Virtues for Christ-Followers: Love

April 16, 2024

by Peter Amsterdam

In our study on the book of Galatians, in chapter 5, I highlighted where Paul tells the readers to “walk by the Spirit” and to “not gratify the desires of the flesh.1 He then proceeds to list vices and warns the Galatians—and all believers, as he has before—that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.2

Paul then goes on to contrast the “vice list” with the “virtue list,” where he enumerates the fruit of the Spirit that will be manifest in believers’ lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”3 We learn that these are meant to be present in the lives of believers.

These godly qualities—or virtues, as I will refer to them in this series—are the fruit of the Spirit, as opposed to the product of human strength or character. In this series we will review each of the nine virtues, including quotations and commentaries that I hope you will find motivating as we each strive to grow in these virtues and become more Christlike, so that others will see God’s Spirit shining through us and be drawn to Him. (For a more in-depth study on each of these virtues, see the More Like Jesus series.)

While there is not a particular order to these virtues, love is listed first, and in 1 Corinthians 13 we learn that “the greatest of these”—referring to faith, hope, and love—“is love.” Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”4

The following article illustrates the power of God’s love, and our great need for it.

The Surpassing Virtue

Nothing rivals the power of God’s love. It has the ability to heal a broken heart, repair a deep emotional wound, and mend a shattered relationship. In the end, love makes all things new. The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”5 In other words, without the love of God in his life, he was no more than an empty tin can. The same is true for us.

On a scale of one to ten, the love of God is a ten—surpassing all other virtues in importance. Love is patient and kind—long-suffering and full of hope and encouragement. It never discourages. It always builds and refuses to tear down. It is never in a hurry. It is not forceful, demanding, or self-centered.

Love waits for God’s best, whenever and whatever that may be. It does not panic in the face of trial, defeat, or fear. It won’t grasp for human solutions but always seeks to do God’s will. Love is kind, gentle, and understanding. It acts in the best interest of others, overlooks offenses, and is extravagant when it comes to giving to others.

“It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”6 It waits for God to promote and exalt. It credits Him for any personal success, while acknowledging the contributions of others. It always applauds the godly gain of another and does not flaunt or taunt, but bends its knee in humility.

Love is not rude. It is polite and courteous—even to those who are ill-mannered, ill-tempered, and hurtful. True love is never self-seeking, but thinks of others first. Love is not irritated by the behavior of others. It refuses to judge, leaving that to God. It does not keep a mental record of offenses. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It meets each day with cheer and a smile. It thinks upon good things and is happy in simple obedience to God.

Paul concludes his description by writing “Love never fails,”7 and the love of God never will. Not only does this indicate that His love will never run out; it also means that whatever the situation, the proper response always is love. When we extend the love of God to others—especially those who have hurt and opposed us—we are set free from feelings of bitterness, anger, rejection, hostility, and unforgiveness.

Learning to love God and others the way He loves you will lead you to discover places in your heart where you would never venture on your own. One thing is for sure: when you live in the light of His love, you will come to know the intimate care of a loving heavenly Father.—Charles Stanley, The Power of God's Love

There are two aspects to love that we are called to, as Jesus highlights in Matthew 22: love for God and love for our neighbor. Of course, they are interrelated, as our love for our neighbor is an expression of our love for God and the presence of His Spirit in our lives, since God is love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”8

The love of God is portrayed throughout the Bible as a love that actively pursues us and seeks to enter into relationship with us and to draw us close to Him, as we see in the following quotes:

Christianity is not simply a religion or rules or rituals. Christianity is a relationship—and not just any relationship, but one that the Bible likens to a marriage, where there is meant to be intimacy, transparency, open communication, and shared hopes and desires. The Bible tells us, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name,”9 and that we are “married to Him who was raised from the dead [Jesus], that we should bear fruit to God.”10Ronan Keane

Our God is not patiently standing by and waiting for us to offer love; He is actively and vigorously pursuing us.… He is the father running down the trail to embrace the prodigal son even before the boy can speak his act of contrition. He is the mad farmer showering a full day’s wage on men who hadn’t even worked. He is Jesus forgiving the sinful woman even before she spoke her sorrow. He is the king lavishing a banquet on beggars. These are all symbols of a God whose love for us is so active, so strong, that by human standards He would be, at least, said to be mad.—Andrew Greeley

The overriding character trait of Jesus is love, and the entire gospel story is woven with love. Sometimes it’s not easy, and oftentimes it requires sacrifice, but it’s when we love that we are most like Jesus.—Steven Furtick

When we think about how to pattern our lives according to the biblical command to love our neighbor as ourselves, the well-loved parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 so often comes to mind. The parable was Jesus’ response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” The following quotes, starting with excerpts from an article I wrote on the parable of the Good Samaritan, express the answer to this all-important question:

When the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he wanted a categorical, black-and-white type of answer. But Jesus’ story showed that there is no short list limiting who you are responsible to love or who you are supposed to consider your neighbor. Jesus defined “your neighbor” as anyone in need whom God brings across your path.

Through this parable Jesus was making it clear that our neighbor is anyone in need, regardless of their race, religion, or standing in the community. There are no boundaries when it comes to whom we should show love and compassion to. Compassion goes way beyond the requirements of the law, and we are even expected to love our enemies.

The beaten men and women whom we come across in our lives may not be physically half dead by the side of the road. But so many need to feel love and compassion, to receive a helping hand, or someone willing to listen to their heart cries, so they know that they matter, that someone cares for them. If God has brought you across their path, then He may be calling you to be that person.

Jesus set the bar for love and compassion in this parable, and His closing words to you and me—the listeners of today—are “Go, and do likewise.”—Peter Amsterdam, "The Good Samaritan"


Each of us is surrounded every day by our neighbors. They’re ahead of us, behind us, on each side of us. They’re every place we go. They’re sacking groceries and attending city council meetings. They’re holding cardboard signs on street corners and raking leaves next door. They play high school football and deliver the mail. They’re heroes and hookers and pastors and pilots. They live on the streets and design our bridges. They go to seminaries and live in prisons. They govern us and they bother us. They’re everywhere we look. It’s one thing we all have in common: we’re all somebody’s neighbor, and they’re ours. This has been God’s simple yet brilliant master plan from the beginning. He made a whole world of neighbors. We call it earth, but God just calls it a really big neighborhood.—Bob Goff, Everybody, Always

We define who our neighbor is by our love. We make a neighbor of someone by caring for him or her. So we don’t first define a class of people who will be our neighbors and then select only them as the objects of our love. Jesus deftly rejects the question “Who is my neighbor?” and substitutes the only question really relevant here: “To whom will I be a neighbor?”—Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

It is helpful to take stock from time to time of how we’re doing in “loving others as ourselves” and determine ways that we can grow and improve, as the following excerpts from two articles illustrate.

Love’s Prerogative

Love ever gives, forgives, outlives.
And ever stands with open hands.
And while it lives, it gives.
For this is love’s prerogative—
To give, and give, and give.—John Oxenham

Jesus tells us: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”11

Easier said than done, you may say. You’re not even sure you want to love those who have hurt or wronged you. After all, they don’t deserve it. You’d just as soon distance yourself from that cranky boss, that former friend who hurt you, that coworker who talked badly about you behind your back.

One of the most wonderful things about God’s love is that it can override our sometimes-all-too-human reactions and prejudices. He may not be happy about some of the things some people do or the way they do them, but He still loves them. Isn’t that the way He is with us? He never stops loving us no matter what our faults and flaws, and in spite of what we do. He never rejects us or withdraws His love. He always has hope for us, no matter how far we’ve strayed.

That’s the sort of love He wants us to have for others, and it’s ours for the asking. “Love will cover a multitude of sins.”12 God will give you as much grace and love to forgive others as you ask Him for.—Shannon Shayler

What Does Biblical “Love in Action” Look Like?

The Bible shares ways that Jesus showed compassion and care through His words and deeds. Praying, traveling long distances to provide comfort and healing to the sick and dying, sharing quiet time with God, and more, Jesus provided examples of ways for us to show love in action. Jesus never asked to be given compliments or accolades for what He shared and how He loved others. Jesus called us to love one another. In showing care and love for others, we have the opportunity to bring people closer to Him13

Scripture shares how we can offer hope to others who may be experiencing difficult times. A dear friend of my husband and mine recently passed away due to coronavirus. This special friend and her husband were the first people to welcome us into the neighborhood. They arrived at our door carrying brightly colored flowers. A visit with this sweet couple allowed us to learn more about their lives and for us to share with them. A wonderful friendship was formed, and we continued to visit almost every day and enjoy laughter and meaningful conversations.

When our friend was diagnosed and admitted to the hospital, the neighborhood was notified. Immediately, people began asking how to help. A meal train was organized by one neighbor. Other neighbors mowed the lawn, took care of the outside trash cans, and purchased needed items from the grocery store. All of these people were showing love in action…

We have the opportunity to share the love and glory of Christ in every moment. Whether we are physically able to act or not, we are given ways to share His love. When we don’t know how to physically show love in action, we can pray. …

Opportunities to show love in action are found every day. From caring for sick friends, helping neighbors with chores, holding the hands of someone grieving, to sitting still and listening, God provides ways for us to show love.

Are there times when we have difficulty showing love in action? Yes. We are human and we have faults. When those times come, we can go to the Father and ask for His guidance.14Melissa Henderson15

Food for Thought

“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).

“We want to learn how to live so that our very presence will speak of the love and forgiving grace of God.”—Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40 RSV).

“Jesus said when we give away love freely to one another and meet the needs of poor and needy and isolated and hurting people, we’re actually doing it for Him.”—Bob Goff, Everybody, Always

(To be continued.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Galatians 5:16.

2 Galatians 5:19–21.

3 Galatians 5:22–23.

4 John 15:12–13.

5 1 Corinthians 13:1 NAS.

6 1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV.

7 1 Corinthians 13:8 NKJV.

8 1 John 4:7–8.

9 Isaiah 54:5.

10 Romans 7:4 NKJV.

11 Matthew 5:44–48 NKJV.

12 1 Peter 4:8 NKJV.

13 John 13:34–35.

14 1 Corinthians 16:14 NIV.