This Friday is Valentine’s Day. Little is known about Saint Valentine, but there is evidence that he was died in northern Rome on February 14. One thing led to another and now we commemorate his life by buying expensive chocolates and cut flowers.
Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love – specifically romantic love. I’m sure there will be countless proposals in fancy restaurants across the globe, and many more children who are able to do the math backwards 9 months from their birth date.
To the world, romantic love is about as good as it gets. Hollywood makes billions by capitalizing on our felt need for love, affection, and romance. Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel know exactly the kind of thing their audience longs for. Songs are written in the name of love. Masterpieces are painted and sculpted for love’s sake. Romantic love has inspired plays and poetry, wars and suicide. To the world it would seem that the pursuit of romantic love is the highest calling one can hope to achieve. Once you’ve “put a ring on it,” you have arrived.
But Christians know something the world does not know. Romantic love is but a shadow of true, unconditional love. The Greeks had a word for this kind of love. English does not. In Greek the highest form of love is called agape.
Agape is the love by which God’s very nature is defined. “God is love,” says 1 John 4. In Jesus’ farewell speech before his crucifixion, he gave them one last command, “Agapate (imperative for “love”) one another as I have egapesa (loved) you” (John 15:12). In fact, Jesus makes his expectations crystal clear. The world is supposed to know who Jesus’ disciples are, not by their clothes or their doctrine or their political agenda or their bumper stickers, but by their agape love.
So what does this kind of love look like? Paul helps fill in the blanks a bit in 1 Corinthians 13, AKA “The Love Chapter.”
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
That’s a look at agape love. It seems very different from the “love stories” produced by Hollywood or shown on prime time TV. We live in a world governed by romantic love. The Greeks also had a word for that, eros. It’s where we get the word “erotic.” But think about this, romantic, eros love as we see it in the world is pretty much the opposite of unconditional, agape love.
Romantic love is impatient, romantic love is unkind. It envies, it boasts, it is proud. It dishonors others, it is self-seeking, it is easily angered, it keeps record of wrongs. Romantic love delights in evil but does not rejoices with the truth. It rarely protects, rarely trusts, rarely hopes, rarely perseveres.
Romantic love often fails.
And we wonder why the divorce rate is so high.
I want you to read through this passage two more times and think how the world would be different if the following were true:
Christians are patient, Christians are kind. They do not envy, they do not boast, they are not proud. They do not dishonor others, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Christians do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. They always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
Christian love never fails.
Wouldn’t this be a wonderful world to live in if the above paragraph were true? Unfortunately, the church is made up of imperfect people, and imperfect people love imperfectly. So it might be a bit much to wish for all Christians everywhere to love to this extent.
But what about you. You can’t change what others do. You can’t force anyone else to love. But you can make the change for yourself. You can insert your name into that paragraph and make it your own. So try this with me. Maybe even read it out loud. Copy and paste this paragraph and print it out. Stick it where you will see it on a daily basis.
Learn how to love.
I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I do not boast, I am not proud. I do not dishonor others, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
My love never fails.
Love is the most powerful tool Jesus left for his disciples. Let’s become master lovers. Let’s be recognized by nothing other than our love.