“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” With this revelation from our Lord Jesus, He set the standard of communion and community for those who claim to follow Him. And, it is this ongoing and historical reality that set the Christian Church apart from all other religious systems of the Lord’s day. It is also why just 300+ years after the Lord died and rose again that His Church became the dominant faith of the Roman Empire.
So, how are we to understand this “love” the Lord talks about as being the hallmark of those who follow Him? It certainly can’t be the modern form of “love” that is suppose to make us “happy.” That’s too small and leans toward the self-centered. It smacks of a consumer version of “love” that has more to do with medicating one’s self than some sacrificial “love” that actually is self-forgetful.
Look at our Epistle Lesson today in Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2:
Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
St. Paul tells the Galatian Church that the Holy Spirit, active in a person’s life, will produce “fruit.” Just as an apple tree produces apples (if it’s healthy, watered, nurtured, and pruned) so a follower of Jesus Christ, if attended to, will produce the “fruit” of the Spirit. And look how St. Paul says those who “belong to Christ Jesus” nurture their lives so that they produce this “fruit.” They have “crucified” their fleshly passions. Now, there is no mistaking this metaphor, gang. Ain’t but one outcome to crucifixion: death. So, what does Paul mean? He means what the wisdom of the Orthodox Church has said since the beginning. Our “way of life” of prayer, fasting, almsgiving; the spiritual disciplines of the Faith, are meant to tame and bring all our “passions” to useful maturity instead of raging wildfires that destroy our lives.
St. Paul goes on to teach us that living by the Spirit (he means that intimate life with God and living with the awareness of His closeness to us and love for us) means we must also “walk” or allow this intimate awareness to govern our actions. We don’t act conceited. We don’t provoke one another. We don’t envy one another. And we don’t throw away one another when our brother makes a mistake! We restore, we don’t disguard! And we help our brothers and sisters carry their heavy load in life. If we live like this, we will “fulfill the law of Christ.” And what is that law? They will know you are My disciples if you love one another.
This robust and full love is, frankly, impossible for we humans. But that’s OK. Nothing is impossible with God. So, if you are connected to God then you have His power, His patience, His awareness all at your disposal to become this “fruit bearing” follower of Him!
Today, as we embrace the fullness of the Orthodox Faith with all the spiritual tools we will ever need to create the awareness of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, let’s abandon the all-too-small mindset of our modern definition of love that, frankly, does little but perpetuate selfishness, and embrace the broad, comprehensive, and excellent wisdom of love from God’s point of view! It’s the only way we will ever produce the Spirit’s “fruit” having done all we need to cultivate, fertilize, and prune our hearts for a harvest of true, Christian love. Let the Master Gardener do His work with us! Amen.
P.S. The best way to make yourself available to the Master Gardener to cultivate the Spirit’s fruit in your life is prayer, and the Divine Liturgy this Sunday is THE Place where the Master Gardener does His best work! Go to Church this Sunday and be on time! Here in Cumming, our service starts at 10 AM! If you’re close, you’re invited!