Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.”
If you read my blog entry, Christian Youth: Love, hopefully you read the article I wrote for Geeks Under Grace about Christian love. If not, you can click here to read it. However, today, I’m going to expound on it a little bit further and add a few new comments about Christian love.
The word “love” appears over 530 times in the entire Bible. Love is a wide topic, and I will try to keep it as concise as I can. In its application here, a concise discussion may not be possible, but please bear with me. Typically, teachers on this topic will quote 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to define love. Yes, this is love, but what some of these teachers don’t realise (indeed, many Christians) is that this passage is not about romantic love. It is about God’s love for us and the love we ought to have toward our neighbours. It can, however, serve as a guideline in how to love your spouse, so long as you recognise it’s not about human romantic love but rather a love on a much deeper level: godly love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
The Greek word most often used for love is ἀγάπη (agape), which is not used to refer to emotional affection, physical attraction, or a familial bond. Instead, it is the love of choice, referring to respect, devotion, and affection that leads to a willing, self-sacrificial love (examples of this love using agape in the Greek text are John 15:13; Romans 5:8; John 3:16; 1 John 3:16-17; and yes, even 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Now that we’ve eliminated the romantic emotional connection love has, just what is Christian love, really? Again, I advise you to read my article with Geeks Under Grace, but the best way to examine Christ’s love towards others is by examining His selfless service. Jesus exemplified this in numerous ways, but for the sake of time I’ll only be looking at one example in order to encapsulate the selfless service of His character.
Jesus gives us what I believe to be the perfect example of humility in that what we should do for each other is what He has done unto us, as He says Himself (John 13:15). Just prior to this, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. We all know this “story” quite well, but let’s examine it closely. Before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus had begun to wash His disciples’ feet. As He began to wash Peter’s feet, Peter said, “Never shall You wash my feet!” (John 13:8a). Peter is often ridiculed for being impulsive, but I think Peter’s reaction here is understandable. Put yourself in his position. If Jesus Christ Himself offered to wash my feet I, too, would be reluctant for Him to do so. Jesus is my Master, after all, and I imagine Peter had this in mind and thought it impertinent for his Master, whom he serves, to humble Himself and wash his feet. This is most certainly understandable considering the customs of the culture he lived in.
As a veteran, I can relate to Peter. I can’t imagine my commanding officer offering to do a service for me since I am the one who carries out his commands. If Jesus were to offer to wash my feet, I would have the same reaction, saying, “Lord, let me wash Your feet! I’m not worthy of Your service.” But Jesus humbles Himself before us not because we’ve done anything to be worthy, but because He graciously loves us and deems us worthy by His grace and mercy alone. Jesus responded to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (v. 8b), to which Peter replied, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head” (v. 9), finally realising Jesus was modeling Christian humility and service and that unless the Son of God cleanses a person’s sin, no one can have a part with Him.
Understanding what Jesus was doing, Peter figured he might as well let his Lord wash all of him rather than just his feet. After all, that would be far better, right? Wrong. Jesus replied, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean” (v. 10). What Jesus means here is that His cleansing for salvation never needs to be repeated, for the Holy Spirit has bathed our original sin in our baptism, our sins covered in the justification of His blood at the culmination of our faith. We are completely clean but still only need to wash our feet, for we still live and walk through the struggle of sin.
That’s the love Christ has done for us. So what example did Jesus portray to the disciples that we must do unto one another? He was modeling loving humility—humbleness. After washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (vv. 13-16). Although Jesus is our Lord and Master, He came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Although Jesus is our Lord and Master, He humbled Himself before His disciples—His servants and students—and washed their feet, serving them selflessly. This loving humility is what we must do toward one another. Jesus isn’t saying we have to literally wash one another’s feet, but that we should humble ourselves to such a point of a lowly servant for our neighbour, no matter what positions we hold.
This is the great mark of leadership: having the authority to command and discipline, but humbling oneself to serving and loving others. A great leader still exercises his authority, but instead of the pride of power guiding his actions, it is loving humility that guides his actions. Jesus had power over His disciples, and they knew this, yet Jesus still chose to serve them in humility in spite of His preeminence. The disciples were not greater than Jesus, and Jesus is not greater than the one who sent Him (God the Father). (Neither is He subordinate to the Father, but is equal with Him, just as the point Jesus was making with the disciples—they are equal to one another.) Because we as servants are not greater than our Master, just as our Master faced persecution, so we will face persecution.
If you’re in a leadership position, humble yourself and serve others in humility. Still exercise your authority, but do so without pride. Jesus’ authority over us is not one of control, but one of lovingkindness. You don’t need to be in a position of authority to do this, however. As sinful human beings, we sometimes think we’re better than someone else, exalting our egos, but we are better than no one. Humble yourself before everyone, and serve them in humility as the Lord has done.
Next time I will discuss the next fruit of the Spirit: joy.