In our lesson today from Galatians 5, Paul talks about the “fruit of the Spirit.” To be a Christian is let the spirit of Christ shine through you. Today, we’re going to focus on the first of those fruits: Love.
When the Romans thought of love, they pictured Cupid, their god of love. He was the god of desire, of passionate love. The roots of the Latin word point to hot-love, boiling passion—you get the idea.
In Greek, Cupid’s name was Eros. Yes, that’s where we get our word “erotic.” This is love as passion and desire; attraction.
Venus was the mother of Cupid. She was the brightest and most beautiful star in the sky; the first object after the sun and moon to catch our attention. Her son pricks our heart with his arrows and makes our blood run. When Cupid’s arrow strikes, everything else seems to come to a halt, and romance becomes our obsession.
It may sound odd to be talking about this old pagan mythology in a church sermon, but in it’s own way, it’s biblical. God created us to have those passions. It’s how we make little Christians. God created us to be attracted to others, not only for romance, but also so that we might join with others and work toward common goals and purposes.
Passion is not just for creating new people: It also creates new inventions and new ideas. It drives people into politics, teaching, medicine, or business—even ministry. The passion for justice has driven hundreds of thousands into the streets.
These are all the gifts of God. He made us with passions and drives. People say, Do what you love, because if you’re doing what you love, it will never seem like work.
That’s one kind of love. But in the New Testament, there’s another word for “love” as well. The word in our lessons today is “agape.” It’s a different kind of love.
Agape is the opposite of Eros. Eros is conditional: Something or someone is either attractive to us or not. Agape is Unconditional love. It’s the kind of love Paul talked about in Romans 5:8—“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves us even when we were acting ugly, doing repugnant things.
But that’s what makes Jesus’ words in the gospel sound shocking: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Unconditional love is not supposed to leave a big “if” hanging out there. You are my friends IF you do what I command.
Put those same words on the lips of someone else. Suppose a husband said to his wife: “If you really love me, you’ll do what I command.” Or suppose a girlfriend said to her boyfriend,” If you really love me, you’ll do what I command.”
If a parent said it to a child, we would think that parent was cruel in making love so conditional. If a child said it to a parent, we’d be dealing with a spoiled brat. If you’re really my friend, you’ll do what I command.
It sounds like the opposite of biblical love. The highest love is supposed to be unconditional, and yet Jesus seems to say the opposite: if you love me, you’ll do what I tell you to do. And if you don’t do what I tell you to do, then you must not really love me.
In human terms, that’s not love at all. We’ve heard those war stories about the wounded guy on the battlefield. In the throes of pain, he asks his buddy to finish him off—but instead of following the command, his buddy carries him to the hospital and saves his life.
That’s what we expect from true love. True love has to be based on mutual respect and thoughtfulness, not intimidation. If I do something, it shouldn’t be because you commanded me, but because together we know it’s the right thing to do. True love recognizes independence. If I exist only to bow to your every command, then I am no longer a person. You’ve turned me into a plow-horse, a machine.
This is one of the chief sources of pain and suffering in life. Some people live by that rule: If you love me, you will do what I command. In parenting, it produces kids who are perfectionists and always unsure of themselves—spineless kids who live only to make others like them. I have to be perfect, or Mommy won’t love me.
But bossy people also hurt themselves. They secretly fear that if others aren’t following their orders, they must not really love them. It also creates resentment for those getting bossed-around. They get tired of one-way relationships where they’re always giving and yet can never seem to give enough to satisfy the commander.
It doesn’t have to be personal: For instance, there is a kind of love between employers and employees. It’s not romantic, but it’s a love marked by respect, concern, care, and a love that’s fruitful; bringing rewards to both. Some bosses are always threatening their employees. They’re always on the verge of being fired. You’re never allowed to make a mistake.
If the boss says, if you love me, you will obey what I command, the relationship breaks down. Employees don’t take chances that might not work. They do the bare minimum, so they stay out of trouble. The employee is just another machine. So the employees become resentful. They don’t work as hard. They keeps their inventiveness and creativity to themselves. Good managers treat their employees with respect and dignity.
I’ve gone on at length here, because I want us to see just how radical a thing Jesus asks of us: If you obey my command, you will walk in my love.
Only Jesus could ever have the right to insist on such a thing. Here, he asks us to do something we could not do for any human being. He asks us to surrender to him–to give up our independence and integrity and turn ourselves over to him. Jesus says that in our love relationship with him, we must obey his command.
If you take it seriously, it’s scary. Conversion and faith are not light matters. You cannot choose a Savior the way you’d choose a political party or a college or a career, or even a mate. No one on earth can ask you for total surrender. Jesus does.
Can you surrender? Obviously, it depends on what Jesus wants from us.
In verse 17, Jesus says: “This is my command: Love each other.”
Love. When you surrender to Jesus, you surrender to love. Love becomes your purpose, your goal, your motivation, and your desire. You work for love.
It’s not complicated. People always try to make it complicated. We attach stipulations and requirements. Jesus makes it simple: Love others as he loves you.
True love, as Jesus taught it, knows no barriers or boundaries. Think of the time he spoke to the woman at the well. When Jesus spoke to her, he was breaking all kinds of human rules: She was a woman—and Jesus should not have spoken to her personally out in public, She was an adulteress, a public sinner—and Jesus was not supposed to be seen with such riff-raff. She was a Samaritan, a foreigner—and good Jews were not supposed to associate with them.
But true love overlooks our human distinctions and divisions and simply recognizes and respects the dignity and worth of every person. In true love, there is no “below” or “beneath;” no hierarchy of power and ego, no servers and served, no priests and people, no bosses and flunkies. There are only equals, joining for common goals.
Jesus taught us that true love is generous and sacrificing. Human passion is acquisitive, manipulative, and self-seeking. Jesus taught us that if love requires death on a cross, that’s not too big a price. In verse 13, he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
That’s unconditional love: Above all, unconditional love is forgiving. Normal human love puts on conditions: I’ll love him only if he comes crawling back to me, begging on hands and knees. Normal human love also never forgets, and the mistakes of the past can always come back to haunt us.
But unconditional love is different. Unconditional love says, I’ll love you even when you’re obnoxious. I’ll forgive you. I’ll keep the door open and the light on, so that if you want to come straggling back like a prodigal son, I’ll throw my arms around you and throw the biggest party you’ve ever seen.
That’s what true love is. It ignores normal human barriers and boundaries. It’s generous and sacrificing. It forgives and forgets and remains open to reception and reconciliation. That’s a fruit of the Spirit. It comes to us by the grace of God. But when we let God work his love through us in this way, we produce what Jesus talks about in verse 16: ”fruit that will last.” We release a surge of positive power that transforms us and those around us. And so let the fruit of love go to work for you and in you today; through Jesus Christ our Lord.