and purpose while resting in His love.
When the Lord first caught my attention, I was on a flight home with my husband and three small children. I kept hearing, “Write!” on this flight and I thought “Right!” in that same tone of voice that Bill Cosby used. For two or three weeks I heard “write” often and finally, I began to write on any scrap of paper I could find in any few minutes I had free. I wrote about the courage to be me, and other things, but at some point I just gave my life to Christ. For three days I walked on air until I came crashing down to earth with this thought: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” I then began to write about the gods I had that were more important to me than God. I figure that I have spent the last 30+ years working on eliminating those gods, as God has highlighted them for me.
God’s love for us is never just about us. He loves and blesses us so that we may be a blessing to other people. It’s not just so that we can go to heaven, but that others might go because of our love for them. God’s love is expansive and unlimited, so how can we express that unlimited nature of the love He showers on us? Only by giving it out to the world, so that others might feel God’s love, too. God’s love has no limitations; there are no outsiders who would never feel God’s love. It is there for everyone, every single person on this earth, all created in God’s image.
It was Joseph the brother sold into slavery and Esau the abused brother who later in their lives demonstrated God’s love. In Brian D. McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking, he explains: “As in Genesis, life is full of rivalries and conflicts, we all experience wrongs, hurts, and injustices through the actions of others—and we all inflict wrongs, hurts and injustices on others. If we really want to reflect the image of God, we choose grace over hostility, reconciliation over revenge and equality over rivalry. When we make that choice, we encounter God in the faces of former rivals and enemies. And as we are humbled, surrendering to God and seeking to be reconciled with others, our faces, too, reflect the face of God.”  We reflect God’s love.
Questions to ponder over the week: How unlimited is my love? Am I just giving out our limited human kind of love to those that I like, to those who are like me? Or am I a vehicle for God’s love for everyone in this world?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who demonstrate God’s love for everyone in all that we do. May we be a blessing to all that we meet. May we be true to God.
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 Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A year-Long Quest for Spiritual formation, Reorientation, and Activation, (New York, Boston, Nashville: Jericho Books, 2014) p.35