THE apostle Paul wrote under inspiration about nine qualities that result from the action of holy spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) He described these desirable qualities as forming a whole—“the fruitage of the spirit.”* This fruitage characterizes “the new personality.” (Col. 3:10) Just as a tree will bear fruit when it is properly tended, so a person will manifest the fruitage of the spirit when holy spirit flows freely in his life.—Ps. 1:1-3.
The first aspect of the spirit’s fruitage that Paul listed is the precious quality of love. How precious is it? Paul said that without love, he was “nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) But just what is love, and how can we develop it and show it every day?
HOW LOVE IS EXPRESSED
Although words cannot easily define the quality of love, the Bible describes the way it is expressed. For example, we read that love is “patient and kind.” Also, it “rejoices with the truth,” and it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love also involves a feeling of deep affection for others and a sincere concern for them, as well as a warm attachment to them. On the other hand, a lack of love is revealed by jealousy, pride, indecent behavior, selfishness, and a resentful, unforgiving attitude. Unlike such heartless and vain qualities, the love we desire to develop “does not look for its own interests.”—1 Cor. 13:4-8.
EXEMPLARY LOVE SHOWN BY JEHOVAH AND JESUS
“God is love.” Indeed, Jehovah is the very essence of love. (1 John 4:8) All his works and actions bear witness to his love. His greatest act of love toward mankind was that of sending Jesus to suffer and die for us. The apostle John stated: “By this the love of God was revealed in our case, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9, 10) Because of God’s love, we can obtain forgiveness, hope, and life.
Jesus proved his love for mankind by willingly carrying out God’s will. Paul wrote: “[Jesus] says: ‘Look! I have come to do your will.’ . . . By this ‛will’ we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” (Heb. 10:9, 10) No human could show greater love. Jesus said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) Can we imperfect humans imitate the love shown to us by Jehovah and Jesus? Yes! Let us consider how we can do so.
“GO ON WALKING IN LOVE”
Paul exhorts us: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love, just as the Christ also loved us and gave himself for us.” (Eph. 5:1, 2) We “go on walking in love” when we manifest this quality in every aspect of our life. We show such love by actions rather than by words alone. John wrote: “Little children, we should love, not in word or with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18) For example, when we walk in love for God and neighbor, we will be moved to share the “good news of the Kingdom” with them. (Matt. 24:14; Luke 10:27) We also walk in love when we are patient, kind, and forgiving. Hence, the Bible counsels us: “Just as Jehovah freely forgave you, you must also do the same.”—Col. 3:13.
Such genuine love, however, is not to be confused with sentimentality. For instance, to calm a crying child, a sentimental parent may cater to the child’s every whim. But the parent who truly loves his child will be firm when necessary. Likewise, God is love, but “those whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” (Heb. 12:6) When we walk in love, we will also give proper discipline when needed. (Prov. 3:11, 12) Of course, in doing so we must remember that we too are sinful and prone to unloving acts. Thus, we all have areas in which we need to improve in showing love. How can we do this? Let us consider three ways.
First, ask God for his spirit, which produces love. Jesus stated that Jehovah gives “holy spirit to those asking him.” (Luke 11:13) If we pray for holy spirit and endeavor to “keep walking by spirit,” our actions will become more and more loving. (Gal. 5:16) For instance, if you are an elder in the Christian congregation, you can ask for holy spirit to help you to give Scriptural counsel to others in a loving manner. Or if you are a parent, you can request that God’s spirit help you to discipline your children, not in anger, but in love.
Second, reflect on how Jesus showed love even when provoked. (1 Pet. 2:21, 23) The need to think about Christ’s example may especially arise when we have been offended or have experienced an injustice. At such times, a good question to ask ourselves is, ‘What would Jesus do?’ A sister named Leigh found that considering this question helped her to think before acting. She relates: “Once, a coworker sent an e-mail to my colleagues with negative comments about me and the work I was doing. It hurt me deeply. But then I asked myself, ‘How can I imitate Jesus in dealing with this person?’ After reflecting on what Jesus would have done, I decided to let the matter go and not make an issue of it. Later, I learned that my coworker had been coping with a serious health problem and was under a lot of stress. I concluded that she probably did not really mean what she wrote. Reflecting on Jesus’ example of showing love even when provoked helped me to show similar love to my coworker.” Yes, if we imitate Jesus, we will always act with love.
Third, cultivate the spirit of self-sacrificing love, which is the identifying mark of true Christianity. (John 13:34, 35) In this regard, the Scriptures urge us to develop the same “mental attitude” that Jesus had. By leaving heaven, “he emptied himself” in our behalf, even “to the point of death.” (Phil. 2:5-8) As we imitate his self-sacrificing love, our thoughts and feelings will become more Christlike, and we will be moved to place the interests of others ahead of our own. What further benefits come from cultivating love?
BENEFITS OF SHOWING LOVE
When we show love, the benefits are far-reaching. Consider two examples:
AN INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD: Because of our love for one another, we know that no matter what congregation we may visit throughout the earth, the brothers and sisters will warmly welcome us. What a blessing it is to be loved by ‘the entire association of our brothers in the world’! (1 Pet. 5:9) Where else but among God’s people can such love be found?
PEACE: “Putting up with one another in love” allows us to enjoy “the uniting bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:2, 3) We experience this peace firsthand at our congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions. Would you not agree that such a peaceful spirit is truly unique in today’s divided world? (Ps. 119:165; Isa. 54:13) By pursuing peace with others, we demonstrate the depth of our love for them, which is pleasing to our heavenly Father.—Ps. 133:1-3; Matt. 5:9.
“LOVE BUILDS UP”
Paul wrote: “Love builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1) How does love do this? In the 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians—in what has been called the “Psalm of Love”—the apostle explains how love builds up. For one thing, it seeks the other person’s advantage. (1 Cor. 10:24; 13:5) Additionally, because love is thoughtful, considerate, patient, and kind, it builds affectionate families and united congregations.—Col. 3:14.
Our shared love for God is the most valuable and upbuilding love of all. Such love unites people of all backgrounds, races, and tongues in happy association to serve Jehovah “shoulder to shoulder.” (Zeph. 3:9) Let us be determined to show this precious aspect of the fruitage of God’s holy spirit every day.
This is the first article of a nine-part series that will consider each quality, or aspect, of the fruitage of the spirit.