Developing Love

The title of this article raises a question. How can we develop love, when it is a fruit of the Spirit?
When love is called a fruit of the Spirit, then the implication is clear that the Holy Spirit is the divine agent who works in us the blessings of salvation as merited by Christ upon the cross. This work of the Spirit in us produces fruit which becomes evident in every aspect of our lives.
But the sovereignty of God does not deny and has never denied man’s responsibility. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 23).
We cannot give ourselves love nor can we give it to others. It is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ. But we can encourage or discourage this love which is within us. We can develop the fruit or we can quench the fruit of the Spirit (I Thess. 5:19).
But we, of and by ourselves, cannot even develop the fruit after the Spirit bestows it upon us. That too is the work of the Spirit. And this the Spirit does through the use of means. He does not treat us like so many pieces of rock, upon which he works. He uses us consciously, for the growth of our graces.
Prayer is an indispensable means which the Holy Spirit uses to develop love in us consciously. God would have us pray to him for the grace to grow in love.
“God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desire continually ask them of Him” (Heidelberg Catechism).
Ezekiel 36 is a chapter of the Bible which most strongly states the sovereignty of God in our salvation. Yet this same chapter also states explicitly the necessity of prayer. Start reading this chapter at verse 21. Underline every time the words “I will” appear, just to emphasize to yourself the sovereignty of God. The conclusion is “I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it” (vs. 36b). But this sovereignty of God is harmonized beautifully with the Christian’s responsibility when prayer is commanded in verse 37. “Thus saith the Lord GOD, I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”
So the development of love, as a gift of God, is through the divinely-appointed means of prayer. So start by praying to God that he will give us love and that we may grow and increase in this fruit of the Spirit.
Who is the object of this love?
God is the first object.
It is also love of Christ.
Saints are also the object of this fruit.
Other objects of this love are the house and worship of God, and the truths of the gospel.
And, in a sense, is not any man, as our neighbor, to be the object of our love?
There can and may not be any doubt but that God is the central object of this love. Because we are given love for him it follows that we will love Christ, fellow saints, the church and the truth. And loving God is not only why we can, but also how we can love our neighbor.
From the above it is clear that if we are to speak of developing this fruit of the Spirit, then we must concentrate on developing our love for God. For, having improved our love for God, we will, at the very same time, be improving our love for the other objects of our love.
When we are loving God, we are loving the truth, our fellow-saints, and our neighbor. And we are loving them in the right way.
What is the way by which our hearts may be made to love God? I John 4:19 (“We love him, because he first loved us”) shows the method of the Holy Spirit. He reveals the love of God to the heart, and then the heart loves God in turn.
If you desire to grow in love to God, use the method of meditating upon the great love of God to man. Meditate on God’s love as described in John 3:16. Consider that it is such a vast love which gives salvation, in which the only thing required of us is that we be nothing and trust Christ to be everything (and even that trust he gives us as a gift of his Spirit).
If you want to repent, do not consider your sins as much as the love of Jesus in suffering for your sin. If you desire to love, contemplate (until it breaks your heart) the great love of Jesus Christ in laying down his life for his worthless foes.
One preacher put it this way. “‘Faith cometh by hearing,’ and love comes by contemplation; it flows out of a sense of the love of Christ in the soul even as wine flows from the clusters in the wine-press. Go to the fragrant mystery of redeeming love, and tarry with it till in those beds of spices your own garments are made to smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia. There is no way of sweetening yourself but by tasting the sweetness of Jesus Christ; the honey of his love will make your whole nature to be as honeycomb.”
If we wish to sustain the love we have received, we must do the same thing. Feed love on love. God’s love for us is the best food for our love for him, for the truth, the church, and our fellow saints. If we neglect this contemplation, then our love will die out as quickly as a fire without wood. The God, who gives us the life of love, must keep us alive in it or we become loveless and lifeless.
And if our love has grown somewhat cold, we must do the same. We do not revive our love for God by doubting his love to us. Believe in God’s love, for doubting is the death of love. Only by faith can love be nourished. Believe that God loves you still. Believe in the mighty power of Christ towards sinners and trust yourself with him. And then his love will come flooding in our hearts.
Dwell upon the love of God to you, so you may feel intense love to God!
By the way, there are also many practical implications here as far as the manner of our love is concerned.
If you love God, then show it as God showed his love to you. God loved the worthless; do likewise. God loved in Christ practically, so you and I must love not in word only, but in deed and in truth. God loved to self-sacrifice, so must we.
Therefore let us love him as he loved us. Let his love be both the model and motive to us.