“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22, 23, ESV). In what ways does obedience to the Ten Commandments reflect the fruit of the Spirit as it is expressed in these verses? (See also Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28; 22:35–40.) 1
The Ten Commandments are not an alternative to love; they help guide us in how we are to show love, both to God and to humankind. However much it might transcend the letter of the law, love is not in conflict with the law. The idea that love for God and love for our neighbor void the Ten Commandments makes about as much sense as saying that love for nature voids the law of gravity.
Also, in contrast to the fifteen one-word descriptions of the works of the flesh, the fruit of the Spirit is described in nine elegant virtues. Scholars believe these nine virtues are organized into three clusters of three, but there is little agreement on the significance of their order. Some see an implicit reference to the Trinity in the number three; others believe the three triads reflect the ways in which we should relate to God, to our neighbor, and finally to ourselves; and others see the list as essentially a description of Jesus. Though each of these views has some merit, the most significant point not to be overlooked is the supreme importance Paul places on love in the Christian life.
The fact that Paul lists love as the first of the nine virtues is not accidental. He has already highlighted the central role of love in the Christian life in Galatians 5:6 and 13, and he includes it in his virtue lists elsewhere (2 Cor. 6:6, 1 Tim. 4:12, 6:11, and 2 Tim. 2:22). Whereas all the other virtues appear also in non-Christian sources, love is distinctly Christian. All this indicates that love should be seen not merely as one virtue among many but as the cardinal Christian virtue that is the key to all other virtues. Love is the preeminent fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor. 13:13, Rom. 5:5), and it should define the life and attitudes of every Christian (John 13:34, 35), however difficult at times it might be to show love.
How much self-denial is involved in love? Can you love without self-denial? What does Jesus teach us about love and self-denial?