The first fruit listed among the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of love. This beautiful fruit begins to mature when Christ enters a person’s life. Romans 5:5 states:
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
In so many ways the person who has lived life without Christ has lived life for self. No matter what great deeds a person may accomplish, the Apostle Paul states that if done without “agape” (God’s unconditional, sacrificial) love, those deeds are worth nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Good works have no value before God without the appropriate motivation and self love is not a pleasing motivation to God. Any semblance of self love ruins a good work in God’s eyes because the motivation is impure. Conversion to Christ is an experience of God’s great love and out of that new life flows a new and growing love.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:12-13).
I still recall vividly seeing the expressed love between Christian believers just weeks after I became a Christian as a freshman at the University of South Carolina. I knew that I did not have a similar love for others in my heart that these believers demonstrated. How I envied them for the love they displayed and exhibited toward one another! My life, although churched and “good” in a relative sense, had always been about me. I had little regard for others (some “common grace” – or natural care was in my heart of course) and had only concern for myself, my survival and my own well being. How could I love others? I literally begged God to give me a love for others that was presently not in my heart. And something amazing happened as an answer to that prayer. I don’t know if I had been what some would call “emotionally” damaged in my upbringing, but in almost miraculous fashion, I actually began to experience emotions for others – a caring love and compassion – that I had rarely, if ever, experienced in my entire life. I had prayed that God would make me a person of love instead of a selfish person (which was really all that I had ever known) and He began to do that work in my heart. He put love for others into my heart. What a blessing it was and still is to bear this fruit by His grace – His undeserved gift to me.
Sacrificial and committed “agape” love for others (even for their enemies) is a sign that an individual is a disciple and follower of the one who gave His life for us!
Rod Culbertson is presently Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Dean of Student Development at the Charlotte, North Carolina campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and received the Master of Divinity degree from Columbia International University. He married his wife, Cathy, in 1979 and they have 4 grown children. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America, Rod served at the University of Florida as a campus minister with Reformed University Fellowship for almost 10 years, having begun that work in 1980. In 1990, Rod and Cathy moved their family to Clearwater, Florida where the Lord used them to start a new PCA church, Christ Community Presbyterian. Rod and his family came to Reformed Theological Seminary/Charlotte in 1994. Rod has earned a Doctor of Ministry degree at RTS and teaches courses in Leadership, Pastoral Ministry, Evangelism and Discipleship, among others.