As you know, we celebrate love in a few weeks on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the origin of the holiday. It has been associated with a few ancient, pagan, Roman festivals, and the name “Valentine” could be referring to as many as three different saints in Roman Catholic history. My understanding of the history of Valentine’s Day is largely based on a 25-minute short film entitled The First Valentine that was produced sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s with very distinctive Christian themes related to self-sacrifice and God’s love for each of us. But the film exaggerates a lot of historical details and presents many of those details as facts, even though there is no evidence to support them. And now as an adult, it’s hard for me to get past all the cheesiness of the film, which even includes a good old-fashioned slow clap at the end for the film’s hero.
Those Christian themes of service and sacrifice for another are important for us to consider, however. Valentine’s Day is largely romanticized in our culture, and a big reason for that is because the very definition of love is primarily about romance for many people. Take marriage for example. So many people make their decision about who to marry based on compatibility. Now, definitions of compatibility vary, but the idea is that the quest for finding a spouse centers around finding your soul mate. Finding the one out there who is made just for you, your match made in heaven. Your spouse is going to be the one who “completes” you, the one who meets all your needs, the one who makes you feel better than you’ve ever felt before, the one who gives you everything you’ve been wanting.
The problem with that way of thinking is that it’s pretty selfish. And as many married couples would attest, it’s idealistic and not reality. Stanley Hauerwas is a theologian and ethics professor who once provocatively wrote, “You always marry the wrong person.” He said that in part to grab the attention of his readers, but his point was that there is no such thing as a perfect soul mate. People change many times over the course of their life, and a person can’t anticipate what that will look like. And if your love is based on what you get from that other person, you are ultimately going to be frustrated, because that person will let you down, disappoint you.
The Bible teaches that love is about giving, not getting. It’s okay to be romantic in your marriage and in pursuit of marriage, but those emotions and feelings that come with romance are not what make marriages last. Enduring love is faithful care for another. Enduring love means serving another, even and especially when they aren’t very likable. Whether you are single or married, one of the great ways to love your neighbor is to serve them in a sacrificial way, in a way that is inconvenient or painful to you. Love isn’t so much all about roses and chocolates and jewelry and fancy restaurants (as nice as those things are!). Love is shoveling your neighbor’s driveway in below zero temperatures. Love is caring for your sick child at 2 am. Love is forgiving your spouse when they disappoint you.
That kind of love is hard. It goes against our old nature. But it’s the love that Christ has had for you. He died for you, while you were still a sinner. Christ didn’t base his love for us on any compatibility test. We are fundamentally incompatible, in our sin. But Christ has loved us anyway, to the point of death, even death on a cross. He died to wash us, cleanse us, serve us, to make us right with Him. And in Him and His love, we love one another as He has loved us.
If you make fancy plans with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, enjoy that time together! But whether you make a special date or not, whether you have a significant other or not, remember on Valentine’s Day, and each day, your Savior’s love for you. Thank Him for serving you and for teaching us what true love really looks like.
In Christ’s Love,