We show love in some interesting ways.
For those of us who have been through high school, we know this to be true. If you went to high school in North America, you will probably know what candy grams and “rose-a-grams” are. You put in your order to student council some time in January. This gram is then delivered to that someone on February 14. On the day of, students anticipate this public announcement in class between two special someone’s in the school. There was one specific instance where a girl in my class received at least five of these grams. Since most saw this as a tangible expression of love, I remember hearing, “Oh, how much he loves her!” Along with the movies and fairy tales, this is how I learned about love growing up. This is what I thought love is.
How do you express love? Do you express love through giving gifts, such as roses, dinners or tickets to a game? Or, is it by spending quality time through a riveting conversation? Maybe it is through acts of service, when you help someone wash their car or make them a cup of coffee. It could be by speaking encouraging and affirming words, or giving the biggest, warmest hug possible. These categories of expressing love are not new – they are written about extensively Gary Chapman’s classic book “The Five Love Languages“.
You see, the Bible mentions three types of love: eros, phileo and agape. Agape, or self-sacrificial love, is used some 320 times in the New Testament. When understood and applied properly, God’s definition of love will strengthen our relationships – family, friendship, marriage or otherwise. However, we often forget to do this in the everyday. We forget this so much that we need to have a day set aside to intentionally love the other person. How strange is that? I am not against dinners and gifts – in fact, we need to celebrate. However, we need to think more deeply about this concept of love.
We are called to love people all 365 days of the year. This was how St. Valentine lived, who was a priest in the 3rd Century. It seems he took God’s Word seriously, where his actions were derived from Jesus’ example of love on the Cross. He spent most of his time rescuing persecuted Christians, as well as conducting marriage ceremonies for them. These heroic and meaningful acts, however, went against the commands of the Roman Emperor Claudius. St. Valentine was later caught and then martyred on February 14, which is the day on which modern Valentine’s Day tradition is derived.
So the question is: how did we downgrade from magnanimous expressions of love (such as that shown by St. Valentine’s) to the modern frivolity of candy grams? What would it look like if we truly lived everyday as if we were commemorating St. Valentine – celebrating sacrificial and costly love?
This is a very real challenge today, as we live in a love-depraved world. We long to be loved and known, yet everyday we experience the shortcomings of a world that cannot provide the love we need. Perhaps social media is to blame, reminding us of everything we do not have, instead of what we do have. Maybe we criticize each other on our shortcomings quicker than we are to celebrate the good. At the end of the day, we are so concerned about the “me” that we forget about others. We ourselves are deplete of love, so how are we supposed to go and love others? The current of love in a circuit will only flow out to provide power to others if it is first plugged into a power source that fuels it.
We love to talk about Cinderella and Prince Charming, but will ignore the realities of relationships ending like Frozen’s beloved Anna and Hans. Instead of using God’s definition of love, we twist God’s Word and default to our culture’s definition: Love is an uncontrollable positive feeling towards something. Our definition of love impacts all aspects of our lives – our friendships, dating relationships and marriage. Since this is so important, we should look to the God who created love instead of movies and fairy tales. God loves all of humanity (Jn. 3:16), yet we only love certain people. God’s love comes purely from His goodness and nothing can be done to deserve or earn His love. We, on the other hand, operate on the idea of “an eye for an eye.” In God’s Kingdom, love is a choice, since He chose to love us before we knew Him. (Deut. 7:7-8; Rom. 5:8) We believe love is an uncontrollable emotion. Furthermore, we know that God is love. (1 Jn. 4:8) Everything He does or says is an expression of love. This was perfectly displayed through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Sometimes we choose to do the unlovable thing instead.
If I were to go back to my younger self, I would say in order to love anyone well, we need to first know and experience the extravagant love of God. The greatest gift you can give someone is not flowers, chocolate or a fancy dinner. Nor is it to put them on a pedestal. The greatest gift you can give anyone is to lead them closer to God through loving them as Jesus loves.
Matthew 5:48 says, “48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We often take this verse as “try your best to live a good and holy life just like Jesus.” Though that certainly is not wrong, it is also not the complete picture. In reading the fuller context of Matthew 5:43-48, you will see the connections between love, forgiveness and perfection. We would do well if we understood how radically loving people as Jesus loves is the perfection God seeks. True love, in all contexts, cannot exist without self-sacrifice, humility and forgiveness. What if we lived as if everyday was Valentine’s Day? One would imagine the world to be a little bit more like heaven.
Your turn: How can you be intentional in loving the people around you today? What is one characteristic of God’s love you can live out today?