Fruit of the Spirit vs. Fruit of Idolatry: Love or Apathy
I used to have such a wrong idea about the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d read the verses in Galatians like a laundry list of so many things I couldn’t do enough, be enough. I would either flip to another book of the Bible, or vow to work on being more loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, etc. But the next day, I wouldn’t even be able to list all nine.
This post is the second in a series on walking with God instead of pursuing idolatry. You’ll find the first one here.
I used to think the opposite of love is hate, but I’ve come to understand now that you can’t hate something unless you care about it, even a little bit. The true opposite of love is apathy.
I’m not talking about a generic apathy. (I’m apathetic to sports, for example. I’ve just never been into them.) But there is a dangerous kind of apathy that diminishes the amount of love we offer.
Apathy as a fruit of idolatry comes from selfish motives. Our natural bent is to care more for ourselves than the things we’re called to care about.
Here’s a few examples of those things the Bible lists:
- Widows and orphans
- Your neighbor
- Persecuted brothers and sisters
I think John summed these examples into one category when he said, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
To fully understand how to love as we walk in the Spirit, we must go back to the Greek words John used for love in this verse. (Words, plural. I never noticed this before!)
The first love, as in “Love one another,” is agapáō, pronounced (ag-ap-ah’-o). It means, “prefer,” as in “choosing God’s choices” (from Biblehub concordance). When we love with this kind of love, it’s doing what’s in the other person’s best interest.
John used another word for the second love (“love comes from God” ). Agapé (ag-ah’-pay) is the familiar term that means “love which centers in moral preference.” It’s usually used as a term for “divine love, or what God prefers” ( from Biblehub concordance).
The third instance of the word love (“everyone who loves”) is translated from agapáō again. There’s a distinct difference between divine love and divine-derived human love in the Scriptures. Agapé is only used when referring to God’s actions, whereas agapáō usually refers to human actions.
Apathy, if defined as “not to love,” simply means “to neglect, disregard, condemn.”
But it gets a little tricky sometimes.
For example, one afternoon I met a homeless woman downtown. She was begging for $5 and had a whole spiel about how she was trying to escape an abusive relationship. As I engaged her in conversation and she was forced to go off script, she made less and less sense.
Her teeth showed the telltale signs of meth use and she refused a fully paid-for hotel room for the night. She would only be happy with cash.
I sadly declined. In this case, agapáō looked like not hurting this person by giving her drug money.
Many other times, I’ve failed to love. Apathy can appear like cynicism, busyness, or even ignorance. Whatever my excuses for neglecting or disregarding someone’s need for love, they stemmed from selfishness.
It would be easy to get overwhelmed by the colossal need for Christians to show love: so many homeless, prisoners, widows, and orphans. So many in our local churches who have crises and burdens to share. So many of our families and friends need quality time.
Doing it all ourselves will most definitely lead to burnout. But here’s the good news: God only expects us to love those we encounter each day.
The last part of 1 John 4:7 highlights how walking in the spirit can help us love (agapáō) like God loves (agapé). It lists two qualifications:
- to have been born of God
- to know God.
In other words, we have to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be walking with Him.
As we understand the Word better (like distinguishing the subtle but important differences in agapáō and agapé) and talk to God about what He cares about, the more sensitive we are to the Holy Spirit’s guidance when it comes to loving people.
It’s not a checklist of people we have to serve or things we have to do, but it does look like action. Love is a natural overflow of the Holy Spirit’s work in us that melds perfectly with our talents and passions.
When we’re walking with the Holy Spirit, we begin to care about what God cares about. He directs us specifically to those we need to love each day. The resulting fruit is sweeter than we could have ever dreamed of producing by ourselves.
Please keep the conversation going! Feel free to leave a note in the comments with your insights on love vs. apathy.
You’ll find the next post in the series, Joy or Bitterness, here.