Vol. 2 Issue 2
January 10, 2008
The weekly newsletter of True Potential Publishing
â€œBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no lawâ€ (Galatians 5:22-23).
I was beginning to wonder if spending nine weeks exploring the fruit of the Spirit might be a little too preachy, a little too much like I was giving a sermon instead of writing about purpose and human potential. The fruit of the Spirit includes some wonderful character traits, but is it really on topic for this newsletter?
When I started reading Paulâ€™s introduction to the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, I realized that he was writing about freedom; escaping the slavery that prevents us from accomplishing our purpose and embracing the freedom to become whole, fully-realized human beings â€“ as God intended us. Thatâ€™s about as on-topic for our weekly Purpose letter as I can imagine.
When we talk about â€œloveâ€ in the New Testament, we always have to start out with a Greek lesson. The New Testament was written in Greek and then translated into other languages; ours being English. The thing is, the Greek words the New Testament writers used donâ€™t always have an English equivalent thatâ€™s going to accurately and fully convey the meaning the writer was trying to get across. â€œLoveâ€ may be the best example in the New Testament. In fact, â€œloveâ€ may be the most important word in the New Testament.
In English we use the word â€œloveâ€ to convey a lot of different meanings, from I â€œloveâ€ hotdogs, to I â€œloveâ€ the guys on my bowling team, to the sign on that seedy little video store on the west side of town called the â€œLove Shop,â€ to â€œFor God so loved the worldâ€¦â€.
It can get a little confusing. Thatâ€™s why the Greeks had different words for all those meanings of â€œloveâ€ â€¦ and thatâ€™s why we need a Greek lesson before we start to consider what the New Testament means when it speaks of â€œlove.â€
â€œEpithumiaâ€ is a Greek word that could be translated â€œloveâ€ in English. â€œEpithumiaâ€ means â€œcraving, a desire for what is forbidden, lust.â€ Itâ€™s what that guy at the video store was thinking when he ordered his sign. When the Bible uses â€œepithumiaâ€ itâ€™s not a good thing and certainly not what Paul was talking about as fruit of the Spirit.
â€œErosâ€ means â€œerotic or sexual love.â€ â€œErosâ€ isnâ€™t in the same irredeemable league as â€œepithumia.â€ It still has mainly to do with sex, but is can mean the romantic and intimate love between man and wife. Not altogether bad, but not a word used in the Bible, so weâ€™ll move on.
Of the two words used to convey â€œloveâ€ as we generally understand it, â€œphileoâ€ would be the meaning we use most commonly as part of our everyday life. â€œPhileoâ€ means â€œto approve of, to like, to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend, to be fond of doing.â€ When I say that I â€œloveâ€ hotdogs and I â€œloveâ€ the guys on my bowling team, Iâ€™m talking about â€œphileo.â€ Itâ€™s a nice word, but not fruit of the Spirit.
â€œAgapaoâ€ (or â€œagapeâ€) is what the Bible says we should have as a result of Godâ€™s Spirit living inside of us. â€œAgapaoâ€ wasnâ€™t used much in Greek culture at the time the New Testament books were written; it was more of a â€œchurchâ€ word. Believers used â€œagapaoâ€ to express the unconditional love God has shown to us in Christ and that believers should show toward their brothers.
My friend and author David Pawson explains â€œagapeâ€ love in his book, Is John 3:16 the Gospel?
“[Agape] is the love of action. In other words, â€˜erosâ€™ is centered in the heart, â€˜phileoâ€™ in the mind, but â€˜agapeâ€™ is centered in the will. The nearest English word I can get to â€˜agapeâ€™ is care. To care for someone means giving them two things: your attention and your action. It is to do something loving on their behalf. Essentially, it is a response to someoneâ€™s need. It is neither a response to their attractiveness nor a response to things which may interest them. To act in agape love is to respond to someone elseâ€™s need, pay attention to that need, and then do something about it.”
The kind of love Paul lists as fruit of the Spirit is a love of will and action. Itâ€™s a love that would sacrifice itself to come to the rescue of others. Itâ€™s the same love Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about; â€œFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal lifeâ€ (John 3:16).
Paul tried to show the early believers that no matter what else they considered a sign of being godly, if they didnâ€™t have love they were wasting their time. He told them that they could display all the gifts of the Spirit; they could speak in tongues, they could prophecy, they could have all the wisdom and knowledge and power in the world, they could give all their money to the poor and sacrifice their lives, but if they didnâ€™t possess love (agape) it would all be for nothing.
Right after that, he explained what agape love is and isnâ€™t: â€œLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never failsâ€ (I Corinthians 13: 4-8a).
Agape love isnâ€™t a feeling; itâ€™s a matter of will. You have to practice it intentionally.
How do you incorporate agape love into your everyday? Take Paulâ€™s advice. The next time your spouse or child or coworker aggravates you, take a breath, be patient; look past your irritation to their need.
The next time you see a young mother in a parking lot, in the rain, trying to wrangle three children and get her groceries in the trunk at the same time, offer a hand. The next time the kid in line ahead of you is fifty cents short, dig out your change. The next time you see a soldier in an airport buying lunch or a coffee, pay the cashier. Be kind.
Donâ€™t worry about Bob having a nicer car than you, or about Sally having a bigger house. Life is about loving Bob and Sally, not about loving their stuff. If Bob or Sally is a little green about you having the nice car and big house, blow it off; Bob and Sally are more important than your stuff too. Donâ€™t envy, donâ€™t boast.
Donâ€™t be rude, donâ€™t be self-serving, donâ€™t get angry every time something isnâ€™t going your way, donâ€™t hold a grudge. You get the idea. Take Paulâ€™s list above and make your own list.
To say that love is the key to success in life, the key to fulfilling our lifeâ€™s purpose and living to our highest potential seems a bit naive in light of todayâ€™s philosophy and concept of success. In a world that defines success as â€œthe attainment of fame, wealth and power,â€ can love really trump all of manâ€™s schemes and strategies to make his life matter?
As I said in last weekâ€™s letter; everything this world has told you about success, purpose and human potential is wrong. True success goes beyond the here and now. True success lasts; real meaning and purpose are still alive long after the cars and houses have turned to dust and long after the opinions on men have been lost in the history of eternity.
When our lives on earth come to an end and when this earth itself finally passes away, Paul tells us, only three things from the here and now will remain: â€œfaith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.â€
I mentioned my friend David Pawson, above. David lives, writes and teaches in the United Kingdom. His book, Is John 3:16 the Gospel? And many, many other wonderful resources can be purchased from www.goodseed.org.
Next week, we will explore joy, and discover how joy is integral to living out our purpose and living up to our true potential. Until then, may God bless you and keep you.