The characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit are found in Galatians 5:22-23. The first characteristic is love.
How Is Love Defined?
Love is an action, a willful choice, a decision, a demonstration — an outward flow from inward growth of the fruit of the Spirit. Love is not, as defined apart from God, an emotion or feeling.
From God’s definition, we can never fall in or out of love because of how we feel. We have God’s characteristic of love growing within us, with the power and ability to love God and others as God loves us.
1 Corinthians 13 defines love and how it acts (its characteristics). Love must be demonstrated through a willful choice.
The Love of God
God is love (1 John 4:7). It is His character, who He is. To know God is to know His love because He is love (1 John 4:8). The more we know and experience God, the more we see His love demonstrated to us and through us.
In verse 9, John states that the love of God was produced in us to demonstrate His love for us. Through Jesus, God demonstrated His love by providing us eternal life with Him.
1. God’s love is universal. God’s love is demonstrated (through action) in His character to everyone. From the beginning, in Genesis 3:15, God’s plan was and is to restore man to Himself.
In His love (Ephesians 1:4-5), God adopted us into His family; while we were yet sinners, God chose us. We cannot measure the great love God has for mankind.
4. God’s love is unconditional. God did not choose Israel for their great number or anything they did, but only because God loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
5. God’s love is constant. Because God is love and He never changes in His character, His love is constant.
6. God’s love is sacrificial. As displayed in John 3:16, God loved His created human beings so much that He sacrificed His Son Jesus to provide the perfect eternal and forever payment for our sin so we would not perish.
When Jesus prayed in the Garden prior to His arrest, He asked the Father if this cup He was about to drink could be taken from Him. Yet, Jesus did not fail in obeying His Father as He concluded, “not my will, but yours be done (Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
7. God’s love is sufficient. God reassured Paul that His grace is always sufficient, enough (2 Corinthians 12:9). As children of the King, God will bless us with sufficient provisions because He knows our needs (Luke 12:29-32).
The Love from God
John writes, “Behold, what manner of love God has bestowed (given) to us…” (1 John 3:1). The word, “behold” is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “to gaze upon.” In Scripture, it is always to gain the reader’s attention.
The angel at Christ’s birth when appearing to the shepherds boldly proclaimed, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…” (Luke 2:10-11). This was a historic announcement that required the shepherds’ full attention.
In 1 John 4:9-10, John writes, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He initiated His love toward us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
In John’s gospel (John 15:9-17), Jesus tells his disciples that as God loves Him [perfectly], He loves us, then tells the disciples to love others with the same complete, perfect love. This emphasizes that love is an action, a willful choice that requires doing.
The prophet Zephaniah shares God’s love message to God’s people this way (Zephaniah 3:17): God tells His people He will be with them and will rejoice over them with gladness.
God rejoices and is glad, demonstrating emotion and rejoicing over us. This is not the only time in Scripture that God tells us that we are His joy.
The latter part of verse 17 says God will exult over you with loud singing. We aren’t the ones singing loudly; it is God! The word “exult” means to leap for joy, or, in the Google dictionary, “to feel or show triumphant elation or jubilation.”
God jumps for joy with a feeling of elation because His love demonstrates to us how He feels about us.
And yet, there is more…
In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus teaches about God’s love for and toward us. If an earthly father desires to care for his children and give them good gifts, how much more would your Heavenly Father want to give good gifts to those who ask Him?
Through God’s perfect, complete, unconditional love for us, He provides us with good gifts and blessings beyond measure because we are His children, and He experiences joy and elation when He gives us gifts that we are unable to provide for ourselves!
When we display ungrateful hearts, we sadden and grieve the Holy Spirit and it saddens God the Father.
When we show gratitude with our spirit of joy and thankfulness, rejoicing in the Lord, we demonstrate our love for God and our Heavenly Father begins working on the next blessing He has in store for us.
We strengthen the control of the Holy Spirit and get another shot of fertilizer to grow that fruit. No matter what we experience, we receive God’s love, which helps us celebrate Him and His goodness to us.
Paul re-emphasizes God’s love for us in Romans 8:32. As God unconditionally gave Jesus to us to demonstrate His love for all, He will now demonstrate His love for us by graciously giving us, with Jesus, all things.
Paul tells Titus (Titus 3:4-5) that God saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. We receive love from God because of who He is, not because of what we have done to deserve it.
The Love for God
Since love is a demonstrated action, we return love to God through willful obedience to God’s Word. John tells us that if we love God, we will obey God’s commands (1 John 5:3).
He states in 1 John 4:7-11 that a person who does not or cannot love does not know God because (verse 8) God is love. He completes the thought in verse 11, if God so loved us [when still in our sins], we ought to love each other.
God also expects us to show His love to others outside of the faith by demonstrating our love for each other in the faith.
We are to be patient and persevere, demonstrating that if we love Him, we will love one another (1 Peter 4:8, John 15:12, Proverbs 10:12, Romans 12:9-10). It is truly an act of obedience and an act of worship (John 14:21).
God is clear in His message to believers. His Word does not conflict. He provides examples from Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and others so whoever’s message we identify with in personality or in how it is said, it is the same message!
The characteristic of love in the fruit of the Spirit grows because we are saved through faith, our belief in who Jesus is. Paul states that faith without love is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). James tells us that faith without works (active demonstration of God’s love) is dead (James 2:6).
Through the Holy Spirit growing love within us, we strengthen our faith, making it real with God while making it real to others.
We inwardly grow the fruit of the Spirit that transforms us and shapes us into the likeness of Jesus, and we live that out through action — a willful choice to love (obey, follow, study, pray) by surrendering our own free will and choosing to love God, which will overflow His love to man.
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Randy DeVaul serves as a community/crisis response chaplain with a national Christian response team and as a deacon, missions coordinator, and small groups leader in his home church in Central Florida. Published regularly since February 2000, Randy is a regular contributor to international, regional, and local trade, lifestyle, and news publications and author of three workplace safety books. You can follow him here and here.