Jesus Walked

The Selfless Pace of Christian Love

Bethlehem College & Seminary Chapel | Minneapolis

Have you ever sat at the restaurant, or at the coffee shop, all by yourself at a table for two, waiting for that other person who is late to arrive? How unsettled do you feel? How agitated, even frustrated? How quickly do you reach for your phone to quickly “make the most” (you think) of the spare moments?

But what if you saw those unsettling, unplanned moments as a gift? A gift to finally stop and observe the world around you. A gift to slow down your breathing and heart rate. A gift to reawaken your soul to God’s three-dimensional world rather than plunge mindlessly back into the matrix of a two-dimensional screen?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who grew up in St. Louis Park, likes to take this road-less-traveled approach. He lives and works in the nation’s capital and finds that the busy people he meets with are often late.

“On one of those occasions,” he writes, “I realized I didn’t care at all about my guest’s tardiness, so I said: ‘No, no, please — don’t apologize. In fact, you know what, thank you for being late!’” He explains in his book Thank You for Being Late,

Because he was late . . . I had minted time for myself. I had “found” a few minutes to just sit and think. I was having fun eavesdropping on the couple at the next table (fascinating!) and people-watching the lobby (outrageous!). And, most important, in the pause, I had connected a couple of ideas I had been struggling with for days. So no apology was necessary. Hence: “Thank you for being late.”

It felt good to have those few moments of unplanned-for, unscheduled time. . . . I needed to give myself (and my guests) permission to just slow down. (5)

We are living in “the age of accelerations,” and one gift many of us need, among others, is “permission to just slow down.” Friedman’s book is about how fast paced our world has become through the exponential development of technology and other factors. Now “the pace of technology and scientific change,” he says, “outstrips the speed with which human beings and societies can usually adapt” (39). Friedman writes in his book that

we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history — perhaps unequaled since . . . Gutenberg, a German blacksmith and printer, launched the printing revolution in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation. (3)

Friedman believes we have come to “a fundamental turning point in history” (4). I know I’m feeling the effects of it. If I honestly evaluate my life, I often feel pressed to hurry. Too much to do; gotta hurry. Hurry in the morning. Hurry on the road. Hurry at work. Hurry between meetings and in meetings and over meals. Hurry to get dinner ready. Hurry to eat. Hurry to get the kids to clean up, and out the door, and to bed. Then, hurry to do more on evenings and weekends than I realistically have time for. Then hurry to bed. Get too little sleep. Then wake up again the next day and run the gauntlet of hurry over and over again.

Anyone else ever feel like life has become more hurried than it used to be?

What Is Hurry Doing to Our Souls?

The late Dallas Willard (who died in 2013) wrote toward the end of his life,

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

A pastor in Portland named John Mark Comer wrote a book inspired by the Willard quote, called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. He believes it isn’t as much our busyness as our hurry that is suffocating our souls today:

The problem isn’t when you have a lot to do; it’s when you have too much to do and the only way to keep the quota up is to hurry. (21)

And our topic this afternoon is love. In particular, love for others as part of this chapel series on love. The connection is that our hurried lives are not irrelevant to our call to love. So, that’s our issue in these moments. How does our hurry affect our love for others, and lack thereof? And specifically, our focus is on love as “the fruit of the Spirit.” And I’m finding that the main passage on love as produced by the Spirit provides some provocative insights for us related to our pace of life in the modern world.

Turn with me to Galatians 5, and I’ll read verses 13–25.

Our Complex Tendencies

Before doing so, let me disclaim here that talking about pace of life cuts both ways. Our world is not just frenzied. It can also be lazy. Satan, as you may have heard, loves to make a workshop in the idle mind. I don’t doubt that there are some in this room who are moving too slow. Too sedentary. Too lazy. You’re not even walking in life. You are sauntering, at best. Perhaps simply standing still. You are moseying — and the Holy Spirit, patient as he is, doesn’t mosey. He moves with intentionality. He has purpose. And he has patience. He is not frenzied, and not lazy.

We all will do well to ask ourselves about our complex tendencies. I say “complex” because we are complex creatures who make a habit of defying simplistic explanations. Not only do we have various capacities and optimal paces, but also, we ourselves oscillate. The very same person who “goes too fast” at work or school ends up “going too slow” at home. Like the hurried executive who comes home to veg.

Love Produced by the Spirit

Galatians 5:13–25:

You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

So, this is the passage on how our love relates to God’s Spirit. In our limited time here, let’s focus on three observations.

1. Love serves others.

There are three main uses of “love” in Paul’s letters. First is God’s love (and Christ’s love) for us. Second is our love for God. Third, far and away most often, is our love for fellow humans. Yesterday, I reviewed all Paul’s uses of the word “love” in its various forms, as a noun and verb. Depending on how you count, there are about 115 total. Of those,

  • a little over 20 refer to God’s love for us,
  • about 5 or 6 refer to our love for God, and
  • almost 90 refer to our love for fellow humans.

That might be surprising to you, especially to us Christian Hedonists who love to emphasize the place of our Godward affections in glorifying God as we ought. Paul has no trouble with that theologically. Again, five or six clearly refer to our love for God, but typically, Paul’s summary term for the Christian’s Godward orientation is “faith.” He talks about the Christian life, in sum, as faith in God and love toward others.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints. (Ephesians 1:15)

We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints. (Colossians 1:4; so also 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13; Philemon 5)

Here in Galatians 5, “love” clearly refers to our orientation on others, toward fellow humans. As verse 13 says: “through love serve one another.” And this serving others is what fulfills God’s law. God’s law begins with “love me” (commandments 1–4). And God’s law is fulfilled with “love one another” (commandments 5–10). Jesus, of course, summarized the law as (1) love for God, and (2) love for neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40). And Paul emphasizes love as the fulfilling of the law more in this passage (I count three times) than anywhere else in his letters:

  • 5:6: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

  • 5:14: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

  • 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

By the way, this concept of our love for others “fulfilling the law” has similar shape to how the apostle John writes about the “completing” or “perfecting” of love. First comes God’s love for us. Then our love for him. Then his love is fulfilled, or completed, in our love for others (see John 13:34; 15:12; 1 John 2:5; 4:7–12, 17–18).

So, our love — our serving others — fulfills or completes what God requires, which begins in his love for us, and our faith toward him. Which leads to a second observation, since we’ve mentioned faith.

2. Love (for others) issues from faith in Christ.

Christian love is not simply love for love’s sake. Christian love for others is an extension of our love for God. Or, to use Paul’s summary Godward term, love for others issues from faith in Christ. Paul says in Galatians 5:6 that what counts is “faith working through love.”

Another place in Paul where he not only gives faith and love as summary terms, but specifies the relationship between vertical faith and horizontal love, is 1 Timothy 1:5:

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Genuine love for others begins with faith in Christ. Or, we might say, faith in Christ (in us) is the channel through which genuine love (for others) flows. How? Faith in Christ is soul-satisfying, and thus, freeing. Faith delights and rests in Christ, liberates us from the prison of self, and prompts us to expand that joy by drawing others in through acts of love.

The reason this is important to stress when considering love as “the fruit of the Spirit” is because our love for others, produced in and through us by the Spirit, is fruit, not root. Other realities must happen first. Our love, our doing good, our meeting others’ needs, our good works are not the root of the Christian life but the fruit of the Spirit’s work.

As far as we ourselves are involved, at the root is faith — the uniquely receiving virtue that looks away from self to another and his work. So, the root of the Christian life is not our virtue, but Christ’s. Faith is our reception of Christ as the root.

Note well that the action of the root happens apart from us. Christ does the work; we receive him by faith. And, on the other hand, the Spirit produces the fruit of love in and through us — not apart from us. In other words, to use theological language, the work of justification happens outside of us, received by faith, while the work of sanctification happens in us and through us.

And that image of fruit is especially interesting here in our age of accelerations. Because fruit is organic. Fruit is produced over time in such tiny increments that you can’t see the change on a daily basis. You don’t produce fruit in a microwave. You don’t assemble it in a factory. You grow it in a field — even better, God grows it. It doesn’t pop out in a moment. Fruit grows, imperceptibly, day by day.

So, the way that love, as serving others, happens, is we despair of self (repentance) and trust in God through Christ (faith), and that faith is not mutually exclusive with God’s Spirit, but produced and sustained by God’s Spirit, and our affections and actions of love are inspired and empowered by the Spirit.

3. God calls us to move at the pace of his Spirit.

What struck me here in meditating on love as the fruit of the Spirit is that Christians are called to adjust our lives to the Spirit, not presume that he will adjust to ours. There’s no word here in Galatians 5 about the Spirit’s remarkable variability of speed, and that he’ll track us down no matter how fast or how sedentary our pace of life. The clear emphasis here is that he takes the lead, and we follow. He sets the pace:

  • 5:16: “Walk by the Spirit.”

  • 5:18: “If you are led by the Spirit . . .”

  • 5:25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

Walk with him, at his pace. Be led by him. Live by him. Keep in step with him.

Walking is a powerful image for the Christian life. Not that there’s no place for running. Paul himself says he runs. He hopes his running will not be in vain (Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16). He laments that the Galatians “were running well” before being deceived by false teachers (Galatians 5:7). He likens the Christian life to a kind of foot race with a prize at the end, and says, “So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). However, two verses later, he also concedes a danger when he says, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26).

But far more often than “run,” Paul says “walk”:

  • Romans 8:4: “The righteous requirement of the law [love!] [will] be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

  • Romans 14:15: “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”

  • Ephesians 2:10: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [acts of service, love for others], which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

  • Ephesians 4:1: “I . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

  • Ephesians 5:1–2: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

And on and on.

Before I end with a few soul-searching questions for us — as to whether our pace of life is “[keeping] in step with the Spirit” or with our age and our flesh — let me read Galatians 5:22–23, and let’s ask ourselves what general pace of life seems to go with this kind of Spirit-production. What kind of speed and trajectory, so far as you can tell for you, would it take to see fruit like this borne in your life?

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)

You have permission to just slow down.

Four Questions for Self-Evaluation

Let me assume that you, like me, want the Holy Spirit to produce his fruit in and through your life. So let’s close with four questions for self-evaluation.

Note: These are not mainly for evaluating others. There is a Spirit-flesh paradigm to be aware of here, as with finances and entertainment choices and screen time. The way of our flesh is to be suspicious of others and make excuses for ourselves — to be hard on others and easy on ourselves. But the way of the Spirit is opposed to the flesh. When he is at work, we will be tougher on ourselves and our sins and our patterns, and more gentle with others.

So, how are you doing on pace? Are you keeping in step with the Spirit, who produces the fruit of love? Or are you presuming that he will adjust to your step, which has been set by the frenzy or laziness of the world? No simplistic assumptions here. Very few lives are lived at essentially static pace, whether feverish or sluggish. Most of us have dynamically paced lives that go up and down.

And the Spirit’s pace is dynamic. But do you go frenzied when the Spirit is patient, and stop when the Spirit is moving? Are you enslaved by the unhealthy oscillations of the world’s pace: sprint, crash; sprint, crash. Or are you walking — day in and day out, one foot in front of the other, rhythmic, moving, almost effortless, not standing still and not running yourself ragged — by the Spirit?

But with those ups and downs, there is an overall pace. An average. A default. So, get an intuitive sense for your default and ask yourself, Who is setting my default? Is it the Spirit, or my flesh?

1. How hurried are my devotions?

Do you prioritize a daily season (first thing in the morning proves best for most) for unhurried Bible meditation and prayer? Are you able to move at the pace of the text, or do you feel the pressure to do your devotions at the pace of modern life?

A related question might be: How quick are you to flee the scene from corporate worship and community group to get to the next thing?

2. Am I making space for human basics?

In addition to unhurried Bible meditation and prayer, and an almost nonnegotiable commitment to corporate worship and small-group life, are you getting adequate sleep? Exercise. Nutrition (slow food, not fast food). Hygiene. Washing your hands. Brushing your teeth. Annual physicals. Eye appointments. Dental appointments.

If all that sounds like too much, perhaps you’re still resisting the glorious confines of humanity. You’re trying to do more than is realistic. And if you don’t have time for these basics, you probably are not moving at the pace of love. Perhaps God means to freshly impress upon you the glorious limitations of being human — which his own Son embraced — and give you “permission to just slow down” and find the pace of love.

3. Do I have enough room for God’s wonderfully humbling providences?

God is not sitting back watching the machinations of this world grind and frustrate our plans. God is active. He’s engaged. He’s moving history forward. He’s moving your life forward each day. And in love, he makes a point to regularly frustrate our plans and self-reliance with his severe mercies. The reason your life goes as planned so infrequently is because God loves you.

If your planning isn’t factoring in the normal variables of daily life in a world you do not run, how are you loving others?

4. Do I have enough margin in my schedule and life for other people’s needs and requests?

As a Christian, it’s not enough to simply ask if my current pace of life is sustainable for my own soul. We are called to care for more noses than our own. Do I have enough space not just for my own sanity but for the souls of others? Do you have margin to take notice, and linger with, and lend a hand, and invest time and energy into other people?

We’re not talking first and foremost about strangers downtown. They’re not irrelevant, but we’re talking first and foremost about relationships in this room. Relationships in our homes. In our classes. In our families. With those we bump in to and cross paths with day after day in the course of our work and school and family life.

Is life moving too fast for you to see the needs of others? What pace of life will that be for you? Do you have too much on your plate?

Busy Without Hurry

Think of Jesus’s life. He was not idle. And he was not frenzied. He walked. And he walked. And he walked. From all we can tell from the Gospels, Jesus’s days were full. I think it would be fair to say he was busy, but he was not frenzied. His days were full, and yet he did not seem to be in a hurry. He moved at the pace of love. And don’t we all want to be like that?

But our hope is far greater than simply synching up with Jesus’s perfect pace. And keeping in step with his Spirit. Even if we were to get the pace down, we all know we can’t love like we ought. Not even close. Which is why it’s such good news that love is the fruit of the Spirit. Not the fruit of our flesh. Not the fruit of our strength. Love is produced by the Spirit through us. Not apart from us. Our fruit of love happens in and through us, by the power of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit not only produces the fruit of love in and through us, but he also pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). Bearing fruit, by the Spirit, is not first and foremost for us in Christ. First, we are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17) — that is, Christ’s love for us (Ephesians 3:19).

It is good news that our root is not ourselves, but Christ. And our fruit of love and doing good, engaged as we are in the process, is not our own, but the working and power of God’s Spirit.