String of white paper hearts against a black background with the words: Songs of the Spirit: love

Songs of the Spirit: love (a poem)

Today is the last in my series on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It’s on love.

As a neurodiverse person, I’ve had a somewhat reluctant relationship with the word “love.” Growing up, people usually described it in terms of emotions that I either didn’t experience, or didn’t experience in the ways that everyone else did. 

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As we might expect there are several words in both Hebrew and Greek that are translated into English as “love.” The Hebrew word is chesed / חֶסֶד  is often used in the Old Testament to describe God’s unfailing love and mercy, but it’s not a verb. In fact, the two greatest commandments (“Love the LORD your God” and “Love your neighbour”) use a different word altogether: ahab / אָהַב. It means to love, like or be a friend. 

In the New Testament though, both God’s love and these commands are described using the word agape / ἀγάπη. My Zondervan NIV concordance gives the meaning as “to love; in the NT usually the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies.” Whilst this may be true, I still find this a somewhat frustrating definition because it’s circular. 

So this week, I really tried to sit with this word and what it means. In the end I landed on how the Amplified translation describes it: unselfish concern for others. 

I’ve long felt that selflessness is essential to love. When ego is in the picture, generosity becomes grandstanding, the gift gives to the giver, care targets the discomfort of the carer, saving becomes saviourism. 

I also find it helpful to think of love as a kind of concern. It’s something that notices and continues to remember the need of other people. Put another way, love cares and acts in that care. 

And when you combine these two aspects of love, Jesus’s words about love make complete sense: that there is no greater love than a person laying down their live for another. The unspoken context here is that the laying down of a life is to save another. Love is the giving of oneself to save. 

Mercifully, not all acts of love require us to lay down our lives to the point of death, though of course this is what Jesus did for the world. And as Paul highlights in Romans 5:8, Jesus even did this while we were “still sinners.” His love for us caused him to act in the most self-emptying way, purely for our sake. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit is given to us that we may be made holy and inherit everlasting life. I don’t know whether today’s poem will begin to do justice to all this. And I appreciate that I haven’t really dug into what love looks like in a context where there is no sin. But for what it’s worth, here it is.

Songs of the Spirit: love

You give of yourself
To save others.
To save us. 

We gave you no reason
We made you no room
Yet in your mystery
And majesty
You found a way
To open our hearts
And pour your goodness in.

Your very self,
Renewing even our lives.

You had no need
To reach out to us
Into us
And make us more than we were.
But this is your way
Never to not see
Never to not care
Ever to search
Ever to find a future for us
One that will endure forever.

Thank you
For all that you have done
And all that you
Will yet complete,
For being who you’ve always been,
And selflessly
Will always be.

Sharing another picture from artist Helen Yousaf that reminded me of Romans 5:5 “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Its title is “Open Heavens” and the image is on her Facebook page. Prints are available for purchase on her website here

Helen kindly said I was free to share so long as I’m sharing hope. Her website shop is here: Helen-Yousaf-Art. He Instagram profile is here.

A painting. Turquoise background with green and turquoise circles over it. In the top right corner, a figure in white holds a ceramic jar and pours out golden liquid that splashes over the circles underneath. Original artwork by Helen Yousaf.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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