Have you ever died for someone because you love them so much?
Clearly if you’re reading this, you haven’t ever died. So maybe a more accurate question would be, is there anyone you love so strongly that you would die in their place? Most would say they would do so for their spouse or kids or fellow soldiers in war. This is good and honorable.
But what if God wanted us to not only love our family or close friends so much as to be willing to die for them, but also our enemies? Would you say you’re willing to die for an ex or someone who hurt you or a complete stranger? Could you give up everything for them, even your own life? Do you have that kind of love in you?
I will be honest, I don’t have that level of love in myself. If it were up to just me, I may not even die for my husband. Yet, this is the love that is the first aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. You can’t have the joy or the peace or anything else of the Spirit without having intense, sacrificial love. Let’s dive deeper into this love that is far beyond what we in ourselves could generate.
The love the Holy Spirit fills us with isn’t a romantic infatuation. Neither is it limited to brotherly companionship. Rather, it is a sacrificial love.
Jesus said in John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment: Love each other the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We know from the Gospel narratives that this is exactly what Christ did for us: He loved us so greatly that He died to pay for our sins. While our deaths won’t save someone’s soul as the death and resurrection of Jesus did for all, we are still called to love others to this drastic degree.
We are fortunate to not live in the first century church where persecution was rampant and the opportunity to lay your life down as a Christian out of love for God and others was common. It is rather unlikely we will have to die for the gospel unless we are missionaries to countries that ban Christianity or are in a church shooting. Yet, there are many other ways we can lay down our lives in love of others. We can forgive our enemies. We can relent needing to have our own way. We can pray for those who hurt us. We can put other’s needs before our own. We can even be willing to sacrifice our life to save another.
This was simple to write, yet it is impossible in execution. We weren’t wired to love sacrificially. In our humanity, we think of ourselves first. We love others when they love us first or in some way serve us. We would never naturally love our enemies or put ourselves at risk for the safety of another. This love that Jesus calls us to is far greater than anything we can in ourselves accomplish.
This sacrificial love can only be manifested in us by the Holy Spirit.
As we Christians allow the Spirit to permeate our lives, He will grow a sacrificial love in us. It is not our spirit in us that can love so greatly, but the Spirit of God, who sent his Son and rose Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11), living in us that emboldens us to love others as God loves them. Through the Spirit we can not only love those who love us, but also love the hard to love even to the point of death. Through the Spirit, we can in an outpouring of love forgive freely our enemies, pray fervently for those who hurt us, and prioritize others needs over our own. We can love with the aggressive, steadfast love of God Himself.
Greater love is not something we can accomplish on our own. It isn’t in our nature. But it is in God’s nature. As we allow the Holy Spirit to take hold of our lives, he will manifest the fruit of the Spirit in us. As He develops the entirity of the fruit in our lives, one aspect will be the sacrificial love of God for others. He will give us His heart for His people, those who know him and those who have yet to meet Him. Jesus wouldn’t have given us the seemingly impossible task of loving as He loves if it were not possible. It is possible to love in a way that is even greater than our deepest worldly understand of love, but it is only possible by being filled with the Holy Spirit.