February is the month of Valentine's Day. It is the month that the world talks about love. Children and lovers exchange valentine cards and sometimes candies. Children go with those little hearts with the sayings printed on them. Adults tend more toward boxes of chocolate, often heart-shaped. Sometimes they will get something really special like chocolate-dipped strawberries or a bouquet of fruit or flowers. The girls in the high school get all excited when someone sends them a bouquet of roses or some other flower. Grown up girls do too, sometimes.
Most men are numb to Valentine's Day. We like candy, but getting all excited over it seems awfully feminine to most guys. Heart-shaped tires do not roll well, and chocolate drills or hammers taste okay but do not perform effectively as tools. If a guy has money and a woman he wants to impress, the jewelry store ads may be effective on him.
Valentine's Day is actually a church holiday, a feast day for the Roman Church and reportedly for some Lutherans as well, although the Thrivent calendar for pastors does not mark the occasion. The CPH Google calendar of holidays, on the other hand, lists Valentine the Martyr on February 14. I am not going to rehearse the history of the third century (the 200's) Roman saint. Not much is reliably known about him, and I didn't bring the day up to discuss a Roman saint but to talk about love.
Love as it is celebrated in our society on Valentine's Day is a passion more often than anything else. It is an emotion, which is something one feels, often intensely, but which does not directly connect necessarily to the intellect or the power of reason. One definition in the dictionary is deep or strong sexual attraction or attachment. That is the common meaning of love in modern society. It is the kind of thing you fall into and out of, frequently for some.
The love spoken of in Scriptures is something else. It is that "agape" thing. It is a love of will and intelligence as much or more than a love of emotion and feeling. At the seminary one of my professors defined it as a love of will and intellect which sees the need of the beloved, plans intelligently to meet that need, and then puts that plan into action even at tremendous personal cost. That is still the best definition I have ever found, and the best example of that kind of love is the love of God for us demonstrated in the Gospel.
God so loved the world, the Bible says. That phrase doesn't mean that God loved the world so much, but that God loved the world in precisely this way, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not (meaning purpose not merely possibility) perish but have everlasting life. He saw the need, our salvation, and He planned the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Although it meant the Incarnation, which is unique and fundamentally impossible in itself, and then the horrible suffering and death of Jesus, God put that plan into action. The marks of this kind of love, then, is will, intelligence, the focus completely on the beloved, and action.
The love of the world about which poets wax so eloquent is something much less and far shallower. The problem our society has with divorce, for example, is a function of love that says "me, Me, ME" first and most frequently. A couple in love each loves the other person for their own benefit and pleasure. I have asked almost every couple I have married, "Why do you want to marry this person?" The answer is almost uniformly, "Because he or she makes me feel good, completes me, and I want him or her with me always."
They usually look crushed when I tell them that what they said is a poor reason to get married, and that love like that will die within the first year or two of their marriage. A marriage that endures replaces that hormonal excitement with something else, something deeper. Love should find its reason in the other person, not in themselves. A marriage that fails, which is more common today than the ones that succeed, loves the other person for what they bring or do to the self and inevitably it grows tiresome, you know, "familiarity breeds contempt." What is special today become ordinary and every day if it is there every day. It loses its luster and charm and people get bored, they "fall out of love."
Whose fault is it? Nobody's and both of theirs. It is human nature to grow accustomed to something, even the most wonderful of somethings, if it is an every day experience. That experience is summed up in what is called the law of diminishing returns. There needs to be something more, something else besides how it feels to make love last. If the love of God for us were merely a feeling, we would have worn out our welcome long ago.
The love of God finds its source in God, but its focus is on us. God loved the world - meaning the people in the world whom He had created in love for communion and conversation - not Himself. I cannot say that is all there was to the motivation of God in creating because the Bible doesn't say that. Genesis tells us God came to the Garden to walk and talk with Adam. It was a sound they were familiar with, so I think it may have happened regularly. The Bible also tells us that God loves us, and shows us the nature of that love. Beyond that, we can only speculate as to the motivation of God in creation.
The nature of the grace of God tells us that we do not have a clear understanding of the motivations of God. He has His own reasons, reasons which are not likely to be comprehensible to us, Isaiah 55:8-9, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." so, we can speculate beyond what the Scriptures say, but we cannot speak with any real authority.
The love we should seek to know, to have and to show, should emulate the love of God for us as best we can. We should love one another by design, by will, not by pleasure or mere passion. We should love with our intellect engaged, not with our intellect turned off. Our love should be focused on the object of our love, the beloved, rather than on our response to the presence of the beloved or his or her activities. We may "love" pizza because it tastes good to us and fills our hungry stomach in a pleasing fashion, but when we love another person, we should be concerned about their well-being and happiness and success and so forth.
Love desires the best for the beloved, and plans intelligently to meet the needs of the other. Then, love puts the plan into action so the beloved obtains the desired effect of the love. Love of this sort is not demonstrated by making cow-eyes at the beloved and deep sighs, but by doing for the welfare and on behalf of the one loved. A man marries a woman so she can be the best 'her' she is capable of being, and so he can be a blessing in her life, not so she can give him pleasure and children and add her income to his so they afford a better home.
In such a marriage, the man serves the woman and the woman serves the man because that is how loves makes itself evident, it acts. Ideally, the man is so well cared for he does not need to concern himself with his own needs and desires, and can focus completely on the woman. Conversely, the woman is so well and completely cared for that she never has to spend time and energy thinking about herself or taking care of herself, and so she has nothing else to do but take care of her husband.
Where do we find such a marriage?, you ask. We don't. We are sinful and self-centered creatures, twisted in on ourselves by sin, so however much we may wish and try to be this ideal, it will never be perfectly accomplished by any of us. Some couples come closer than others, though. The marriage of Christians often imitate this ideal, with love like the love which God has for us, even though they never quite make it completely and consistently due to sin. But such a couple knows that love covers a multitude of sins, and they work also at forgiving the shortcomings and weaknesses of their partner, and their partner them, and both work at amending what is wrong and weak to the extent that they are able.
There is no perfect woman, and there has been only one perfect man, so we look past the imperfections to love the person who is there. Every other love in human life follows the same pattern, even though it does not exercise the same rights and liberties as do husband and wife. We love one another with the great Valentine's Day love spelled out for us in 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Reflecting the love of God, however poorly, is the hallmark of Christian faith. It is a gift, not a merely a work. If you have the Holy Spirit, which all believers have, this love will be there, somehow, somewhere.
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant. This love is not natural or reflexive to a human being. Patience and kindness are hard, but worth the effort for the one who loves. Because this love is a gift and not the product of our sinful selves, we know that whatever good you see in us is God at work, and therefore something we must give God thanks for not something we can take credit for.
[Love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered. It is hard to avoid the reality that such love is focused outward, and not focused in on one's self. It is about doing for the other, not having them do for me.
[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. This is so utterly other than human nature! We tend to rejoice when what we want is accomplished and grieve when our desires are thwarted or unfulfilled, but love goes another direction. Some of us can be like this some of the time, but even those who succeed can tell you it is not easy, it is not fun and it is not always comfortable.
[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such love is patient, and finds its power in God and faith in God.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. This is why such a love cannot be fallen out of. It is a love of will and intellect as much or more than it is of feeling. Feeling will often accompany this love, but feelings come and go. Love does not. It never fails.
When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. That selfish love of the flesh will happen to everyone, even true Christians. They simply are not content in it. They know more in the love of God, and they want to do and have more themselves. A fleshly love that cannot be replaced with an agape type is a love that a Christian should walk away from because it is not who they are called to. It is simply the flesh.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. Clearly, Paul has been writing about how Christ loves us, not so much how we will love. This is just a picture for us of our Lord's love, so we have a pattern to follow. When we finally get there, meaning heaven, we will understand, and be able to love completely like this. In the meantime, we have a pattern and we have a Savior from sin and death and weakness.
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Yours in the Lord,
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