Do you know how rainbows work? (Warning: I am not a scientist, so bear with me here.) Basically, light from the sun hits a droplet of water. That light reflects and refracts from that droplet of water to make the beautiful colors we see. A prism works the same way. Light is refracted through the prism to disperse and create magnificent colors and shapes. This picture reminds me of the fruit of the Spirit.
The Spirit of God shines forth, with the end result being beautiful qualities that reflect the goodness of God. But within the fruit of the Spirit there’s one quality that lies at the heart of the whole: love. Love is like that original ray of light. As the Spirit of God shines out Christian love in the life of a believer, it produces a host of wonderful colors and qualities. Things like patience, kindness, joy, and so on. These are all different qualities, but in the end, each comes from the shining brightness of Christian love.
The Centrality of Love
Paul speaks of the priority of love in several places outside of the fruit of the Spirit, but it is seen most clearly in 1 Corinthians 13. Speaking of the spiritual gifts, Paul says that the greatest outwardly manifestations of the Spirit’s work are nothing without love. Many of these spiritual gifts will end, but love will not. At the end of the chapter he says, that “faith, hope, and love abide; but the greatest of these is love.” Love is pivotal to doing the work of the Spirit, and love lies at the heart of the fruit of the Spirit. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us guessing what this kind of love actually looks like. He takes what can seem like lofty prose and brings it down to earth for us.
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; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Here you can see how several of the qualities in the Galatians 5 list are represented: patience, kindness, self-control, and so on. Love is the source of all these attitudes and actions. Before we look at what these verses mean for parenting, it’s important that we understand how God himself models and initiates this kind of love.
The Father’s Love for Us
In the gospel, God initiates a loving relationship with us while we were still sinners. We didn’t deserve it, and we still don’t deserve it. One thing that should be blatantly obvious when we look at the sacrifice of Christ is just how sinful we are. God went to amazing depths to deal with our sin. But at the same time, we see the great love of the Father. This kind of sacrificial, undeserved love of God lies at the heart of our relationship with him as sons and daughters, but it should also drastically change how we love others, particularly, how we love our children. God’s love for us is the fuel that ignites and sustains our love for others, particularly towards our children. With God’s love in mind, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to see how we can show this kind of love to those God has put under our care.
Love is patient and kind
For parents this means in love we patiently wait for our kids to figure out what they’re trying to say, when they can’t seem to remember. We don’t shout, “How many times do I need to tell you…?” whenever they disobey. Patience is passive love. Kindness is active love. Together, these qualities work to build a loving Christian witness, especially at home.
Love does not envy or boast
Love doesn’t envy privileges our children may have that we did not. We also shouldn’t “brag” about how much harder we had it when we were kids. We should celebrate the blessings they have without reservation or caveat.
Love is not arrogant or rude
Sometimes as parents, we can be flat out rude to our children. We don’t listen well. We tune them out while looking at our phones. We roll our eyes at them. We mock their pain, because it seems petty to us. We do things and say things to our kids that we never would to others. We think they’re too little or young to even notice. Let me tell you, they notice. And they’ll remember much more than we wish they would.
Love does not insist on its own way
Parents, there are times when we ought to lose to our kids. I don’t mean that after a big fight we give in to their demands because we’re just ready to move on. But there are times when our preference might be different than theirs and in love, we die to ourselves and let them have what they’d like. Love doesn’t have a “my way or the highway” kind of mentality.
Love is not irritable or resentful
Do our kids feel like they have to walk on eggshells around us? When we have a hard day at work, do we walk in cranky waiting to snap at the slightest provocation? Like Jesus, we ought to be gentle enough not to quench the smoking flax or to break the bruised reed. Men, we might be tempted think we have to have some kind of hard persona to garner our children’s respect, but gentleness does worlds more than irritability and intimidation tactics. Jesus was the very epitome of manhood, and he described himself as gentle and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29).
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth
It’s surprisingly easy to laugh at the disobedience of our kids, especially when they’re younger. As parents, we want to take disobedience seriously. Laughing or making light of disrespect or disobedience is harmful for the spiritual well-being of our children and ourselves.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things
Loving Christian parents are quick to forgive and even forbear the sins of our children. We believe the best of them. We hope in them and aim to trust them. As they grow, we don’t continue to treat them as toddlers, but we hope and trust that they will do what is right. Lastly, we endure all things. Just as our own sin is often directed towards our children, so is theirs to us. In love, we can and should endure knowing that our Father in heaven has and will continue to endure much pain and hurt from us out of love.
All You Need Is Love
In a sense it’s true that love is all you need, but it’s not the sentimental kind of love that is often glamorized in our culture. It’s a love that bears burdens and wounds from other people. It’s a love that takes hurt and refuses to give it back. It’s a love with scars of hurt, but still tenderhearted towards the beloved. This kind of love is seen most clearly in God’s love for us.
God’s love for us is the fuel of our love for others. We can see in the fruit of the Spirit and in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is at the core of everything we do as Christians, and especially in Christian parenting.
If you’re feeling the weight of your failures in not loving your children as you should, don’t stay there. See your sin. Repent. And then look at the love of God. Rest in it knowing that in spite of your failures, you are loved by the Father. I pray that we can all see God’s work in and through our lives as we seek to shepherd our children to know and love the God who is love.