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“But the Fruit of the Spirit is love…” Galatians 5:22

As I began this study, I wondered whether or not there was intention behind the order in which the Fruit of the Spirit is listed.  Was Paul, because he listed love first, saying it’s the most important?  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul does say, “and now abide faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)   

While I was looking up the word “love” in my reference materials, I came across the following: “Love is the highest characteristic of God, the one attribute in which all others harmoniously blend.”1 I found I agreed as I considered the rest of the list in Galatians 5:22 & 23: the other Fruit of the Spirit were not a possibility without love and they did both blend with and flow out of love.  Perhaps Paul did deliberately list love first.

Jesus certainly considered love of highest importance.  He stressed its importance during the conversation that took place in the upper room.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” and then again; “These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15: 12 and 17, respectively).  What is this love He, and the writers of the New Testament, consider so important?

The Greek language does something I wish English did and that is it distinguishes between types of love.  There is eros or sexual love, there is storge for familial love or affection, there is philia to describe social love or friendship, philanthropia for a broader ethical sense of kindness and humanity, and then there is agape.2 While phileo (verb-John 16:27) and philanthropia (Titus 3:4) are used in connection with the love of God, it is agape (the noun) or agapeo (the verb) that are used most often.  Agape (G26) means love, affection, benevolence and agapeo (G25) means love in a social or moral sense. 

I don’t know about you, but these definitions from Strong’s Concordance don’t succeed in opening my eyes to the awesomeness of agape.  My reference materials do attempt to explain the meaning further.  Vine’s Expository Dictionary has “the characteristic word of Christianity…used to describe the attitude of God toward His son…the human race…and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude toward one another…and toward all men…to express the essential nature of God.”The Hastings Dictionary says, “agape, signifying primarily a voluntary, active affection, has brought…into the NT the deeper sense of spiritual affection, the love that links God and man and unites soul and soul in the Divine communion.  Like philia, it implies reciprocity, fellowship,–if not existing, then desired and sought.”4 I liked the entry in Unger’s Bible Dictionary best: “We must derive our conceptions of God from the special revelation which he has given of Himself; and this declares His love as strongly as His existence.”5 I will come back to this in a moment.

1 John 4:8 states, “He who does not love (agapeo) does not know God for God is love (agape).  God is, in His very nature, love.  I have found value in reading the entries for love/agape in my reference materials but I find it is scripture itself that gives me the clearest picture of this love that God is.    

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most spectacular passages in all of scripture. It explains agape. I cannot fathom why the translators of the King James Bible used “charity” to translate agape in this passage and yet translated it “love” elsewhere.  While other versions did make the correction back to “love”, I have heard this passage quoted with “charity” and I think that word sucks the vibrancy out of it. The passage is meant to be a joyous revelation of the very heart of God.  Let us take a look at it again keeping this in mind:

Love suffers long.  Love is kind.  Love does not envy.  Love does not parade itself.  Love is not puffed up.  Love does not behave rudely.  Love does not seek its own.  Love is not provoked.  Love thinks no evil.  Love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things.  Love believes all things.  Love hopes all things.  Love endures all things.  Love never fails. 

Again, “We must derive our conceptions of God from the special revelation which he has given of Himself; and this declares His love as strongly as His existence.” “Love had its perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ.”6 “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).  There are so many more commentaries, expositions, and scriptures I could quote if I had space.  I hope these few are enough for each one of us to see that perfect love that God is has been made manifest to us in His Son.  That love is the same love with which we are commanded to love each other.  Is this a burden placed upon us believers?  Are we to strive to love like Him and hope we don’t fall short?  Of course not!

The word “commandment” in the passages I quoted earlier is a fascinating one.  It is entole (G1785) meaning injunction, authoritative prescription, commandment, precept.  Entole comes from entellomai (G1781) which means enjoin, give charge, give commandments, injoin.  Entellomai can be broken down into its components and here’s where it gets extremely interesting.  I haven’t got the space to share the definitions in their entirety so I encourage you to look them up for yourself.  Briefly, the meanings are these:

En (G1722) denoting fixed position in place, time, or state…instrumentality…a relation of rest…give self wholly to

Telos (G5056) to set out for a definite point of goal, the conclusion of an act or a state, ultimate or prophetic purpose, an impost or levy (as paid)

Do you see it?  The onus isn’t on us at all except as it relates to our keeping ourselves in Him, entering into His rest, and remaining in vital relationship with Him through His Spirit!  God so LOVED-AGAPEO-the world that He gave His son and Jesus has done it all!  He is the One who has ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things! (Ephesians 4:10)  We who hope to love as Jesus did know we can do so, not in our own strength but because “the love (agape) of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)  It is His Spirit in us that bears fruit and the beginning of this fruit is His love.

  1. Unger, Merrill, F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1982, Page 668
  2. Hastings, James, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Fifth Printing, Hendrickson Publishers, USA, 2001, Page 555
  3. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1997, Pages 692-693
  4. Hastings, James, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, USA, 2001, Page 555
  5. Unger, Merrill, F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1982, Page 668
  6. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1997, Page 693

Other References: The Comparitive Study Bible, Zondervan, 1984; The New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982; The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990