Book of Galatians · Cultivating Character · Fruit of the Spirit

Cultivating: Love

Oh dear. This week has already opened up a big ol’ can of worms (by the way, where the heck did that phrase come from? Am I the only one who probably thinks it should be something more like “a can of maggots” or something?) Seriously, I think wayyyy too much about stuff sometimes. Anyhoooo….

This week I’ve been thinking about love. Not, (as I say to my students) the smoochy-smoochy kind of love, but the kind of love that is listed among the fruit of the spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

                                                                                                                     -Galatians 5:22-23

As with anything we try to understand in the bible, the best way to get to the root of the meaning is to go back to the original language. Of course anything translated from one language to another will lose some of its meaning, and I feel that is especially true with this word, love. If you’ve ever been introduced to studying the bible, you know that there are lots of tools that some super smart people have published to help us dig back into the original languages of the scriptures, and even now we can use many online versions of these tools. No excuse for not studying, right? I mean, hey, we don’t have to go learning Hebrew or Greek ourselves. We get a big break with that stuff.

This verse above from Galatians was written in Greek, so going back through the Strong’s concordance (my best buddy as of late) I found the original word that was translated as love in this verse. Not surprisingly, it was agape (ahh-gahh-pay). Now, lots of people who’ve been around the bible for a little bit know that there are multiple words used for love in the original languages. Hebrew- and Greek-speaking folk didn’t just throw around the same ol’ word to say “I love tater tots” as they did “I love my wife” or “I love God.” No way, Jose! While we might use that word for many different applications having a variety of meanings, they had a different word for different types of love. For example, the word for intimate, sensual love would be eros. The word for friend/kinship kind of love would be phileo. But the word agape means a benevolent-care type of love. It’s the same word used when talking about God’s love for us. It is, in my view, the highest type of love one can express, because it’s completely outwardly-focused. So recipients of this letter in the church of Galatia read this, they knew that the very first piece of evidence (fruit) that they were expected to have as people of God was agape. Benevolent care for others.

What I’ve noticed is that, as Christians, we ebb and flow between loving people beautifully like Jesus did and failing miserably at this. I know I certainly do. I’m asking God to help me flow more toward seeing others the way he does so that I can love them like he does. I think an awful lot of time is wasted trying to figure out why someone acts the way they do or doesn’t like us or whatever, and not enough time asking God what we’re missing about that person so we can show them agape.

For me, some of the worms jumped outta the can when I realized that the agape word in this verse is very closely related to the word agapeo (also translated as love) in several other important verses. For example, that is the word used in Matthew 5 where Jesus is teaching and tells people that they should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (oddly enough, exactly the verses my pastor taught from on Sunday!) And also later in Matthew 22 when Jesus says:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Whoa. Jesus sums it up for us right here. The GREATEST commandment is to love him like crazy. To agapeo him, which means to show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for. Then right after that, we are supposed to love (show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for) our neighbors as ourselves. I realized this means that in order to do that, I need to love (show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for) myself in that way.

I’ll just go ahead and tell ya, sometimes if all I did was love my neighbors as I love myself, they’d be loved in a pretty crappy way. I’d neglect their needs, talk about them pretty poorly, and generally show disdain for them.

My friends, I must confess that this is often how I regard myself, and God is showing me (even if I don’t feel like seeing it) that the first fruit of the spirit, love, begins with loving him, and flows into loving myself and into loving others. Hmmm. So I have to have a right view of myself before I can rightly love others?? Jesus, you blow my mind.

As far as the fruits of the spirit go, I kinda thought this love thing was going to be one of the easier ones (patience, not so much!) But this may very well be one of the hardest lessons I’ll ever endeavor to learn.

Can’t I just stuff those worms back in the can right about now?

 

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