by Trisha Welstad
(Editor’s note: This is the 1st in a 9-part series on The Fruit of the Spirit & Evangelism, based on Galatians 5:22-23.)
People everywhere, Christian or not, recognize the deep, personal yearning to love and be loved as part of our DNA. As much as we know love to be the answer to our problems and find fulfillment (queue Beatles track here), we still have a deep crevice between who we are made to be and how we actually live.
Jesus and the biblical authors have much to say about love and how to demonstrate love—“God so loved the world,” “Love the Lord your God,” “The love of Christ compels us,” “Love one another,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Love your enemy” and much more. Knowing we cannot live or love perfectly on our own, the Lord offers the gift of his Spirit as a Helper for us. The fruit of the Spirit’s action in our lives comes out in several ways, one of which is love.
By the Spirit, love is made complete, becoming a supernatural reality rather than tokenism or a lofty ideal we can never reach. But what does the fruit of love look like in a Spirit-filled reality?
One of my favorite examples of Spirit-empowered love is from a childhood mentor, Jake DeShazer. Jake was in his 70’s when I met him. He was a kind, old man with a big laugh and a knack for storytelling. The best stories he told were of his own life as a World War II veteran recounting his time in the military and the aftermath of his experience. Jake volunteered as a Doolittle Raider to bomb Japan and seek revenge after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
In the midst of the raid on Japan, he was forced to parachute into enemy territory after running out of fuel and was soon taken as a prisoner of war. Jake was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent more than three years as a POW, much of it in solitary confinement.
During this time, Jake persuaded a guard to loan him a Bible for nearly three weeks. The message it contained changed everything for Jake. He began to treat his captors with respect and even determined that once he was freed, he would become a missionary to Japan, loving those who had abused and imprisoned him. Jake and his wife Florence spent 30 years as missionaries in Japan. Jake eventually became friends with the man who led the bombing on Pearl Harbor and soon saw him won over to the message of the gospel.
Jake’s discovery of Jesus gave him new life. Empowered by the Spirit of God, Jake was able to close the gap of difference between how he had once lived and who he was made to be. Now he could love his enemy…so much so that an enemy became a friend and co-laborer for Christ.
Love empowered by the Spirit transforms us, giving us the ability to love selflessly as Jesus does. It makes us do what may seem crazy to most, like die for someone or go back to our place of imprisonment for 30 years. Often, love as the fruit of the Spirit is making space for others to be themselves with us without trying to change them.
Our family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and enemies are desperately yearning for love that makes them whole. My hope is that we will have the courage to offer that kind of love — one that is infused with the very life of God.
Trisha Welstad (@trishawelstad) directs The Leadership Center and serves with the Free Methodist Church in Oregon as the director of leadership development while pastoring among her community in Portland, Oregon.