It should be the easiest, but perhaps it is the hardest. That might be why Paul leads with it. The good news is that if we can get love right, the other eight probably fall into place.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23Galatians 5:22-23
Paul tells us these attributes, these characteristics, will be present in the life of someone who has oriented themselves toward Jesus because this is the fruit which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives.
Paul shows the primacy of love as well by using it last in 1 Corinthians 13, where he famous tells us that three abide — faith, hope, and love but he greatest is love.
Love is hard, though, which is probably why the Bible spends so much time on it. Love doesn’t come natural to us. Affection does, and so does nurture, but not love. We are inherently selfish, and even when we do loving things, it is often from a selfish motivation. Biblical love is often mixed up with emotions like romance or goodwill. Biblical love is not a feeling. It is a decision and an exercise of the will.
Love is also hard because people are hard to love. People have hangups, issues, troubles, anxieties, tensions, and overall unpleasantness. Reverse this, and we see that one of the reasons love is hard is not because of other peoples problems, but ours: we all have some kind of hangup, issue, trouble, anxiety, tension, or general unpleasantness that keeps us from reaching out to love others.
Again, though, there is good news.
These are called the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of humanity. God is in the impossible business and the Holy Spirit is forming us, thereby making love not just possible, but a necessity for those of us who follow Jesus.
Micah 6:8 has one of my favorite texts on the subject. What does the Lord expect — to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. The interesting part of that is the word ‘mercy’ is another word for love — to love love. A person could spend forever meditating on that one.
Going back to 1 Corinthians 13, what interests me is how the attributes of love compare with the fruit of the Spirt here in Galatians. Love is patient, and patience is a fruit. Love is kind. Kindness is a fruit. If I have faith, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, but not love, I have nothing. Faithfulness is a fruit. Love keeps no record of wrong doing, therefore it is good. Goodness is a fruit. Love is not puffed up. It is gentle Gentleness is a fruit.
Indeed, love is the key that unlocks them all.
Jesus said lots of powerful things about love: love your enemies, love your neighbor as yourself, God so loved the world — All. The. People.
Jesus embodied love, and as such the Holy Spirit he sent demands that we move forward as ever better lovers.
Better lovers because we love like Jesus – agape, New Testament covenantal love. That kind of love is about commitment and sacrifice. Commitment is another way of saying unconditional. To love in that Jesus way, the commitment is inside of me – I commit to love you regardless of what you do. You can’t make me stop loving you.
Jesus showed us the way to love by sacrificing himself for our benefit. True love always sacrifices for others. A mother sacrifices for her children, a father sacrifices for his wife, a child will rearrange life so his or her parents can be taken care of in their infirmity. If there is no sacrifice it can be affection, enjoyment, even friendship but it cannot be agape love.