Frilly red hearts, chocolates, and romantic dinners fueled my imagination the instant I flipped my calendar to February. Will my husband remember? Will he show up with an oversized, pricey, glittery card? Maybe he’ll toss in a dark chocolate candy bar for good measure, if I’m lucky. Valentine’s Day is special and I deserve to be celebrated, right? I’m embarrassed to say, it was with this same attitude I went into my marriage with Tom. I looked forward to being loved more than I envisioned showing him love.
What is love, really? I love dark chocolate and dark coffee. I love Paul McCartney’s music. I love pizza, my husband and Jesus. Something is amiss here.
I’m a Christ-follower. Where does God come into my working definition of love?
In our English language there is only one word for love. It’s a catchall for every single item that makes us happy. That one little word has a lot of heavy lifting to do.
God’s love is revealed by the sacrifice of His only Son, so we’ll receive the forgiveness and freedom we don’t deserve.
We use love to describe our close friendships. I may also say I love my new haircut. We use that word loosely in every other sentence. I suggest we become more creative when describing our relationships to inanimate objects like ice cream and cars.
There’s no better time than Valentine’s Day to take a look at what God says about love.
The New Testament was written in Greek. Unlike the English language, Greek boasts various types of love.
Agape is the highest form of love. It’s the one most often used in the New Testament because it describes God’s love. Interestingly, it wasn’t used as often in greater Greek culture. Agape is the biblical understanding of the unique nature of God.
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16, NLT
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.1 John 3:16
So now I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have love you you should love each other.John 13:34
Phileos is a type of love which describes friendships, warm affection and family relationships. Jesus used this word to describe his friendship with Lazarus.
Storge is related to phileos; it references devoted love for family members.
Eros is physical or sexual love. Although the word isn’t found in the New Testament, its meaning is exemplified in biblical references to marriage.
Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.Hebrews 13:4
Agape expresses God’s immeasurable love for humans. He gives His love with no strings attached to us who are undeserving and inferior to Him. This love is not based on emotions. It’s more than a feeling or a sentiment. It is shown through actions.
This actionable love is a far cry from the way we typically love each other. It puts others first with no regard for what we might receive.
This is the love we are called to as Christians. How is it possible? The only way we can love our fellow humans with agape love is if we personally know the Author of this love. Jesus, when He departed the earth, left us with the gift of His Holy Spirit, the same powerful spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. By this power, we’re able to love unreservedly as God calls us to love. We have to get common worldly ideas out of our minds, and take His commands to heart. We show this love through actions. We don’t have to be drawn to a person or even like a person to love them in this way. There are times when I know what to do and have to act quickly before my feelings dictate how I’ll approach someone. The amazing result of acting in this agape love is that feelings often follow. We have to remember how we love ourselves no matter how awful we are. If we love ourselves with such gusto then surely we can love other imperfect specimens the same.
I’ve seen the miracle of this sort of love as we’ve opened our home to people different from us. Close proximity with folks is magical. We end up truly caring for each other.
But love in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will, that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have for other people.C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Now that we know how God wants us to express pure sacrificial love to others, let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day with joy. Let’s celebrate God’s greatness and His goodness to us. Let’s enjoy our lives of beauty and goodness In a world rife with pain and sorrow.
As Dallas Williard says,
Holy delight and joy is the great antidote to despair and is a wellspring of genuine gratitude—the kind that starts at our toes and flinging our arms and our eyes and our voice upward toward our good God…a healthy faith cannot be built and maintained, without heartfelt celebration of his greatness and goodness to us in the midst of our suffering and terror.
My favorite Valentine’s Days are those when I hosted dinners for divorced and widowed women. I vividly recalled my lonely times as a single mom, and I wanted to alleviate the negative emotions they might have. I wanted to lavish them with beauty and good food. I wanted them to feel special.
I want my husband to make my heart skip a beat. I want to revel in my kindred spirit friends. Without them life would have less joy, laughter and camaraderie.
But, the higher love that God calls us to, agape, is the one that transforms me and others through me. It’s the one I want to grasp in this world.
The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the greatest secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity