Series: Preacher: Date: October 20, 2013 Scripture Reference: Colossians 3:14

This past month we have been covering the Fruit of the Spirit, a study which our pastor, Mark Adams, began just before his sabbatical.  Today we cover love.  Turn with me in your Bibles to Galatians 5:22-25.  In the verses immediately preceding this passage, the Apostle Paul gives us a list of the acts of the flesh, a list that includes acts such as sexual immorality, impurity, jealousy, and selfish ambition.  As we have already been taught in this series, I want to remind you that living as a Christian is more than staying out of trouble, keeping our noses clean, and avoiding sinful acts.  Life cannot be reduced to avoiding risks and living within safe parameters.  When we find someone like that, we comment that that person is not actually living.  In the same way, the Christian life cannot be reduced to avoiding sin and living within a safe bubble.  And that is partly why Paul tells the Galatian believers, who were in danger of living under the law and trying to avoid breaking it, that they needed to produce the Fruit of the Spirit.  Let’s read his words:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-25 NIV)

And this is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

For several years a high end art gallery in the Upper East Side of Queens, New York, has been noted for selling several forgotten pieces of artwork.  Art dealer Glafira Rosales has been chiefly responsible for selling these works of art from the Knoedler & Company gallery, and she explained that a family member inherited an impressive collection from his father and had anonymously held them since the 1950s.  Then these newly released pieces of art were sold at fetching prices, up to $17 million.  There is just one problem.  They are fakes.  Instead of being painted by famed modernist artists such as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning, they were painted by an unknown man in his garage in New York.  Rosales is in the middle of the $80 million forgery case now. [1]

Forgeries and counterfeits are nothing new.  Cheap knock-offs are intended to pass for the real thing.  One of these was discovered by an Antiques Roadshow dealer in Winston-Salem.  A woman brought to him a “vampire killing kit” – complete with wooden stake, pistol, and silver-looking bullets – which she bought at auction in New Orleans for $1500, thinking it was a genuine antique.  Instead, it was recently created and made to look old. [2]

Forgeries and counterfeits are all around us.  We find them not only in the world of art and antiques but also in the world of religion.  A counterfeit is something inferior to the real thing, and unlucky victims are duped into accepting it as genuine.  As we continue our study of the Fruit of the Spirit and look at love we must realize that any fruit that does not come from the Spirit is counterfeit.  Turn with me in your copies of Scripture to Colossians 3:14.  We want the right kind of love; we want true, genuine love.  But true love is produced by us only after it has been produced in us.  Let’s read Colossians 3:14.

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

And this, too, is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

We do not want to put on counterfeit love.  What is at stake?  If we put on a false or incomplete sense of love, our attitudes about it will be skewed, actions will come from the wrong source, and the recipients of our love will be unaffected.  In what ways does love become warped?   There are two ways.  We may either reduce love to action or reduce love to attitude.  When we reduce love to action, our warped sense of love becomes mere good works.  Disconnected from its source, it loses all meaning.  We will still have some sort of motivation for love.  Showing love might become an end to itself, which divorces it from the gospel message.  Loving others might be a guilty compulsion that we feel obligated to obey.  When the proper attitude of love is expressed without the action, love is reduced to mere sentiment.  It isn’t effective for anything.  In this sense, being loving is equated with conjuring strong feelings and desires for the well-being of others, which becomes a stillborn version of love.  These counterfeits simply won’t do.  We are told that above all else, we must put on love – the right sort of love.  The authentic, persevering love that leads to outrageous giving, fearlessly irrational acts, giving up the self for the benefit of others, and to the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping wonder of those who experience its expression.  Counterfeits simply won’t do.  True love is produced by us only after it is produced in us.

Getting the Right Attitude:  Understanding God’s Love for Us

Our first step then is to understand how love is produced in us.  Love is produced in us when we come to terms with God’s love for us.  To develop love internally, we go to the God who made us and understands us.  We turn to His Word to learn about His great love.

God’s love for us is a transforming love

In A Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, it says,

“Love is never simply a self-attained virtue; it is the result of a transformed life filled with the Spirit of God, which pours God’s own love into the human heart.” [3]

God’s love for us is a transforming love.  Romans 5:5 tells us

“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

When was the last time you stopped to think about the transforming power of God’s love in your life?  It is God’s love that has brought Christians from death to life!  Ephesians 2:4-5 says,

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5 NIV)

Transformation is at the heart of the gospel message.  We were dead in our sins.  We were enemies of God.  We were destined for eternal wrath in hell.  But love has transformed us!  We are alive in Christ, we are friends of God, and we are guaranteed a heavenly inheritance which will not perish or fade.  The right attitude about love sees the truly transforming power of God’s love in our own lives.  The Holy Spirit has freed us from the power of sin and enabled us to produce fruit for God!  We understand further that God’s love for us is the same as His love for His Son!  It’s true.  That same love expressed within the Godhead is expressed to us with the same, full force.  Everything we see around us is the result of God’s love for His Son.  In John 17:24 we learn that the Father loved the Son since before the foundation of the world.  It is a love that, by design, was meant to be shared by us, so that as Christians we delight in the Son, our Savior.  But God’s limitless love was destined for more than that, because we share in that same Creation-motivating love.  “Behold, what manner of love,” writes John, “that the Father has given to us:  That we should be called the sons of God.”  We are fellow heirs with Christ, recipients of identical love.

God’s love for us is an active love

Within this powerful transformation we find that God’s love for us is an active love.  One of the key Old Testament words for love is hesed.  This word is described as “active, social, and enduring.”  Even more, hesed is not only an attitude but also an action stemming from that attitude. [4] The surprising thing about this word is that it is hidden in Scripture.  If you thumb through the Old Testament looking for this particular word, it is rarely translated love, and yet it is one of the keys to understanding God’s love.  That’s because it is expressed in other terms, like mercy, kindness, and lovingkindness. [5]  These are the outpouring evidences of an active love.  Scholars note,

“This love is something which God gives, sends, bids, remembers, continues, shows, caused to be heard, makes great and wondrous, takes away, commands, preserves, surrounds, satisfies, or crowns us with.”[6]

He guided Israel with it in Exodus 15:13; He revealed it in Israel for the nations to see in Psalm 98:2 and 117:2; He filled the earth with it in Psalm 33:5 and 119:64; Jeremiah 31:2 tells us this love is everlasting, and Psalm 63:3 says it is better than life.  It is described as God’s act of “strength, victory, salvation, justice, righteousness, redemption, mercy,” and it is called “wonderful and praiseworthy.” [7]

Are you beginning to get a sense of why we cannot dismiss love as a strong feeling or a mere attitude?  That isn’t love!  Love rolls up its sleeves, sweats, bleeds and gets dirt under its fingernails.  We know that it is patient and kind, has no envy or pride.  It doesn’t boast or dishonor others or seek its own benefit.  It never keeps track of wrongs against it.  Love’s highest delight is in what is truthful, not in evils or moral failings.  It protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres, and it does it all the time. [8]  Love is active.  Love is synonymous with spiritual warfare.  Warfare is waged when students don’t play into the drama at school…or in the youth ministry; their love keeps no record of wrongs.  Warfare is waged when women refuse to spread a bad report about someone who was insensitive…again; their love is patient and kind.  Warfare is waged when men rise up and fight injustice in love.  They see the plight of the fatherless and become a father to them in the footsteps of our loving heavenly Father.  Their love can be described like God’s acts of strength, victory, salvation, and justice.  This true love stands in stark contrast with its counterfeit that Christians buy into.  They see the command to put on love, and in response they adopt a positive spirit and think happy thoughts.  That counterfeit is repulsive when compared to the real thing.  It simply won’t do.

Getting the Right Action:  Putting on Love

Love is produced in us and “put on” by us

In the list of the Fruit of the Spirit, love is first, and scholars are quick to point out the prominence of love in Paul’s mind.  He mentions it as the most important in 1 Corinthians 13, and our passage in Colossians tells us to put on love “above all else,” above a whole list of attributes mentioned in the preceding verses.  Does it strike you as odd that we see love produced as fruit from the Spirit – process that occurs within us – and then we see love as an attribute that we put on?  It might lead a person to ask, “Well, which is it?  Is love produced by me or by the Spirit within me?”  The answer is both!  How could we on our own produce the love just described?  We can’t; it is only the work of God.  Yet, with the transformation we experience from God, how could we not begin to actively and intentionally produce it?

Like a lot of Americans supporting movies by Marvel and DC Comics these days, I am a fan of superheroes.  There are a few categories of heroes.  Some, like Superman or Spiderman, have a form of innate strength, which they possess all the time.  Others, like Batman or the Green Arrow, have finely honed skills that they use to be effective against the bad guys.  But there is another category of superhero.  Heroes like Ironman or Thor or the Green Lantern must put on a special suit or take up an object to receive any super powers.  Perhaps Ironman’s suit helps us understand a little bit of what it means to put on love.  Scripture talks about putting on clothing a lot.  God clothed Adam and Eve after their sin (Gen 3:21).  He made sure to ceremoniously clothe the Israelite priests to lead worship (Lev 8:7).  Job declared that he was clothed with worms and scabs (Job 7:5).  God Himself is said to be clothed in splendor and majesty (Ps 104:1).   We are told to clothe ourselves with – or put on – love (Col 3:14).  We also find that people who have placed their faith in Christ have clothed themselves with Christ.  This is part of what it means to take on the nature of Christ.  Our purpose statement expresses the active love that “care[s] in the nature of Christ.”  Our theme for this year and next is “Second Nature,” an intentional way to clothe ourselves with the nature of Christ.  And putting on love is a big part of this.

Love imitates Christ

And when we clothe ourselves with the loving nature of Jesus, what do we find?  We find the ultimate sacrificial love of God the Son who gave His life on the cross so that we could live.  Authentic love imitates Christ.  Jesus, full of love, knowing the transforming power of his blood, willingly shed it on our behalf.  “There is no greater love than this,” He says, “Than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).  We come now to a time in the service when we remember the sacrifice of Christ.  It’s fitting isn’t it?  As a way of remembering Jesus’ active love, we are about to actively do something.  So I invite you, if you have trusted in Christ for salvation, to observe the Lord’s Supper with us now, whether you are a member of Redland Baptist Church or not.  If you are His, this is yours.

[3]  Hawthorne, Gerald F., and Ralph P. Martin. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993. 576.

[4] Botterweck, G. Johanes, and Helmer Ringgren, . Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986. 51.

[6] (Botterweck and Ringgren 1986, 54)

[7] (Botterweck and Ringgren 1986, 55)

[8] Paraphrase of 1 Cor 13:4-8

Website design and development by Red Letter Design.