Love Never Fails
By Melody Green
As a kid I gave out valentine cards at school. It was a bit of a popularity contest. Biggest pile wins.
Later I enjoyed candy or flowers from boyfriends, then from my husband. For couples it's fun to have a special day to celebrate their happiness.
For others the day may remind them of feeling alone or unloved, married or not. This month when so many are thinking about romance it's a good time to remind ourselves how God measures true love.
Genuine love must be grown and cultivated in every person's life. God gave us a yardstick to separate the shallow from the real in First Corinthians:
"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 Cor. 13:1-8)
The origin of Valentine’s Day was not based on romantic love or even meaningful friendship. The day was instituted to mark a loving surrender of a much greater magnitude.
In short, February 14th was marked in AD 496 as a day to remember sacrifice and martyrdom rather than romantic love. History notes that three men, all named Valentine, died for their faith, and Saint Valentine’s Day was born in their honor.
The Valentines honored are Valentine of Rome, martyred in AD 269, and Valentine of Terni, martyred in AD 197. The third Valentine is said to been martyred in Africa with his companions, but little more is known. Astonishingly, all three Valentines were reported as being martyred on February 14th.
Sacrifice not Romance
The death of these men for their faith is certainly worthy of a celebratory feast to remember their courage and sacrifice. Many Christians today are being martyred. They’d probably tell us the reality is not very romantic, though it takes a great deal of real love.
As new believers Keith and I often used to read Foxes Book of Martyrs. Something powerful was deposited. I thought, "I'd better stay willing and be prepared for anything." It’s very unlikely I'll ever be faced with dying for my faith. But I'm not dead yet either.
Laying down your life for Jesus is certainly at the top of the list of sacrifice. The Martyr’s Crown is waiting for those who’ve done it and will do it. It’s what Jesus did for us. And Jesus didn’t just take a bullet. His was a long road of suffering and pain.
So how was martyrdom linked with romantic love? Historians say the February date was originally that of an ancient Roman fertility festival. The reigning pope, obviously displeased with pagan rituals, declared the February deaths of The Valentines to be an official church holiday. So a religious feast day about sacrificial love and a pagan festival ran side by side.
Jumping ahead, in February of 1391, the poet Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate an important royal engagement in Europe. He kept poetic tradition by tying it to a religious feast day. Since it was also widely believed that birds picked their mates in mid-February, Chaucer’s poem forever linked love-birds, a marriage proposal, and The Valentines.
Over time the day became dedicated to love letters, small gift giving, and sending ornate hand-made valentine cards to your beloved. The customs migrated to America and today we have hearts, flowers, and turtledoves. I'm certainly not a cynic. Love is totally worth celebrating! But remember, the roots of Valentines Day present a much greater sacrifice than handing out paper valentines.
Love is Dying To Self
Genuine love always involves a measure of sacrifice and death. Dying to self is necessary if we want to love like the Bible says. We all have life situations that make us want to say, “Me, me, me. My time, my money, my feelings, my turn, my way.”
If we think loving is easy it proves areas of our life have not been tested. Perhaps some emotions wait to be challenged. We can “act loving” but God is not fooled. We far too easily give in to temptation. We blame shift to look good, subtly manipulate to control, take credit to impress, omit facts to be right, become stubborn to get our way. And we know how to justify it all to ourselves so we can sleep at night.
We can't come close to loving others the way the Bible says without God's help. But we must yield to His correction and work in our character, and receive His grace for ourselves and for others. Simply put, our “self” does not want to die. But it takes that kind of death for us to do what Jesus called the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbor as ourself.
We Have The Blueprint
Just understanding the roots of Valentines Day reminds me of the deep sacrificial love we must keep developing for each other. It’s the kind of love that pleases God.
God is so good He didn’t leave us wondering how to figure love out. He gave us a blueprint telling us what love is not, and what love is. Parents often mark the wall to measure how much their kids have grown. It’s also necessary for us to periodically check to see if we’re still growing.
Without Love I Am Nothing
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong
or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Big religious or sacrificial acts can mean nothing if our life is not filled with genuine love for others. God’s heart is not moved by these things if we don’t love and respect those around us. Our best efforts for God can be empty and hollow and mean nothing to the Lord. We can’t love God while neglecting to love our neighbor.
"As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
And on a human or romantic level if we give someone a token of our love let’s make sure it represents real love. Otherwise it’s just a meaningless outward show. Our love won’t be perfect, but we do need to keep growing and stay teachable.
A box of candy can be a clanging gong if we're not committed to learn from our mistakes, walk in humility, and grow in the kind of love the Bible talks about. We can all keep growing in our ability to love others. But we must determine to let Jesus shape our lives, and our love, in greater ways.
So go out and buy something nice for someone you love, if you like. But lets all keep growing too. Lets read these "love scriptures" again today. Then review them again in three months to see how much we’ve grown.
Melody Green, 3/20/2012