My husband and I have been studying Galatians together recently and last week we came to the “fruit of the Spirit” section (Galatians 5 verses 22-23). I memorized the it as a child and the section is very familiar.
But this time I was struck with something I hadn’t really noticed before. I saw how the section is pointedly about relationships. The works of the flesh destroy relationships; the fruit of the Spirit builds them up. The fruit isn’t just something we get for our own individual lives to make ourselves happy or even holy. They are meant for the community, specifically for the body of Christ, for the church. It’s all about others.
This is not a novel idea. Even non-Christians know that Christians are supposed to love. The challenge about the call to love stems from our cultural norms of isolationism and independence.
We just don’t love community. We like relationships if we can Instagram them but we don’t like when they get messy or uncomfortable. We expect “church” to be something we do once a week but not to invade our lives outside of that.
But this isn’t how we are supposed to be. I recognize these tendencies in myself and I am convinced that the evidence of the Spirit’s work in my life must naturally show up in my relationships. And I am convicted that although it is the fruit of the Spirit, I also have a role to play and must obey and grow as the Spirit works in me.
After our study in Galatians, I began to see the same theme all over scripture. Let’s look together at a few specific verses about loving others and talk about some ways to implement that love.
1 Thessalonians chapter 3 verses 12-13, “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
In John chapter 13 verses 34-35 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
Paul, the author of Thessalonians, actually equates an increase of love for others with holiness. And he is asking God to do the work. Now, we know that loving others is not just something that God magically makes us feel. In fact, biblical love isn’t just warm and fuzzy feelings; it’s a call to action. Paul is talking about our growth in love from God’s perspective.
Jesus in the book of John talks about our growth in love from our perspective. From our perspective, it looks like obedience. It looks like work. It looks like laying down our lives like Jesus laid His life down for us. It’s gritty and practical.
But when we do those things, we are actually being empowered by God in the action itself. When we love others, it is God at work in us! This is so encouraging!
So how can you and I do that? How can we love people at church this Sunday and at work on Tuesday and with our friends or our family throughout the week? Here are a few ideas of how practically you and I can grow in this way.
Look around you at church or at work or in class. Do you see someone hurting? Someone lonely? Someone new? Take time to look beyond your usual group and notice others.
Go talk to them. Choose to be their friend. Welcome them! This step isn’t comfortable, especially if you are less outgoing. But it’s worth it. Don’t be too cool for anyone and don’t let your friends be either.
Invite people closer. Invite them into your home, invite them to join you in your weekly normal activities or ask them to coffee. You don’t have to be Joanna Gaines or Rachel Ray to show hospitality.
The Bible is chock full of directions of how we are to love people. Did they offend you? Forgive them. Are they needy? Be generous and help them. Are they an unbeliever? Share the gospel with them. Are they caught up in sin? Gently confront them and offer the support they need to resist temptation. Are they hurting? Be willing to listen and point them back to the truth of scripture.
Relationships are how Christianity is displayed. We cannot be holy for ourselves or grow spiritually for our own good without it being good for others. When we choose to hole up and not see or love others, we are not only being disobedient to God, we are stunting our own growth and hindering others from growing in their faith as well.
May we open our hearts to others and let Christ love others through us!
Ashley Mullins is the wife of Chris. They are currently in Malawi, Africa serving at the Central African Preaching Academy which is a seminary training Malawian pastors.