June 26 Worship

Today I began the first installment of my nine-part sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The theme was love. Both the devotion at the beginning of the service and the call to worship were taken from Psalm 5. Our hymns were Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, and Pass It On. The scripture read was 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.

Here is a video of the service in its entirety (click on "read more") followed by a transcript of the sermon.

Fruit of the Spirit 1: Love

The fruit of the Spirit is love…
—Gal. 5:22

Once when I was serving in Germany, I missed my train. And so I announced to everybody there that I missed my train. I see none of you are laughing. This seems remarkable to me, because everybody in the office laughed, not with me, but at me.

You see, when you think about it, the verb to miss has two very distinct meanings. If I were to tell you, I missed you, you’d have to figure out what I meant based on context. If you’d come to church looking for me at 1 PM on Tuesday, but I had left my office at 12:30, I might say, “Sorry I missed you.” But if you’d been in Florida for the past six months and you finally reappeared in church after all that time, when I told you I missed you, it would have a very different meaning. One miss means losing an opportunity or not making it on time, the other one speaks of a longing in the heart because of someone’s absence.

And so when I announced to everybody in my office in Germany that I missed my train, what I told them was that my heart ached for my train because it wasn’t there. Germans have a whole ’nother word for not making it on time to catch a train—and that was the day I learned what for me was a brand new word.

Whenever we study a language, we find lots of examples of words that mean something different in the other language, and it’s often because they have several words that mean the same thing to us, but which they’re much more specific about it. For example, maybe you’ve heard it said that Eskimos have fifty words for snow. If there’s any truth to this, it’s obviously because they live with snow a lot more than we do.

Well in Greek—at least in ancient Greek—they didn’t have a single word that covered the notion of love. They had four words. These words covered the concepts of romantic love, family love, friendly love, and divine love. And it’s this last one that we’re talking about today. The word we’re talking about in Greek is agápē (ἀγάπη), and though we love what it stands for, we don’t always understand it. It is very far removed from the kind of love that involves cupid shooting an arrow. That love is ἔρως, and most of our music and most of our movies seem to center around it. And outside of church, we very seldom sing or buy movie tickets for agápē.

I heard a nice song recently. It was by somebody I’d never heard of before, a guy going by the name of Langhorne Slim. He sang:

Love is the ocean, we are the fish;
love's the surgeon and we are the stitch...
Love is the Buddha, Christ on the cross;
angels are weeping, their tears are for us...
Love's my president, my lord, and my boss,
and you'll never break me.

I assume he’s singing here about romantic love—something we have no real control over, an emotion that often makes people do stupid things. But if you adjust your thinking, you might also imagine that he’s singing about divine love, the kind of love Paul wrote about when he said, The fruit of the Spirit is love.

When Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit, he contrasted it to the things of the flesh. He listed nine fruits of the Spirit, and over a dozen things of the flesh. So let me read it to you in context from Galatians 5:19-23—

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Notice Paul calls these the fruit of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians he talked about a different list of things that he called the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts are all things that people can’t come up with on their own. They’re things God gives. They can be developed and used for God’s glory. But they aren’t things that people can just choose to have.

The fruits he listed, though, involve making choices. And nowhere is this more obvious than with love. We think of love as an involuntary emotion. That’s because we just have one word for it. In Greek, agápē is quite different. We don’t have to want to marry someone to show agápē to them. Somebody doesn’t have to be a member of our family or our best friend for us to share agápē with them. And this is what catches us up, but it shouldn’t. Because in one of our favorite scriptures, it’s obvious that love isn’t just the way we feel, it’s also the choices we make. And that’s the passage we heard a few minutes ago:

Paul said that love is patient and kind. It’s not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful. It doesn’t have to have its own way. It rejoices in the truth, not in wrongdoing. Finally, it bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. And all of those are choices we can make when we deal with other people, even people we don’t really really like—especially with people we don’t really like. This passage is often read at weddings, and that’s fine. But it’s actually not about romantic love at all, but about the choice to love everybody and the method we can use to reach that goal.

So when the Bible talks about love—especially in the two important passages I’m talking about today—it’s not talking about an emotion that we are or are not feeling. And this puts this particular fruit of the spirit totally within our own power. So if we’re sitting in the pew praying, “God, make me more loving,” we can rest assured that no prayer can be more quickly answered, because there’s no prayer we have more control over. Because, once again, agape love isn’t an emotion implanted involuntarily in our hearts, but a decision we make on a moment-by-moment basis in the way we deal with others.

So let’s think about some ways the prayer, “God, make me more loving,” might be answered. First on the list is be patient. We live in a world-on-the-move, where information is instantaneous and where we expect all our problems to be solve with the push of a button. When this doesn’t happen, we get impatient… and we often let the person trying to help us know it. But the fruit of the Spirit is love. And love waits for the person of goodwill to do their job.

Next, be kind. The world we live in is not only on-the-move, but it’s incredibly skeptical. Everyone, it seems, is trying to pull something over on somebody else. And so we protect ourselves. We keep strangers at a distance, and build walls in order not to be taken advantage of. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, and love shows kindness. A few weeks ago, a veteran passed through Chardon on his way to the VA hospital in Cleveland. He needed help and the people of this church gave him all he needed. Plus, we welcomed him into our midst and treated him as a brother and a friend. Perhaps this should happen more often than it does. But choosing kindness over suspicion helps us grow in our Christian walk and it inspires us for future encounters.

Next, avoid arrogance or rudeness and do not insist on your own way. This is not the way we treat each other in our church family. So it should never be the way we treat people outside these walls. We’re not one of those churches that believe we alone are in possession of the truth. And so we consider it our duty to listen to others—even those we might disagree with. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and love listens and never condemns.

Next, don’t be resentful and don’t rejoice in wrong. This sounds like a no-brainer. But we live in a country that’s so divided that we’re being taught not to see the good in people who disagree with us. We would rather rally round a lie than reach out to somebody who speaks a truth we’re not prepared to listen to. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, and love knows the truth for the truth can set us free.

Finally love assumes the best in others and in their intentions. And this is something even church people need to hear, for we’re too often willing to hear things the wrong way or to criticize. It happens here, too. Perhaps we’re not as guilty of it as many other churches, but we should be innocent. Because the fruit of the Spirit is love, and love assumes the best. Love hears love. And love responds in love.

I’ll close this sermon with a recap of what my main point is—the one thing that I hope you’ll take away from it this morning. And that is that love is not an emotion that we have no control over—and by this I mean divine love, the love Paul talks about in Galatians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13, the kind of love that (according to the Apostle John) God is. Love is a decision to make in the way we treat others, in the way we react to others, and even in the way we hear others. The fruit of the Spirit is love, so let us love one another, because love is from God, for God is love.
—©2022 Sam L. Greening, Jr.