The title of this column comes from one of Saint Paul’s letters. He included the following list: “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23 NRSV).
Christian love is the key to all the rest. When the seed of Christ’s sacrificial love has been truly sown in a human heart it germinates, roots, grows, flourishes and bears abundant fruit. The Bible uses the word “heart” as a metaphor for the drive or motivation behind all human thinking, feeling and behaviour.
The prophetic and poetic genius of Ezekiel represents God as saying, “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you ... Then you shall live” (Ezekiel 36.26-28).
An authentic Christian’s love, for which Christ is the primary drive, is warm-hearted, throbbing with the joy of being actively alive to God. This thrillingly deepens love of oneself and others, as well as of the world and all creation.
The Holy Bible’s Old and New Testaments are called “The Word of God” because, for those who search the Scriptures with prayerful discernment, the “voice” of God speaks clearly and incisively, above all through the one described as the Word made flesh in Jesus. The Hebrew/Christian Scriptures include the complete spectrum of human failure and achievement.
Sacrificial love is the ultimate key. Jesus emphasised a simple but far-reaching truth: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love...
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Such language inadequately attempts to describe the glorious spiritual experience of those who allow Jesus Christ to guide them along the path of sacrificial loving.
Everyone knows that the word “love” can be used too loosely. C S Lewis wrote a book entitled The Four Loves. He analysed four types: affection, friendship, eros or sexual intimacy, and charity. All four are important but the greatest is charity.
Jesus’ charitable, self-giving love is vividly re-enacted whenever Christians gather for Holy Eucharist. Spiritually, Christians feed on, drink in and absorb the one who says, “Take, eat; this is my body given for you ... “Drink this; this is my blood ... which is shed for you.”
Part of my own self-giving is shown in my Gazette columns. Their purpose is to defend and explain the Christian vision, particularly to those who, for whatever reason, have decided to ignore, reject, or even attempt to destroy the Christian faith.
All Christians are called to be true and faithful witnesses to Christ’s sacrificial love. The Church is called to take that obligation seriously, to live and serve responsibly towards the world and all creation.
The task of each and every Christian is to grow to love both friends and enemies. In the daily life of Ripon and district, most churchgoing Christians are actively committed to sacrificial loving and giving, whatever the cost.
For centuries, a masterpiece of Bible literature has been interpreted as a dialogue between Christ and his Church. Here is an extract from its inspiring poetry in which Christ is understood to say, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is strong ... Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love; neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Songs 8.6-7).
“The fruit of the Spirit is love.” That is why Christianity will survive any and every attempt to eradicate it.