REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 60: The Fruit of Love.
But the greatest of these is love. So runs the apostle Paul’s punch line in urging the proud and selfish Corinthian believers to be like Christ to each other rather than to seek their own agendas [1 Cor 13:13]. Times of national crisis often bring out the very best in us, at least for a while, especially when it suits our own interests. On the international scene the opportunities and challenges of the pandemic are bringing out the best and the worst in us.
To argue against love is like voting against motherhood. However, given that many are voting against this foundational gift, it should not surprise us that we need to define love if we want to have any hope of seeing its fruit[s] blossom in and amongst us at this time. ABC can mean Adversity Builds Christlikeness [the Christian option] or Character [the Stoical option] or Compromise [the Hedonistic option]. Our understanding of love will make all the difference. The Prayer Book collect reminds us of the part the Holy Spirit must play if we are to be loving like Christ Lord, you have taught us that whatever we do without love is worth nothing: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you; grant this, for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen
The fruits of the Spirit grow in the hearts of those who are humble enough to receive Christ Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Indeed we are taught by our Lord that our conversion is the Spirit’s work [John 3:3-5 and 16:5-11]. Three ways of defining and glimpsing the power of Christ’s self-giving love are:
Our Lord’s example as He washes His disciple’s feet [John 13:1-17; 34-35].
His atoning death on the Cross to deal with sin’s penalty and God’s wrath in our place [Romans 5:8; 1 John 2:1-2, 4:10-12] and
The Holy Spirit’s way of diffusing God’s love into our hearts when we most need to be assured and strengthened by Him [Romans 5:8; 8:26-27].
The fruits of the Spirit are described in Galatians 5:22-23, where love is the leading fruit, or perhaps the fruit that is so comprehensive that it needs to be described in eight ways. Either way it amounts to much the same thing when the chips are down. Since they are given in the context of our battle with self-centred selfishness and in contrast to our old natural ways of living and thinking, I will try to show how wonderfully deep, challenging and transforming God’s love can be.
Escapism into immorality, be it through entertainment, porn or escapist novels, has we are told, been on the rise during the pandemic. So too has feel good spending. These are described in Galatians 5:19 as sexual immortality, impurity, debauchery, drunkenness, idolatry, all of which flow out of our sinful natures. The fruit of love, by taking us back to God’s amazing love for us in Christ, pondered and prayed in, will help us counter temptation and can be counted upon to bring us closer to the God who loves us. None of the fruits grow in a vacuum or without careful nourishing. The manure of heartfelt prayer along the lines of Ephesians 3:14-19 and Philippians 1:9-11, for ourselves and each other, will go a long way in keeping our focus upon God rather than good gifts being twisted into soul destroying substitutes. The Bible has been described as God’s love letter to humankind and by Thomas Watson, the chariot in which the Holy Spirit rides. Since the Bible’s primary author is God the Holy Spirit [2 Peter 1:21] we would expect His love to flow into and then out of us in direct proportion to our praying, reading and obeying His word written. This connection is implied in comparing Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18 and proven in the crucible of life’s experiences, especially the tough and stretching ones [Psalm 119:67, 71, 75]. Paul’s learned deep conviction [Rom 8:37-39] has been rejoiced in by believers through the ages. It is a fruit that matures in trials and with practice.
Showing God’s love is not only a way of growing our love [1 Thess 3:11-13] but of maintaining our equilibrium by channelling our anger away from hatred, fear or bitterness into loving service [Eph 4:29-5:2]. In this we emulate our Lord, in obeying Him [Jn 14:15-16], loving enemies [Matt 5:43-48, Luke 23:34] and self-centred believers [1 Cor 13] alike. Others in need of helpful words [Eph 4:29], compassion [4:32] or practical help [Matt 25:37-40; Gal 6:2, 9-10] will benefit from this initiating fruit. The fruits of patience, kindness and self-control will blossom and win out over our latent vestiges of discord, jealousy, fits of rage, factions and envy [Gal 5:20-21], which so easily raise their ugly heads when we are under pressure. The ABC outcome is in our hands as we seek to emulate our Saviour who epitomised the fruits and seek earnestly the help of the Holy Spirit in transforming us. Rom 12:2 emphasising our responsibility, and 2 Cor 3:18 the Holy Spirit’s. Both flowing out of our Lord’s loving invitation in Matt 11:28-30.
Peter Brain 26th January, 2021