Let us consider Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit, the characteristics that ought to define a Christian, beginning with love, in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
The Greek word translated here as “love” is the Greek word agape, defined by Thayer’s as:
Brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence
It is often stated about the Greek word agape that it represents in Greek the strongest form of love you can have for another, the “self-sacrificial” type of love. This is the type of love expressed in John 3:16, Ephesians 5:25, and 1 John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it.
Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
In these three passages, only a scattered selection of the many verses which use the term agape in some form, we are given great insight about what this “love” is. It is the love that God expressed to us when He gave His Son to die on the cross for the remission of our sins. It is the love that Christ has expressed for His Church by giving up His own life for us, and He expects us to love not only our wives but also each other to the same end.
We have already seen the way in which this love is manifested, but the Scriptures have also given us a working definition of this agape in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.
Paul here shows us exactly what love is: it is the most essential part of living and preaching the Gospel. I have heard it said that the Christian would do well to go through the list of the characteristics of love in this passage and substitute his or her name for the term “love” and see if the passage still rings true. Do you suffer long? Are you kind? Do you not envy, and do you not vaunt yourself? Are you puffed up, or do you behave unseemly? We could go on and on, and if we find that we cannot honestly answer that we are fulfilling these characteristics, then we may see where we should focus our growth in Christ Jesus.
This discussion concerning love is only the tip of the iceberg. Time would fail any of us if we attempted to explain the concept of agape love to do it any justice. It is listed well as the first manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, for, as Paul has said, without love we have nothing. The rest of the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit would not exist– and do not reside in anyone– if there is not love. Let us remember the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40:
And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, trying Him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
And He said unto him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’
This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’
On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.”
The entire system of Mosaic Law could be condensed into two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. If these two were truly done then such a person would never be condemned. We may be sure that love is the foundation of our salvation and our hope in Christ, for as long as we strive to love God and love our neighbors as the Father and Christ loves us, then we shall assuredly exhibit this fruit of the Spirit and we shall attain our reward.