Today is Valentine’s Day! Although a bit sketchy in historical accuracy, the day is named after St. Valentine, the Roman Catholic priest martyred by Roman Emperor Claudius. According to Catholic Online.
St. Valentine refused to renounce his faith and Christianity and was executed outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269. However, other tales of St. Valentine's life claim he was executed either in the year 269, 270, 273 or 280. Other depictions of St. Valentine's arrests tell that he secretly married couples so husbands wouldn't have to go to war. Another variation of the legend of St. Valentine says he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, was imprisoned and while imprisoned he healed the jailer's blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he left the girl a note signed, "Your Valentine.”
Whatever the actual story, today is named in his honor. A day to share affection and love. But, what is love? The answers are as varied as the people you’ll meet. However, I’d like to share a few things that come to my mind regarding love, on this, its hallowed day.
Despite scientific postulation, I do not believe love is a chemical reaction. Although hormones and the endocrine system activate in some instances, love is not simply a mix of chemicals. If this were true, I suppose by placing the proper combination of oxytocin and vasopressin in two beakers, we could get Pyrex to fall in love. Yeah, probably not.
Likewise, love is not an emotion. Although our affections towards others certainly include emotions, as we can map them, love is not merely a batch of feelings and intestinal butterflies. So, what is it?
Well, here’s the key. I believe love is both a Person and an act of the will. I have concrete reasons to hold these statements to be true. If you’re not convinced, and you’re finding this a bit hard to swallow, hear me out. Let’s take this in chunks, shall we?
First, being a person of faith, and specifically of the Christian persuasion, the Bible says the progenitor of love is a Person.
Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. - 1 John 4:8
It’s not a chemical reaction or an emotion or even the universe acting on our behalf, but a divine being who is love and acts in love, all the time. If this is true, and I believe it is, we have the ultimate example of love, not just a feeling to express. And to what extent does God show his love? Extravagantly and sacrificially!
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. - 1 John 3:16
God the Father, in his great love for us, and in our weakness, displayed the fullness of his love by sacrificing his Son, Jesus, so we may experience the completeness of his affection!
This changes everything!
Second, love is an act of the will. It was true of Jesus, and it’s true of us. Check this out:
For this reason the Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. - John 10:17-18
Jesus, willingly and with intent, laid down his life - offered his body to be crucified - 1) To honor God the Father 2) So we could be forgiven and 3) So we could experience and express true love.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. - John 15:12
If we love as Jesus loved, it will take a determined act of the will, at times overriding emotions and personal preferences. If we love as Jesus loved, we will be expressing the purest form of love, not born out of emotions or hormones but out of the will, sacrificially. Love isn’t meant just to be received but also given. That's amazingly cool!
So, here’s how we do this. For us to love well, we must first embrace God’s love. Yes, atheists can love. I’ve seen humanists display love incredibly well, even better than some self-professing Christians. But, sorry to say, never as profoundly or with eternal significance as someone surrendered to the love of God through Jesus. You may not agree, but it’s what the Bible teaches.
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
We are capable of Godly love only because God loved us first. If you’ve never personally experienced God’s love, you can’t express it! We can only give what we’ve received.
It is my prayer that today, of all days, you consider the greatness of God’s love for you, expressed through Jesus the Christ and that you fully embrace his great sacrifice. May you experience and participate in the totality of God’s love, being forgiven, restored so that you may love the way God designed you.