It comes as no surprise that love is the first fruit of the Spirit mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his listing of the nine spiritual crops to be harvested by the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. As a way to sum up, I John 4:8 tells us that "God is love." In reality, this is the only spiritual fruit, for all the others are derivatives. All the others are but added colors in the rainbow of love. Each of the other eight spell out more clearly the variety of this one manifestation of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer.
When the God of love dwells in your life, you will have joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control (GNB).
Paul details to the church in Galatians 5 the many works of the flesh, and when he finishes he hasn't really finished, for he concludes, "and things like that." In other words, there were many more "works of the flesh" that he could have mentioned, but did not. But when it came to detailing the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer, it is one fruit—singular. The fruit involves one harvest of the Holy Spirit, giving a unified and cohesive character to what the Spirit produces in the Christian life.
Paul wanted the Galatians to understand this point clearly, for he wrote elsewhere in this letter, "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit." There it is in black and white. "So," he wrote, "let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up" (6:7-9). What we will reap at harvest time is a crop of love, the specifics of which are spelled out in the expressions of love in the rest of Galatians 5:22. Again, Paul wrote to another church, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). We begin with love, for God is love and if, in fact, we desire to be godlike, then we shall embrace love. If, in fact, we are to follow the Christ about whom Paul preaches, we must be loving ourselves, as Jesus was loving. Paul calls this attitude, in his introduction to I Corinthians 13 (the love chapter), "a more excellent way."
But for all his talk about love (and the necessity for it), for all his efforts to persuade the early Christians to be Christlike, for all his attempts to model love for the early Church, Paul was not too successful. Our text has Paul admonishing the early Christians to have "genuine love." What other kind is there, we might ask? Why would he speak of genuine love, if he did not find much of the opposite in the Church? Our text would indicate that Paul was struggling with a quality of love in the Church that left something to be desired. When you look at the evidence from other passages of Scripture, this would appear to be true.
First Peter, written from Rome to those having oversight of the churches in Asia Minor, speaks about "the genuineness of your faith," and "the genuine mutual love" that is needed. Again, there must be a fair amount of ingenuine faith present, in order to keep contrasting it to the genuine kind that these apostles desired.
I think we can safely say that Paul was having trouble growing genuine faith in the hearts of the believers. His letter to the church at Philippi (2:20) speaks about Timothy and how Paul will soon be sending him to them. Then he adds this revelation, "I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ." All of them are? All but Timothy? If that's true, then there aren't many Spirit-filled Christians around. All of them? Really?
Writing to the church in Corinth, he twice mentioned the need for genuineness, speaking one time of the possibility of their taking an offering and adding, "I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others" (II Corinthians 8:8). If he knew that they had genuine faith, he would not have to compare it to others. He would know. But he has to continually test the sincerity of the church members. Will they measure up or not? Are they genuine Christians or not? Have they caught the genuine love, or the ingenuine love? "Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine" (I Corinthians 11:19). Paul was having such difficulty that J. B. Phillips titles the twelfth chapter of Romans, "Let Us Have Real Christian Behavior," as if this were a scarce commodity.
I shouldn't imply that Jesus didn't face many of the same difficulties, for in his Sermon on the Mount, he said, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye" (Matthew 7:5). He also preached, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 7:15-20).