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Growing In Love

'The fruit of the Spirit is love...':

What is the Christ-like quality that the disciple needs most? In Paul's description of the fruit of the Spirit of God, he places love first. Again he tells us that faith, hope and love have an essential, abiding place, but (he greatest of these is love. So we shall surely be well rewarded to give some thought to how that fruit can be nurtured in our lives. First we may need to be clear about exactly what it is.

What love is:

Love is not kindness, though it certainly 'is kind' (1 Cor. 13:4). Kindness by itself would not be able to withdraw when someone needs to suffer in order to grow in self-discipline, in grace and in understanding. Kindness might even allow someone to die rather than suffer pain. Love is wiser, because it is an active interest in what is best for another. Thus love strengthens a church of God to bear the pain of cutting someone off so as to allow the Spirit of God to bring about true repentance. It is not just having benevolent feelings. If we try to cultivate kindly feelings we become occupied with our own state of mind, obscuring our perception of the true situation of others and what they really need.

Rather, to love means directing my will towards bearing another's burdens (Gal. 6:2). Only thus will my desire to do good survive rebuffs or indifference. Love takes on the entire person, including the unpleasantness or depression that comes from living with the same problems day after day. Along this road lies the point where a suspicious, resistant heart begins to respond with gratitude and c~ operation. Only love will still be waiting there, for love '... always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres' (1 Cor. 13:7 NIV). It is 'the bond of

perfectness' or completeness (Col. 3:14 RV), ready to help in every need.

Was it not this high quality that enabled David to hold back his men (and himself) when Saul was within his power once and again? You say, was it not rather because David feared God and left vengeance with Him? That was true as well, but the wisdom that begins in the fear of God ripens into the full fruit of love. For God gave us '... a spirit of... love and of self-discipline' (2 Tim. 1:7 NIV).

'God is love':

So we reach the source of love: 'God gave us ...' The power to care to this extent can only come from beyond ourselves. We are able to stretch to those extra efforts by looking upwards to a higher call than our own affections. Humanists might claim that the enlightened carer develops the capacity to love beyond self-interest through far-sightedness about what will prove to be best for everyone concerned. But the insight of such a man too often fades when the needs of others compete with his own needs. The human high-water mark is stated by the Lord:

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his for his friends (John 15:13 NIV).

In contrast, we love with Christ-like love only because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), and insofar as Love Himself flows through us. It was this that characterized Paul and Barnabas, 'men that have hazarded their lives' so that even their enemies might hear the gospel (Acts 15:26 RV).

Love through me, Love of God,

Make me like Thy clear pure air

Through which, unhindered, colours pass

As though it were not there...

0 love that faileth not, break forth,

And flood this world of mine.

(Carmichael)

It follows that if we wish our love to grow, we must cultivate likeness to our Father in heaven. This can only be done by taking time with Him. To talk with God, and reflect on His Word, opens up the flow of 'the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ' (Phil. 1:19 RV), and the guidance we need. We may learn also from meditation upon our God in worship, from the assembly prayers, and the whole range of service in fellowship, with others. Fellow-disciples have much to teach us through example and counsel.

So we may enlarge our appreciation of Paul's statement that 'the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts' (Rom. 5:5). The NIV translates, 'God has poured Out His love into our hearts', while NEB reads, 'God's love has flooded our hearts'.

The exercise of Christian love:

Mercifully such a powerful thing takes effect by degrees, for it leads in the end to the denial of all self. Paul lived daily with 'anxiety for all the churches'. He had 'great sorrow and unceasing pain' in his heart for the sake of his unbelieving fellow Jews. We look now at ways of nurturing such love.

What if we find we cannot achieve such a quality of sympathetic feeling towards difficult cases? The answer others have found is to undertake the work of love, and let the right feelings emerge in due course. Love will be truest when our attention is on the people we wish to help rather than on our feelings.

Henry Drummond, in The Greatest Thing In The World, Hodder, 1980, p.43, asked readers to join him in reading I Corinthians 13 once a week for three months, saying that a man who had done that had found his character changed for good.

We may have to begin at home. Is there someone in the family with whom we often have friction? Our attitude towards those whom we live with most hours in the week is the first sphere in which to assess our power to love. Perhaps a partner in marriage simply needs to recognize how hurtful a little thoughtlessness can be. Husband takes a chance to hoe round a border in the spring holiday, but fails to consult his wife, who finds the array of small seedlings from last year's annuals that she had hopes of transplanting are now buried. A casualty of not taking the trouble to share, in one of the areas where a couple can work together: a little fox, likely with some brothers, that cruelly despoil the vineyard!

Again, it can be most difficult to maintain a Christ4ilne attitude when we are among the disciples who form our assembly and whom we therefore work with several times a week. There we are under constant attack from the evil one, who hates every form of unity and Christian harmony among saints. A good exercise would be to choose someone we find awkward to get on with, and pray for a period asking for guidance about what divides us, and how to overcome it. Why is another disciple mistrustful, cold and distant or prone to sharp replies? Is there something in myself that I have yet to realize is discouraging to others? It is so important to begin with myself, praying the searching prayer of Psalm 139:23,24. Then write down the strengths of the other saint; try to appreciate these freshly; and then note any weakness(es). (Ask yourself if your own such list might show a more serious problem). Then write across the list, 'The brother/ sister for whom Christ died'. There lies our responsibility, to love and not to stumble. Then we may set ourselves the test: to bring out the strengths, and overcome the weaknesses, for love corers (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8), and 'He who despises his neighbour sins' (Prov. 14:21 NIV). A wise word of praise has strong effect. Then an opportunity may arise to offer some form of help, and so practical fellowship may begin to grow. There will be a helpful effect on our witness too, since visitors quickly detect strained relations between Christians. 'All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another' (John 13:35 NIV).

Overcoming rebuffs:

The same approach could allow the Spirit of grace to use us more fully in other spheres - among neighbours, at work, and farther afield. What if our

efforts are rejected? First thank God for rebuffs, for they test our motives. If our love is pure, we will be able to persevere. Then consider that a first resistance can wonderfully melt away at later encounters. People who have distrusted us usually need time to adjust to new approaches, and they will test our overtures for their sincerity. We may perhaps have to learn more about the person, and have simply made a misjudgement. Above all, we learn from our Lord to pray on and not to give up (Luke 18:1). He worked with His people for years -and then went out to die in the agony of Calvary for us all.

Now we may be ready for the Lord's own test of our love. He begins with our response to Himself and the Father who sent Him. Look carefully at His assessment of true love:

Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me (John 14:21 NIV).

Then delight in the wonderful promise He holds out to those who, knowing these things, do them:

'He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him'.

May our love grow and abound, that so we may see and know Him indeed.