22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (NIV)
The topical word study:
The high esteem which God has for His human children and the high regard which they, in turn, should have for Him and other people. Because of the hundreds of references to love in the Bible, it is certainly the most remarkable book of love in the world. It records the greatest love story ever written-God's unconditional love for us that sent His Son to die on the cross (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10).
Love is not only one of God's attributes; it is also an essential part of His nature. "God is love," the Bible declares (1 John 4:8,16) - the personification of perfect love. Such love surpasses our powers of understanding (Eph 3:19). Love like this is everlasting (Jer 31:3), free (Hos 14:4), sacrificial (John 3:16), and enduring to the end (John 13:1).
Two distinct Greek words for love appear in the Bible. The word phileo means "to have ardent affection and feeling"-a type of impulsive love. The other word agapao means "to have esteem" or "high regard." In the memorable conversation between Jesus and Peter, there is a play upon these two words (John 21:15-17). Jesus asked, "Simon, do you love [esteem] me?" But Peter replied, "You know that I love [have ardent affection for] You." Then Jesus asked, "Simon, do you love [have ardent affection for] Me?" And Peter responded that his love was agape love-a love that held Jesus in high esteem and which was more than a fleeting feeling.
The warm word agape is the characteristic term of Christianity. This word for love is used several different ways in the Bible.
1. Agape love indicates the nature of the love of God toward His beloved Son (John 17:26), toward the human race generally (John 3:16; Rom 5:8), and toward those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:21).
2. Agape love conveys God's will to His children about their attitude toward one another. Love for one another was a proof to the world of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).
3. Agape love also expresses the essential nature of God (1 John 4:8). Love can be known only from the actions it prompts, as seen in God's love in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9-10). Love found its perfect expression in the Lord Jesus. Christian love is the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus in the believer (Gal 5:22).
Love is like oil to the wheels of obedience. It enables us to run the way of God's commandments (Ps 119:32). Without such love, we are as nothing (1 Cor 13:3). Such Spirit-inspired love never fails (1 Cor 13:8) but always flourishes. (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
(Heb. 'ahaba; Grk. 'agape). Chiefly represented in the Scriptures as an attribute of God and as a Christian virtue. Its consideration, therefore, belongs to both theology and ethics.
An Attribute of God. According to the Scriptures, God has feeling, affection, although rationalistic theologians (e.g., Schleiermacher, Bruch) have asserted the contrary. We must derive our conceptions of God from the special revelation that He has given of Himself, and this declares His love as strongly as His existence. It is held by some to be inadequate to speak of love as a divine attribute. "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16).
The Scriptures contain no equivalent statements with respect to other qualities of the divine nature. Love is the highest characteristic of God, the one attribute in which all others harmoniously blend. The love of God is more than kindness or benevolence. The latter may be exercised toward irrational creatures, but love is directed toward rational, personal beings. The eternal love of God has never been without its object, a fact upon which we receive some light from the Scripture revelation of the threefold personality of God (see Trinity; see also Matt 3:17; John 15:9; 17:23-26).
The gracious love of God to men, even to sinful men, is most strongly declared in both the OT and NT (e.g., Ex 34:6; Isa 63:9; Jer 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). The love of God underlies all that He has done and is doing, although many facts exist that we cannot reconcile with His love on account of our limited understanding. The highest disclosure and most complete proof of divine love is in redemption (see Rom 5:8; 8:32-39; 1 John 4:9-10). The reality and power of this love are properly apprehended only under the influence of the Holy Spirit. "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom 5:5).
A Christian Virtue. Love (Grk. 'agape; NASB and NIV, "love"). The only word in the Bible translated charity means love. It is affection, tender and passionate attachment, a sentiment of our nature excited by qualities in a person or thing that command our affection; a virtue of such efficacy that it is said to be the fulfilling of the law. Its absence invalidates all claim to the Christian name. It is the antithesis of selfishness. Luther calls it "the shortest and longest divinity." It is active, and dissatisfied if not blessing others. Christian love is piety, the greatest boon that God can give, for "God is love." "In it all human duty is summed up" (Matt 22:37-40; Rom 13:8; 1 Cor 13:13). Love is the first named element in the composite "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22).
Charity, in modern speech, has other meanings: first, that sentiment that prompts us to think and speak well of others, judge their acts kindly, and make them happy; second, generosity to the poor; third, that which is thus given; and fourth, a benevolent foundation.
Love is the preeminent virtue inculcated and produced by Christianity. The whole law is summed up in love, not in the sense of rendering all other requirements as inconsequential, but in the sense that love is fundamental, expresses the spirit of all others, and with enlightenment will lead to the observance of all others (Matt 22:37-39; 5:43-48; John 14:15,21; 15:12-14; Rom 13:8; 1 Cor 13:1; Gal 5:14).
Accordingly, love is declared to be the chief test of Christian discipleship (John 13:35; Matt 5:44; 1 John 3:14). Also, love is the highest motive or ground of moral actions. Without this all other motives fall short of furnishing the true stimulus of Christian living. As all sin roots itself in selfishness, so all virtue springs out of love; and yet the love that is presented in the NT as the mainspring of holy living is grateful love as distinct from the love that is wholly disinterested. "We love, because He first loved us" are words that rightly express the whole matter (1 John 4:19; see also 2 Cor 5:14; Rom 12:1-2).
The contention of Fenelon that true Christian love should be disinterested, that we must love God exclusively on account of His perfection, so that if He did not bless us, but were to cast us off, we would love Him still, finds no support in the Scriptures. It contains a measure of truth inasmuch as it emphasizes the warning that we are certainly not to love the gifts of God more than the Giver and that we are not to love God wholly on account of His gifts. In reality, grateful love includes adoring love, or that which loves God for His own sake. Christian love, it is also important to note, is made possible only by divine grace. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22; see also 1 John 3:14). (The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.)
Father, You are Love. Your word says, “We love, because You first loved us.” Help us to always show Your love. Your word says, “We could have all the fruits but not love and what good would it be.” You showed the ultimate act of love by sacrificing Your Son for us. Help us daily to being willing to sacrifice every and anything we hold dear in order to show Your love.
1 Cor 13 sums up love the best:
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not
love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith
that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I
possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (NIV)