Years ago there was a tall stack of shelves in our home that held nothing but spider plants—dozens of them. A spider plant (Latin name: Clorophytum comosum—I looked it up) looks like a clump of decorative grass, and it seems as soon as it’s barely rooted, it sends out a shoot that grows a new little spider plant suspended in midair. Every spider plant on our shelves had many shoots that produced sprouts, and those sprouts produced more sprouts. Sometimes the little offspring landed in the pots on the shelf below, and they’d happily root and sprout again. Eventually, the spider plants cascaded down to the floor. They made such an impact in that room that we called it “the spider room.”
As odd as it may sound, this wall of spider plants reminds me of Christian love. Just as there is something in the plant’s DNA that causes it to produce a never-ending bounty of sprouts, the same is true of godly love. Our outward acts of love toward others (making meals, helping with bills, lending a car, spending time, exhorting, encouraging, etc.) continuously sprout from a heart whose spiritual DNA is coded by the Holy Spirit. Loving others becomes endemic to who we are—part of our character—like sprouting is to a spider plant.
Love is a character trait
1 Corinthians 13 says we are to have love. To have love is to embody it as a character trait that is actively involved in everything—everything—we think and do. Our talents, gifts, abilities, and actions are to be influenced, informed, guided, and edited by love. This character trait of love produces acts of love that are wisely tailored to the moment and encourage that which is right and good.
Love makes an impact
Love produces fruit. It makes an impact. It furthers the kingdom of God.
I have a friend named Margaret who is particularly good at blessing people. One time, I traveled an hour with her to attend a funeral. Sitting in a pew in that church was a young woman who looked frightened, like she was in enemy territory. She had a punk hair style and many facial piercings. Margaret, then in her mid 70’s with a very sweet grandmotherly appearance, sat beside this young woman and began talking with her. I saw the young woman soften from her defensive look to that of one who knew she was safe and welcome. This wasn’t even Margaret’s church but she reached out as the welcoming committee nonetheless. Her act of love changed the environment.
Fun fact: those little spider plant sprouts that hang in the air actually remove toxins and improve the air quality. I think Margaret’s love tangibly changed the atmosphere for that woman. That small act made an impact.
Love connects us with something bigger
After our spider room had been in existence for a few years, it became impossible to pick up any individual plant. They were all happily intertwined. Each plant and every sprout was adding to the nutritive give-and-take of the group as a whole. They were, in a sense, a community. And though the plants were a bit messy and chaotic (like people!) there seemed to be a strength and purpose to it.
Our churches should look very similar to that mass of spider plants, don’t you think? By giving and receiving, we become connected on both a physical level, by helping each other with the challenges of living, and on a spiritual level as we seek to be known as ambassadors of Christ, loving as he loved.
Love binds us to each other and identifies us as God’s people. Because of the cohesive character of love, every one of us is an important part of something much bigger than ourselves.
No matter what relationship or situation we are thinking about, involving church, family, neighborhood, friends or marriage, the essence of love is not a feeling or action or decision or commitment. Love at its core is a character trait. When Paul says “Pursue love” he’s saying “Get this quality. Grow it in yourself.” He is urging us to try to be love—just as God is love. To be love is to expand beyond self and participate in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)
My spider plants very nearly took over that room in my house. Together, they thrived in a way they could not have on their own. It was as if they were living for something bigger than themselves. The same is true for us. Love begets love. God’s love begets ours—and the sprouts begin to fill the room.