Love: The Good Soil

Because of the outpouring of interest and encouragement surrounding my first post on the fruit of the Spirit in worship music, I have begun work on a full manuscript on the subject! Now that I am several months into the project and well into chapter three, I feel it is only right to share some of my work here on my blog, where it all began. Please enjoy this brief selection from my first chapter, “Love.”

Excerpt from Chapter 1, “Love”

The Greek term for “love” used in Galatians 5:22 is agape. This word appears 116 times in the Greek New Testament. Nine of these are in 1 Corinthians 13, which describes the nature of agape and concludes that it is “the greatest” of the “big three” theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. The word for “greatest” here (meizon) is comparative, meaning the “greatest, most important, weightiest.” This form also carries connotations of eldership and authority. This suggests that love is the “eldest” of the virtues, foundational in a similar way to Christ as the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Love is not only listed first among the fruit of the Spirit but is the firstborn fruit. It must be foundational to all of our pursuits (and all of our fruits!) as believers. As the “eldest” and “greatest” fruit, love is the good soil from which joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control will develop.

Consider Paul’s longest description of love. If love is the “firstborn” of the fruit of the Spirit, we can assume the other fruits to be contained within it, just as Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, ESV). This is especially made clear in 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.  If you are familiar the fruit of the Spirit, you might discern their presence in these verses. Love does not merely precede “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” in Galatians 5:22-23; instead, love is all of these qualities. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 begins by defining love as two other fruits of the Spirit (“love is patient and kind”) and continues to also portray love as gentle (“love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant”), peaceful (“love is not irritable or resentful”), good (“love does not rejoice at wrongdoing”), joyful (“but rejoices with the truth”), and faithful (“love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”). Eight of the nine fruits of the Spirit are clearly present within perfect, agape love. We are to be “rooted and grounded in love” because, from it, from which all subsequent fruits grow (Eph. 3:17, ESV).

How, then, are we to evaluate our worship? Above all else, we must ensure that it is rooted in Christlike love. After praising the spiritual gifts, Paul writes: “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b, ESV). Love, he writes, excels all the giftings we could (and should) “earnestly desire” (1 Cor. 12:12, ESV). It is excellent to be tuneful in singing but more excellent to be harmonious in love. Let us refuse to put on a show, when we could “put on love,” or to perform artfully when we could practice the true art of the Christian life: agape (1 Cor. 13:14). Our worship music must be governed by the criteria of 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[bit does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13, ESV).

1 Corinthians 13:4-13, ESV

Firstly, is our worship patient and kind? Do our leaders know the demographics and backgrounds of their congregations? Are band members considerate of one another? Are we inclusive of different abilities?

Is our worship envious or boastful? Are we “puffed up”? Do we act as though our preferred style is the only acceptable style? Are we jealous of larger churches with more resources? Are we discontent with our own capabilities? Or do we rejoice in humble means, reminded that our style is merely one among many faithful modes of worship? Are we thankful for our small place in God’s immense symphony?

Is our worship arrogant or rude? Are our leaders concertizing or compassionately leading? Are our bands welcoming or elitist? Are we open to correction? Quick to repent when we don’t get it right? Humble about our gifts, knowing that they come from God?

Does our worship insist on its own way? Do we spend more time arguing over style than learning the songs that best serve our unique congregations? Do we refuse to attend other services, separating into rival traditional and contemporary services even at the same church? Do we sing even if we do not enjoy the exact arrangement?

Does our worship rejoice in the truth? Are we careful to evaluate worship based on biblical orthodoxy, aware that songs are sung sermons? Or are we more concerned with catchy lyrics than convicting love? Do we compromise the consciences of our congregations by singing songs by writers with questionable doctrine or morals? Or are we careful to evaluate the messages of each song, using those that proclaim the truth even if the songwriters are, like us, fallible? Does our worship teach theology or merely evoke emotions?

Finally, does our worship “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things”? Do we continue to sing together despite disagreement and difficulty? Do we hope for the realization of “the perfect” (1 Cor. 13:10) and sing together as a foretaste of heavenly unity? Do we endure in leadership, volunteering, and participation, knowing that, through these, we breathe with the Spirit who sings over us?

This, dear reader, is the “more excellent way” of loving worship. I am aware that even in this “more excellent way,” believers can become dispirited. Leaders might never get that early service to join in. Band members might never become best friends. Congregants might suffer through songs they never like. Still, God promises to remember our labor: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:10, ESV). Rest in this promise as you lead, assist, or attend your next worship service and remember the churches of the Book of Revelation. The churches that will be praised and rewarded by God are those that hold fast to truth and endure in love (Rev. 2:19).

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