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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:To Love One Another is the First and the Most Important Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Text:Galatians 5:22a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Psalm 107: 1
Psalm 119: 24, 29
Hymn 57: 1, 3, 4
Psalm 40: 4, 7
Psalm 31: 15


Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23;
Galatians 5: 13 - 26

Text: Galatians 5: 22a
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

In his letter to the congregation of Galatia the apostle Paul has to deal with some very difficult and contentious issues. There are some significant problems in the congregation. It is a divided congregation. There are those who are intent on tearing the congregation apart. They want to promote a Gospel based on works, and not on grace. They want to serve the Lord by rules and not out of love and that is no Gospel. All those who do that are under a curse. That is why Paul deems it necessary to write this letter. He wants to get the people back on the right track. For a wrong doctrine always makes for a wrong life style. The two go hand-in-hand. Paul does not want the Galatians to fall back into their former way of life. He is very much afraid of that. Therefore something has to be done. Paul tells them what that is in his letter. He does not mince his words. He is very direct and to the point.

What is the basic problem here? The problem is that there is a lack of love. He mentions that first. Without this one particular attribute, without love, the rest would have no meaning. That is something the Galatians had to understand, and that is something which we must understand as well.

Now I know there have been lots of sermons on the Biblical concept of love. And you may think to yourselves, do we need another one? Haven’t we heard enough? Is it really necessary for another sermon on love? The answer is yes. We do need to hear this message again; we need it badly. For remember, love is the fulfilling of the law. We are to love God and our neighbour. The love, therefore, that we are to show to each other, is based on the love which God has for us. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

For if there is no love in a congregation then it will surely fall apart. Therefore let us listen to the preaching of God’s Word as it has been summarized under the following theme:

To Love One Another is the First and the Most Important Fruit of the Holy Spirit.

1. The fruit

2. The love

3. The love as fruit.

First then we will deal with the word “fruit”. The word which Paul uses in this text is a Greek word which is commonly used to refer to the fruit of a tree or a vine. As you know, in the Bible the example of the fruit tree is used quite often to show the relationship between God and his people. That is what the Lord Jesus himself did in telling us how a believer may recognized. A tree may be known by its fruit, and so a believer may also be known by his fruits.

It’s worth noting that Paul uses the singular “fruit”. The text speaks about fruit, not “fruits”. And yet, in verse 22, Paul mentions not just the fruit of love, but eight others: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Why then does he use the singular? The answer most commonly given is that fruit must be seen as a collective. In other words all these nine virtues refer to the one gift of the Holy Spirit.

Other commentators want to divide these nine fruits into three clusters of three. The first cluster dealing with our relationship to God, the next cluster dealing with our relationship with our fellow-man, and the last cluster with each believer’s relationship to himself concerning his own desires and passions. Such a division, however, is artificial. The Harper Study Bible puts it somewhat differently. In its note on this verse it says that the fruit of the Spirit may be likened to a diamond which has many facets. All of the facets together constitute the gem but each facet helps to reflect the true splendour of the one stone. I think that is closer to the mark.

However, please remember that these nine different aspects of the one fruit, these nine different virtues, are by no means exhaustive. There are many more “fruits” that could be mentioned. Elsewhere in Scripture the words “respectability”, “hospitality”, “sincerity” and “honesty”, among many others, are mentioned. And so, although these nine virtues in the text are some of the more important ones, they are not the only ones. They all belong to the fruit of the Spirit.

How do you acquire such fruit? Well, as you know, fruit does not grow in a vacuum; fruit grows on a tree. A fruit tree does not appear by itself either; no, a fruit tree first has to be planted. But you can’t just plant the tree and then hope for the best. After the tree has been planted it needs to be watered, pruned, and carefully tended.

The same thing is true about the fruit of the Spirit. It too has to be planted and cared for. But now the Lord applies that concept to us personally. In John 15 the Lord Jesus refers to believers as fruit-bearing branches of the vine. And it is the Lord Jesus himself who grafts us into the vine.

You know how that is done. The fruit of the Spirit is planted by the sowing of the Word. We can read about that in Matthew 13. The Lord uses labourers in his vineyard to do that work. The vineyard of Galatia was planted by the apostle Paul and others. Paul came there, to that heathen people, on one of his missionary journeys and planted the seed of faith among those people. He came there with the Word of God and proclaimed that Word to them. And many of them listened. The seed took root, for it found fertile soil in their hearts.

But fruit has to grow and to ripen. In order for that to happen the fruit has to be nurtured continually. It needs water and fertilizer. The tree also has to be pruned once in a while. It is only in this way that the fruit can come to maturity. It is a long and arduous process.

The fruit also needs favourable weather. It needs sunshine. It has to be protected from damaging storms. Especially during the initial stages of growth a storm can do irreparable damage to the fruit.

The same is true about the fruit of the Spirit. It has to be carefully cultivated. Nothing should hinder that growth. For else that fruit might stop growing and even die.

That is what was threatening to happen to the church in Galatia. Paul did everything for the fruit of faith to come to maturity. He came with the wonderful news of salvation through faith alone. Whereas they had no hope before, he gave them hope. He got them out of their destructive lifestyles. He told them that salvation is through grace alone and not through works.

Many of them embraced that wonderful Gospel of salvation. Churches were established there. Office bearers were installed. And then Paul left for other parts of the Roman Empire. However, after some time he heard some sad news about those congregations in Galatia. We can read about that throughout his whole letter to them. Paul strongly warns them. He says in chapter 1:6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”

What different gospel were they turning to? They were turning to the gospel of the Judaizers. These were men who wanted to add works as being necessary for salvation. They proclaimed that circumcision was necessary for salvation, and that they could not eat certain foods. They made fine distinctions in the law. They did not preach the Gospel of free grace, but the gospel of works. They taught that man had to earn his own salvation or at least contribute to it in one way or another.

They also attacked Paul personally. They said that Paul was not really a true apostle and therefore his Gospel was not the true Gospel either.

So you see what was happening: these false teachers were trying to choke the good fruit which Paul had planted by sowing poisonous seed. They told the people that the poisonous plant is the true plant which will bear the good fruit, not what Paul had planted. That is the bad fruit, they said.

So what can Paul do about this? What can he say to the Galatians that will make them go back on the right path? Paul knows exactly how to go about that. He tells them that they must have love. That is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit and also the most important one. So he mentions that first. We come to the second point.


2. Love is the solution. At this point you may say to yourself, “This sounds a little bit too simplistic to me, for that is also the solution of the world to conflict and strife, and it seems to make little or no difference. It is reminiscent of the slogans: ‘Make love, not war.’ and ‘Love makes the world go around.’”

But now do yourselves a favour, brothers and sisters, and that includes you, boys and girls. If you can, put whatever you have ever learned about the concept of love completely out of your mind. For a lot of what you have learned about true love, you have learned from the world. For the love the world and false churches speak about is not the love of the Scriptures. The world knows only a cheap and selfish love. It is a weak and self-serving love. It reminds more of lust than love.

That was not any different during Paul’s time. The Greeks even had a word for it. They called that kind of love, “eros”. We get our English word “erotic” from it. It is originally a sexual love. It is sensual, impulsive, and spontaneous. Such love is epitomized by the love-god Eros. Later on the word received a somewhat extended meaning. For in Platonism - a philosophy prevalent during Paul’s time - the word is developed a little more and comes to mean a contemplative inspiration for the divine. In other words, eros comes to mean a quest for god. Eros denotes the quest for satisfaction wherever it could be found.

But Paul here does not use that word “eros”. He uses the word “agape”. It was a word hardly known in the Greek world. It was an obscure word. It is the word used in the Septuagint, which is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek which came into existence hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Those translators of the Old Testament ignored the common word for love and used the word “agape” to translate the Hebrew word which meant the loving kindness of God; his covenant faithfulness.

Like the Hebrew word, agape denotes selection. It stresses exclusiveness, specifically God’s love for his chosen people. Love in the Bible is not man seeking God. It is not man seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in his life, but God fulfilling man.

That is what is so unique about the love of the Bible. There is not a religion in the world where love has the same meaning as found in the Bible. That is because all the other religions are man-made religions. Man thinks that he can be the author of his own destiny but nothing is farther from the truth. Man is incapable of finding true love.

The people of Israel showed that time and again. For look at how the people treated the Lord their God. The Lord sought out his people. He chose that people Israel out of all the other nations. He had compassion on that people. He led them out of the land of Egypt. He brought them into the wilderness and gave them Moses for their leader, whom God himself had preserved from the cruel fate at the hands of the cruel Egyptians to have him taught and nurtured for 80 years so that he could lead this people. The Lord prepared Moses for his task so he could act as a mediator between the Lord and the people.

God also showed his greatness and his might when he led his people Israel through the Red Sea. Once their enemies had been drowned in the red Sea, he spoke to them from Mount Horeb. He told them that they were his people. The mighty and great covenant-God spoke to his people. He showed how deeply he cared for them. Before he even gave them the ten words of the covenant he told them, “I am the Lord your God.” In other words, I have established a relationship of love between me and you.

And yet, what do the people do in response to that great act of the Lord God? They murmur and complain. Ultimately they want nothing to do with that covenant God. They want to go back to Egypt and serve the foreign gods as before. Nevertheless the Lord does not reject them. What does he do? He disciplines them. He nurtures them. He gives them manna to eat and water to drink but still they are not satisfied. Finally he leads them into the Promised Land. He conquers the nations for them. But still they rebel against him time and again. Listen to the lament of the prophet Hosea, for example. He says in Hosea 9:1, “Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing floor.”

And in chapter 11 the Lord says though the mouth of the prophet, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.” God loved his people. He did not reject them. But many did reject him. In the end, God’s covenant people, the people of Israel, are no longer recipients of the love of God.

What was the ultimate gift of God’s love? That was the gift of his one and only Son Jesus Christ. The apostle John tells us about that in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And Paul in Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

You see, love is not that we seek God but that God seeks us. He did that to the Galatians as well. He sent them his ambassador of his love, the apostle Paul. Paul came with the pure message of the Gospel. He spoke to them about God’s love for his creation. He told them how God rescued them from their miserable state.

Now let me ask you a question, brothers and sisters, and again, that includes you boys and girls. Do you think that you would have become part of God’s church if it had been left up to you? Do you think that you would be sitting in these pews right now if it were up to you? Do you think that you would have the promise of eternal life if God had left it up to you to choose him as your Saviour, as the One who would rescue you from your miserable existence?

I think you know the answer already: nothing would have come of it. Look around you in this world. Mankind shows its hatred to God. They want nothing to do with him for they are prone by nature to hate God. If you were to follow your old nature, you too would not belong to this church either. Then you too would do whatever your little heart desires. And it would mean death for you. But God came to you. He gave you Christian parents to bring you up in the true faith. For those of you who came to faith later in life, he led your life in such a way that you became part of his church. In the final analysis you did not seek him. He sought you out. He did that because of his great love for you. What a great God we have. It is a God full of love.

To the world the concept of love has the connotation of weakness attached to it. They see love as a feminine concept. They believe, for example, that love avoids confrontation at all costs.  

It is true that love is very tolerant and patient and kind. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” as Paul clearly states in 1 Corinthians 13. But God’s love is full of strength and might and obedience and faithfulness. We could sing about that when we began this church service together: “His steadfast love endures, and we are his forever.” God’s love means that he is faithful to his covenant promises. He comes to us first. He selects us. Once he has done that, he does not forsake his people. He nurtures and sustains us. He also reminds us of how he has done so throughout the ages, and how he will continue to do so through His Word and Spirit.

The question now is: how do we respond to such love? Brothers and sisters, the only way we can do that is by showing our thankfulness to such a loving God. If we truly believe that we are His creation, that He sent his Son in the flesh to die for our sins; if we truly believe that God sought us in his love, then we cannot do otherwise than to love him as well. That brings us to our third and final point: the love as fruit.


3. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts by the preaching of the Gospel. That is how Paul came to the Galatians. But what happened? They quickly turned away from that Gospel, and listened to the false prophets whose love was not for God, but for themselves. They wanted to earn their salvation through the law. And so they wanted to give man the glory rather than God.

But Paul strongly warns against the message of self love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart! That means that you imitate the love he has for you. You must totally give yourself to him, body and soul. You must sacrifice yourself as he sacrificed himself for you. That means that you must choose him as he chose you. You may not have any other gods before him. You must be faithful to him as he was and continues to be faithful to you. That also means that you must not take away from his Word. Love implies choice. As a man chooses and gives himself completely to his wife, and a wife to her husband, so you must give yourself completely to the Lord your God.

That means that you may not doubt his Word to you. That is what the Galatians did. They went away from God’s promises. That is why Paul is so concerned about them. Paul is the ambassador of love. And yet see how angry he gets when false teachers come along. He even says about them in chapter 5:12, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

“Is that the language of love?” you may ask. Yes it is, brothers and sisters. God’s Word is being attacked by these false teachers. God’s love, and therefore also Paul’s love, is so great that he does not want them to fall into the clutches of the evil one. They must accept all of God’s Word as the absolute truth. Only then can they be saved.

Now then, what about you and me, brothers and sisters? How do we show God’s love in our lives? In the first place we show it by giving ourselves completely to the Lord. It also means that you love his Word. It means that you will not tolerate any attack on his Word. It means that you accept God’s Word as the only and absolute truth. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”

God’s love compels us, or as it says in another translation, it controls us. Can you also say that about yourselves, brothers and sisters? Can you say that God’s Word controls you, that it takes a central place in your life? How does that translate in your own life? How does that work in your homes? Do you show God’s love to your children? Do you instruct your children about the love of God or do you leave that up to the teachers and minister and catechism instructors? Are you a good role model for your children? Can they tell from the way that you act that you are controlled by the love of God? Do the children generally see parents who are joyful about the fact that God chose them, that he has forgiven your sins? Do you give yourselves to your loved ones in the way that Christ gave Himself for you? Are you there to serve them?

To love one another means that you must sacrifice yourself. Love means considering another person better than you. It means seeking the interest of another person before yourself. Therefore love means doing everything for another person to keep him in the love of God.

Beloved, there is a lot of love lacking in this congregation. That is the way it is everywhere. We are all sinful and selfish human beings. It is hard at times to show love to your children and to the brothers and sisters in the Lord. We all lack in the showing of love. But we are children of God and therefore we must bear fruit. All of us must put up a daily struggle to truly love, to love the Lord our God and to love our fellow man.

Do you love your brothers and sisters in the Lord, beloved? That’s hard. But God commands it from you. He can do that for he loves you. Have you ever thought about how hard it is for him to love you? For none of us have any redeeming qualities. And yet God loves us. He chose us as his children.

The opposite of love is hatred. Hatred belongs to our old nature. But the Holy Spirit has given us a new nature. The first fruit of the new nature is love. It is the most important fruit. For love is the fulfillment of the law. God has planted that love into our hearts. He gave Himself for us so that we might give ourselves to him and to each other. That fruit must continue to grow. We must nourish it along by the pure word of God.

When the time is ripe the Lord will come and gather in his crop. He will examine us and say, yes, this person is a child of mine. He has been a fruitful branch of the vine. His fruit is the good kind. She has shown her love for me and for her fellow-man. She is a true product of the vine. And the Lord will gather his harvest into his barn. The Lord will come with his angels on the final day, and gather his people in.

What a wonderful thing to look forward to. What a wonderful thing it will be to escape the hatred of this present world and to be totally surrounded by God’s love. For remember God loved us first. And he will continue to love us if we also show his love in our lives. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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