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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 10: Clarity about the Fruit: Love

In the words of a Clint Black song, love is something that we do. When people think of Christians, love should be the first word that comes to their mind. Unfortunately, this isn’t often the case, but it can be and it will be for those who keep in step with the Spirit.

What does this love that the Spirit produces in God’s people look like?  In Romans 12:9 (NASV) Paul points his readers to its central quality—love must be without hypocrisy. Other translations use the words genuine or sincere. In keeping with God’s agape for us, transforming people will display the same agape God has. This kind of agape is love that is based on the lover’s will, not on the worth of the person loved. If the kind of love we have leads us to value only those who chant our slogans, sing to our tunes, or agree that we are always right, we still have a long way to go to learn about love.

Why does Paul write about not being hypocritical about love? Essentially, he is following Jesus’ teaching. It is easier to love those who love you. We all are drawn to people who are like us and who we like being with. But how do you love the rest of the congregation—the broken, the needy, the different? Those whose lives do not intermingle well with yours? This is what Jesus addressed. Don’t throw parties just for people who can pay you back. Throw them for those who cannot. Open your homes to them. Connect deeply, not superficially. Otherwise, you have strayed into hypocrisy.

Loving this way would be beyond us if it were not Spirit-empowered. But Paul continues to channel Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:14ff. Bless those who persecute you. Do not return evil for evil. I think that a lot of us would want this to be true for us. Yet, when we least expect it we get caught out being unloving in response to the pushback we get from those in the world.

A lesbian activist/feminist professor who taught Queer Theory attacked several young believers who were advocating pro-life on her California college campus. She encouraged others present to disrupt and ridicule them. She took their poster to burn. She scratched the wrists of one of the women who tried to rescue their poster. The young believers ratted her out to the administration, who were reluctant to act. They then turned to the police and the professor got sentenced to some community service by the criminal court. Next, they decided to sue her in civil court to make sure she would think twice about doing that again. Many believers were supportive of these young women standing up for their constitutional rights.

I read about another lesbian activist/feminist professor who taught Queer Theory at Syracuse University. She published scathing articles about Christianity. Some of those she set out to offend invited her to come and talk. They loved her. They accepted her with her butch haircut and surly manners and outspoken beliefs. They also loved her friends—partied with them to her astonishment. As a result, Rosaria Butterfield became a follower of Jesus whom she had rejected. She described her conversion as a train wreck for her life as she knew it. She now speaks the gospel into the world of those who still live like she once did.

So which of these two women experienced the reality of believers returning good for evil? Which of these two women experienced agape? And why did it matter eternally? This is a significant issue for we who are being transformed by the Spirit. Winning the world’s way does not line up with Jesus’s agenda for us. And it distorts the truth of the transforming gospel.

When you are being transformed by the Spirit, the love you have begins to look a lot like Jesus’ love. It may astonish your friends, but it marks you as one of his own. It becomes natural for you to love your neighbor and to do good to those who hate you. Because love is something you do. It flows out of your changed heart and transformed mind.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith