Love Leads the Way
Galatians 5:22-23, I Corinthians 13:13
First Baptist Church Laurens
June 4, 2017

Suppose I had in my hand the branch of a tree and I asked you to identify the type of tree that this particular limb came from based on the limb alone. With no more information to go on other than the look and texture of this limb, how well do you think you would do?

Then, what if I gave you a second hint. This time, rather than the limb, what if I showed you a few leaves off of the same tree? What if you had time to take a good look at them, to study their design and their feel, to hold them in your hands and look at them up close. Now do you think you would be able to identify the type of tree based on both the branch and the leaves?

Finally, what if you were given one final hint. What if I held up to you the fruit that this particular tree produces. What if I held up a piece of fruit and said, this is called a Gala, a Honey Crisp or a Golden Delicious; based on this fruit, would you then be able to identify the tree?

I want to make an assumption. I am going to assume that most of us would not be able to guess the tree having only seen the limb. I am also going to guess that the vast majority of us would still not be able to identify the tree even after we had seen the leaves of the tree. But, I am going to assume that once you saw the fruit and once you heard the names Gala, Honey Crisp and Golden Delicious, you would immediately and almost without thinking know that we are talking about an Apple Tree.

We know what kind of tree we are looking at by the fruit that this same tree produces. Most of us can’t tell an apple tree or an orange tree or a fig tree by their limbs or by their leaves. But, when we see a tree loaded with honey crisp apples glistening in the sun on a hillside in Western North Carolina, we know what kind of tree we have before us. We know the tree by its fruit and by its fruit alone.

The Bible says on multiple occasions that we are known by our fruit too. Our fruit, that is to say the products and tangible results of our lives, lets the world know who we are, what is important to us and what our lives are built upon and around.

Further, Galatians 5 makes it clear that there are certain fruits that suggest and make it clear that the Spirit of God is not the primary source of authority in our lives and there are other fruits of the human experience that only come because the Holy Spirit is fully, clearly and unmistakable at work in our being. Some fruit is not in keeping with children of God and some fruit clearly comes from being connected to the body of Christ and to the family of God.

When we were living in Georgia I became friends with a guy who claimed he had been a very good college baseball player. The problem for me, however, was that he didn’t look like a college baseball player. As I recall, I even looked him up on the college’s baseball team website that he claimed to play for and I didn’t find much mention of him. Truth be told, I was skeptical of his story just like all of us are sometimes skeptical of the stories of forty, fifty and sixty year olds when they tell us about their high school and college accomplishments yet what we know of them doesn’t seem to square with the stories we are being told.

One day, my friend invited me to go with him to an Alumni game held at his college. A game that he had been invited to play in. Truthfully, I jumped at the chance to go. I wanted to see this for myself. By his fruits, he would be known. As it turned out his story squared with his ability on the field and with his recognition by other players and coaches. Again, his ability lived out in front of me spoke volumes and told me more than his words ever could have.

Galatians says the same about us – a lot of words strung together in terms of what we say about ourselves is one thing, but, the fruit, the tangible behavior of our lives is what truly speaks and the most important of these fruits – the one that leads the way, is imbedded in all of the others and the foundation piece of all is love. There are two things to quickly say about love as a characteristic of the life of faith and as the key fruit of those living with the Holy Spirit at work in them.

First, the love we are talking about here is in Greek called Agape or Christ like love. The Bible breaks love down into four types: brotherly love which we have for good friends or relatives, romantic loves which we have for a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, parental love which we have for our children and then Agape which is the love that Christ has for us. This love is patient, it is gracious, it is forgiving and it is kind even when such love is not necessarily warranted by the other person’s actions. This is the type of love that we as Christians are to embody to each other and to the world. This is the fruit we are to produce.

Second, however, this Christ like love necessitates that at times we are honest with each other. The big mistake we often make is that we convince ourselves that being gracious or kind means that we set aside honesty out of fear that the other person will be upset when we tell them things they won’t like or that are difficult to hear. We think being honest isn’t being kind or compassionate. Yet, the real picture here is of a love so deep that in graciousness we are honest because we always want what’s best for the other person and honesty is the only way that we can help them achieve this.

James Baker served two presidents in numerous roles including Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State. I heard Baker, who is now 87 years old, give an interview recently where he said something I found to be very interesting. He said that one of the very best qualities in a President was their ability to allow others in their cabinet to disagree with them at times. Baker’s pointed out that he loved, respected and wanted the very best for both Presidents that he served. But, at times the very best thing he could do for them was to let them know that he saw things differently than they did.
A moment ago, when our Galatians text for today was read, we added one verse from I Corinthians 13. This passage is known as the love chapter. There, like here, Paul leads with love. In so doing he talks about graciousness, patience and undeserved care and tenderness – Agape love. But, he does all of this within the context of also telling the Corinthians that he is disappointed with them and that they need to change.

Today, let me ask you, does your life exhibit the fruit of love in both dimensions? Do you treat others with the same grace, forgiveness and unmerited tenderness that God shows to you? But, at the same time, do you avoid the temptation to overcompensate what it means to be a loving, gracious person by failing to share a humble, Christ like honesty when it is needed?

Some of you are growing things right now. This is the season of flowers, tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers and squash in our neck of the woods. Getting the results we want requires balance – sun, water, nutrients all in equal measure without too little or too much of any of them. So it is with love, it is when we balance grace, forgiveness, and tenderness with honesty, encouragement and expectation that we exhibit the fruit of love and it is then that good fruits have the opportunity to grow in others too. Amen.