You’ve still got a couple of days (or just one if you live ‘down under’) to go and buy red roses, chocolates, a heart-shaped balloon and a card for the one you love. Or perhaps you prefer to let Valentine’s Day pass you by.
Valentine’s Day is big business for many. Flowers, special meals, chocolates, wine, cards, trips to Paris: if it can be marketed as something romantic, you can be sure it will be. Despite the commercialisation of the day, many really want to take the opportunity to say ‘I love you’ to someone special in their life.
For Christians, love should feature highly every day of the year. Not necessarily the romantic love, the ‘eros’ (interesting that that is an anagram of rose!) of the commercial Valentine’s Day, but the other kinds of love.
All kinds of love can be found upheld in the Bible. God gave man and woman desire for one another from the beginning. Eros is shown particularly in the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon which is an extended love poem. Paul in his letters encouraged those who felt this kind of love to marry and express it. He told married people not to deny one another the physical love which eros depicts.
God also created us to live in families where ‘storge’, the love within families, between parents and children, brothers and sisters, is expressed. This love is upheld in the ten commandments where we are told to honour our father and mother. Paul has much to say about how to live as families with mutual respect and love between all members.
Another love is ‘philia’, brotherly love, friendship love. There was a deep friendship of this type between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. In the New Testament we are urged to show such affection towards our Christian brothers and sisters.
All love costs us something, even if it’s only the price of a bunch of flowers, but the fourth type of love is the most costly. ‘Agape’ is a self-giving, sacrificial love that gives whether it is reciprocated or not. It does not have to be earned, it is simply given unconditionally. Jesus demonstrated this love by dying for us, regardless of our response or our worthiness, to save us from our sins.
God showed his great love for us when he sent his only Son to die for us. A natural response, once we understand the huge sacrifice made on our behalf, is to want to offer love in return. How can we show love to God? It’s not possible to see him, you can’t give him a hug or buy him a Valentine’s card; you can certainly talk to him in prayer and sense his presence at times. So how do we know we are loving God?
In the reading from Deuteronomy, love of God and obedience to his commandments are wrapped up together: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God …, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments.” And again: “Choose life …, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.” The Psalmist too associates following God’s commandments and seeking God with our whole heart. Obedience and love are bound together. We know we love if we obey. We obey God out of love for him.
God’s commandments are designed to help people live in harmony with one another. Following God’s commandments is a way of loving other people. It is in loving others that we can tell how much love we have for God. This ‘agape’ type of love is not easy. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives some concrete examples of what a life governed by ‘agape’ looks like.
We need to be aware of times when we have insulted or been angry with someone else. Instead of going to worship God, to show we love him, Jesus tells his followers that their first priority is reconciliation. That’s a challenge. We have to admit we are wrong and go and make peace with the one we have wronged. That can be a very humbling experience but it shows sacrificial love. We sacrifice our self-righteousness, our righteous indignation, or whatever it is, and go in humility to make things right. Only then have we demonstrated love for God. Only then may we bring our offering to God who loves righteousness and justice.
Although God gave us sexual desires, we are required to only express them in the right way. Whatever it takes, we are not to harbour thoughts of erotic love with someone who is not our spouse as that could lead to action. Self-control of such a strong desire really is a sacrifice, but in this we obey God’s commandments and we show that we love him. We treat with dignity and respect others whom he has created.
Jesus was talking of divorce in a climate where a woman could be given a certificate of divorce for burning a meal. She could be dismissed as a wife on a whim. That would leave her without support. Jesus tells husbands (and I think we can extend this to wives also in modern society) to rein in whims of this sort. We should not easily take offence but should be forgiving. (The issue of violence in a marriage is another matter of course.)
Finally in this passage, Jesus gives instruction about honesty. We should speak the truth, be straight with other people. It can be tempting to tell a lie or be ‘economical with the truth’ but Jesus says say what you mean and mean what you say. In that way we are respecting the person we speak to. Love and respect go hand in hand.
If anyone thinks that love is a hearts and flowers, fuzzy warm feeling, they should think again. There may be elements of that kind of love in life, but the majority of love in life is a choice to serve others whatever it costs us, just as Jesus did. It’s not the sort of idea that would make a good poem in a Valentine’s Day card I don’t think, but it expresses sincere love for God in the only way we can show it.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor