“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).

American artist Robert Indiana has created what many say is the most recognized image in American art. The image is his work Love, which began as a sculpture of the letters L and O stacked atop the letters V and E. This iconic sculpture was turned into a Christmas card and has been mass-produced in many forms from postage stamps to a Google search bar on Valentines Day. The sculpture has shown up in many forms in cities all across America and across the world. It has been adapted into the Hebrew word for love, ahava.

While Robert Indiana did not grow up in a Christian church, the Word of God inspired his work Love. In an interview, Robert Indiana described the drab Christian Science church building he grew up attending. He explained how the church building was without aesthetic beauty and without the traditional artwork that may be expected in most other churches. He said there was no stained glass, no carvings, no art on the walls, no color. The only thing close to art, however, was on the lectern where the readers would read. Here, there were raised golden letters, which basically quoted 1 John 4:8, which says, “God is love.”

Indiana remembered looking at those raised golden letters and being inspired. The greatest is still love according to Robert Indiana, who in another interview said, “As far as I’m concerned, love is still the most important thing.” Robert Indiana goes on to say in this same interview that he is “painting and writing his own history,” which is an interesting contrast to the Christian Science belief that the “spiritual reality is the only reality and all else is illusion or ‘error.'”

Robert Indiana’s beliefs about love are contrary to the Christian teachings about love. “In contrast to conventional Christian theology, Christian Science rejects substitutionary atonement and the concept of hell as a place of eternal punishment.” In contrast to this, Jesus’ teachings about love are filled with self-sacrifice and hinges on Him laying down His life for us in the atonement (see John 15 and 1 John 4). Jesus embodied love, and is love personified. Love is a Person, and his name is Jesus Christ.

There is no love without sacrifice. In John 15:12-13, Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is what Jesus has done; He has laid down His life down for us and calls us His friends. This is how we are to love. Any love less than a giving and a sacrificing love falls short of God’s love and is just cold golden letters on a lectern, a clanging metal sculpture of what could be, platitudes on a Christmas card or empty sentiments on a postage stamp.

God is love, and love lays His life down. It is only being in relationship with this love and the Author of this love that we are able to love. As John goes on to say in 1 John 4:9-11, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His One and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, because God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

As Christians, we believe love is very important. Our command from God Himself is to love God and love others. Jesus summed up the entire law with love in Matthew 22:36-40 when He said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'”

Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and declared love as the first fruit of the Spirit, saying, “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” It has been noted by some scholars this is the first fruit and the most important fruit because every other fruit derives from this one. This lines up with what John said about us loving because God has first loved us (1 John 4:10). All other fruits are acts or consequences of His love resulting in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The fruit that stems from the Love of God is also mentioned later in John’s Gospel; after John recorded Jesus saying we should love one another as God has loved us, Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:16-17). We cannot exercise the fruit of the Spirit outside of God’s initiation and God’s acting on our behalf. As John said, “We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Without the love of God, love and all the other fruits are meaningless, if they exist at all. Without God, we do not love and we cannot bear fruit.  John recorded Jesus saying this clearly in verse 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” Without abiding in Christ, we cannot do anything. Without Christ, we can do no fruit bearing at all. It is in Christ alone that we are fruitful.

We can recognize if we are following Jesus by looking at the fruit in our lives. This is why Jesus made the declaration in Matthew 12:33, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” If we are born of God, we will indeed Love as John wrote, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7).” If we know God and love God, we will bear the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If we do all kinds of good and bear all kinds of fruit, yet do not have love, this is not of God and is most likely not good fruit. Without love, we are as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:1, a clanging symbol. It is in this Corinthians passage that Paul asserts, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Without the love of God, we are indeed cold, noisy and metal things, gold letters that have lost their depth of purpose and meaning, a lonely bell in a far away tower that is inscribed with the love of God, but rings hollow in its isolation.

Paul asserted in Romans 13:14 that we should “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Paul said we should put on Christ in Colossians, as well; and he said to put on many other “good qualities,” such as those of the fruits of the spirit. Paul said in Colossians 3:14-15 that “above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” and to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” Paul was asserting the importance of love while connecting love with the character and nature of the Person of Christ.

If we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit, we must abide in Christ’s love. We cannot bear fruit apart from God. The fruit of the Spirit buds off the branches that are abiding in the vine of His great love. It is through God’s Spirit that we experience that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As the verses go on to say, “Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Because we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25). Amen.

Robbie loves Jesus, youth ministry, the great outdoors, writing poetry and writing about theology, discipleship and leadership. He has been in ministry more than 17 years and graduated from Trinity School for Ministry with a Diploma in Christian Ministry and from Columbia International University with a B.A. in Bible and General Studies and a minor in Youth Ministry. Follow his blogs at RobbiePruitt.Blogspot.com and RobbiePruitt.com and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview with Robert Indiana
Christian Science, Wikipedia
Robert Indiana Trailer

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