He First Loved Us

A journey through the fruits of the spirit and the challenge of growing them: Love

I have been a little silent on here for the last few weeks. The end of the year brought a rush of ponderings that I couldn’t seem to keep up with, producing a lot of blog posts and musings. When the calendar turned my mind suddenly went quiet. I rested in that quiet for a while, enjoying the sleepy thoughts over the crazed rushing of thoughts.

Going into the New Year I’ve thought a lot about what I want to focus on. In my list of brainstorming I wrote down “The Fruits of the Spirit”. This really resonated with me and I’ve decided to do a post about each one, walking us through what it means to produce these fruits in our lives. Our journey as Christians has the ultimate goal of becoming Christlike; every lesson, struggle, breakthrough and victory are all working towards the goal of shaping us into Christlike images.

The metaphor of vegetation is used often in the Bible. Back then the topic of farming was easily related with. When talking about pruning, fruit producing branches, and the soil in which it all grows, Jesus’ listeners could understand his clear and basic forms of the kingdom. If you have ever spent any time growing a garden you know how difficult it is to nurture a plant to the point of producing fruit. Last spring Rhett and I grew our first garden together. We are currently in a basement suite, so we had to modify a few of the methods for seedlings and what a garden looked like. The seedlings started in our house, but were carried outside every day to absorb the sunlight. We purchased a large number of black totes and filled them with dirt at the local nursery. Constructing a ‘box’ garden on our rather large patio, we moved the boxes of dirt around until we found a good layout. We found through the growing season that some plants were getting more sunlight than was good for them and others needed more sunlight. Because we had created a garden out of totes, we simply dragged the staggeringly heavy totes of dirt around our patio until we had rearranged the garden to make all the plants happy!

Rhett will attest to my childlike glee every time the plants made progress. From the moment they started poking their heads out of the dirt, every stage of their growth thrilled me to my soul! I would often speak to the plants, encouraging them, telling them how strong they were, and even patted them on their leaves, like puppies. I know, pretty childish, but I’ll do it all over again this spring, because the joy generated from this was overwhelming for me!

When it came to the point of starting to harvest fruit from our labours, the wonder of what we had done was blissful! In reality, the plant did all the work, naturally growing and producing as they should, but there was a thrill for us as well, in how our hard work of tending to the garden for months on end with careful consideration, had paid off.

Becoming Christlike and producing the fruits of the spirit should be our natural course of action, but without the help of ‘the farmer’ it’s impossible to get there. We should always be working in unison with Christ in the production of fruit in our lives. Going it alone will always steer us down the path of our sinful nature and cause us to to become a tangle of branches, starved for water and produce inedible fruit.

It’s no mistake that the first fruit of the spirit mentioned is love. We love because he first loved us. We are only capable of love because we know the love of the father. You may then ask how those who do not claim to be a Christ follower will know love. I would say that we are all created in the image of Christ wether we like it or not. We are all his miraculous creation and with that comes an innate knowing of his love. Though some may not be able to identify where that loves comes from or how to act upon it, the nature of the ability to love is a gift from Christ loving us first. Much like an apple seed is bound to produce an apple tree, growing up form the ground with it’s intention to produce apples, but without the care and attention of the farmer, it may never fully produce it’s fruit, or the fruit it bares will be sour. Those who know where the nature of love comes from can now be nurtured and guided by Christ to produce his lavish love as it was intended.

So what does this mean for those of us looking to produce love as a fruit of the spirit? With the production of any fruit there is always a stage of pruning. What is it that is hindering us from producing the fruit love?

The Pruning

In 1st John 4, John is very clear that fear cannot exist in love, as fear has to do with punishment. To live in God’s love means to live in his redemptive grace, where the punishment of our sins is forgiven in the act of the cross. We are no longer to fear the evil of the world, but to be God-fearing, obedient to his commands and faithful to his word.

This seems obvious…. If we claim we are loved by Christ but do not turn around and love the people around us, we are liars and hypocrites. It is mentioned may times in scripture, the importance of passing on the grace you have received to others. You have been forgiven, so you must forgive. You are loved, therefore love your neighbour. Our actual ability to love can only happen through Christ loving us first. Because this is a gift we freely receive, we must then pass it on freely to others, making space and allowing grace for the brokenness and shortcomings of others.

Resentment is a form of unsatisfied revenge, of a need to have justice fulfilled. When we accept God as our saviour we acknowledge that he is now the ultimate judge. To harbour resentment means that we are holding onto the judgement seat in our lives, claiming we know better than God on how someone should be atoned for their actions. So long as we claim ownership to the title of judge, we will be cutting ourselves off from the ability to love. Accessing the forgiveness of Christ will prune away the resentment we hold over others. If Christ freely forgives us of our transgressions, we must turn around and freely forgive others of theirs.

The pruning is a real act of humility, but once we start it the fruit of love will begin to grow naturally; like an apple tree’s natural tendency is to grow apples, we will naturally have the love of Christ grow within us.

Just as a plant will wither and die if not tended to daily, our love must be nurtured daily by repeatedly living in God-fearing obedience, grace and forgiveness. Starting our day by humbly acknowledging our own brokenness, receiving God’s grace and accessing his love for us will pave the way for us to go about our day in love for others. Without acknowledging that we first are in need of this forgiveness, we will have hardened hearts to those around us, building up judgements and resentments, blinding us from producing the fruit of love.

“They will know we are Christians by our love.” – The definition of the word love seems to have been altered over the last number of years. I would say love is more defined these days as a tolerance and acceptance of others, a “You do you” mentality; however to truly love those around us we must first sacrifice our pride and humble ourselves before Christ, acknowledging our own shortcomings and need for his love. This humble position of love is much more powerful than a simple tolerance of “you do you” and allows us to love people where they are at, instead of loving them in despite their defects.

Humility gives us the ability to love people who are broken, whether they acknowledge their own brokenness or not, because humility allows us to see them how Christ sees them, children who are lost and in need of his love.

Throughout this journey of exploring the fruits of the spirit, I will be the first to acknowledge that I am in need of this study. I hope you will view this as a journey ‘with’ instead of a ‘teaching to’. Our path towards Christlikeness is a lifelong road. Every now and again we need to be reminded of the basics of our faith to remember why it is we do what we do. The New Year has sparked a desire to ‘start fresh’ and return to the basics of Christlikeness and a reminder of what the fruits of the spirit are and why we must produce them in our lives.

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