Regardless of who St. Valentine actually was (yes, he was a real person in human history), the day has become a day for Americans to demonstrate romantic affection towards one another.
As is the custom with significant others, I had in mind to buy wife wife a gift to demonstrate my own affection. Our conversation when something like this:
That got me thinking, “What do other people think are the best and worst gift ideas for Valentine’s Day?” So at church we did something a little different and had some breakout groups. Half the room was to come up with the best gifts and the other half was to come up with the worst gifts.
Some of the Best:
Arranged Baby Sitting
Partner’s favorite thing (guitar, car, etc.)
Tickets to a loved event (sports, music, etc.)
And some of the Worst:
Exercise equipment that wasn’t requested (Hey, Honey, maybe you should work out more…)
Waterbed (and when we split up he took the waterbed with him)
Here’s the thing that bugs me about Valentine’s Day: it’s superficial and shallow. It reduces “love” to romantic feelings and affection. Thinking about love in those terms sells short real love. To use the words of the classic rock band Boston, it’s “more than a feelin’.”
So what is love?
John 3:16,arguably one of the best known Bible verses pf all time, says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The way our language is today I hear people talk about the passage as if God loved the world “SO MUCH.” But that is a poor understanding of the word “so.” The real sense of the word means “in this way.” You could rephrase the verse:
For this is how God loved the world—he gave his only Son…
Love is not a feeling. It’s not about affection and romance. Real love is about concrete action that pursues the well-being of the other. Real love can be costly and is demonstrated by self-sacrifice. Jesus says again in John 15:13:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Man, that kind of sacrifice is moving. It’s Jesus on the cross, paying a price we could never afford to pay on a debt that wasn’t his own. We also see examples in our lives. It’s the marine or soldier who jumps on a grenade in order to save the rest of the squad. It’s the parent that jumps in front of a moving vehicle in order to push her child out of the way.
But it’s easy to act in loving ways towards people on our side and towards our loved ones. Jesus takes it a step further.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
We are called to act in loving ways towards others—even towards those who might loath us. This Valentine’s Day please celebrate your affection towards your significant other. That’s a God thing. But remember that real love isn’t dependent on affection and emotion, which can shift from day to day.
Real love is a self-sacrificial pursuit of the well-being of another.
How have you seen self-sacrificial love played out in your life?
Have you ever been able to “love” someone even when you didn’t feel like it?
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.