Ready or not, Valentine's Day is fast approaching.
For many of us, it will be just another day. After 30+ plus years of marriage, this will be the case for Alaine and me. We've made no special plans.
For some, Monday will be a day of romance and excitement.
For others, it will be a sad, or even a miserable day.
Before Valentine's Day arrives, I want share with you a few thoughts that I have about the mystery of love.
The truth be told, we live in a love-sick world. We also find ourselves in a love-starved day and age.
Let me begin with the former. Many people in America associate love with emotions. We see this in such declarations as, "I think I'm falling in love with you," or, "I just don't love you anymore."
America is greatly confused about what love actually is. If we are honest, many would have a hard time coming up with a good definition of love. I'm guessing that this is true for many American Christians.
Biblical love is rarely romantic. Biblical love is down-to-earth; it is very much action-oriented. This is true for God's love for us; it's also the way that the apostle Paul described the love that God's people are to share with each other.
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best-known passages about love in all of Scripture. It is frequently used at weddings. There is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with this as long as we keep in mind that Paul wasn't writing specifically about marital love; instead, he described the love that God's people have for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Notice how action-oriented this is:
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.
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.
Paul wrote these words to the first Christians in Corinth. This congregation was as screwed up as any today. All sorts of problems plagued the church in Corinth, both theological and moral. Paul doesn't shy away from addressing these issues; he attacks them head on. At times, you sense that he is struggling to keep his anger in check.
Learning how to love, and learning how to be loved, are at the top of the list of the hardest lessons to learn in life. Sadly, some people never do so. We can show our neighbors the better way that Paul wrote about to the Corinthians.
As I mentioned, Christian love is action-oriented. Let me give you a classic example of this, once again from the pen of Paul:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Did you notice anything unusual in what Paul wrote to the Romans. He talks about love and evil side-by-side. Love doesn't involve looking at the world, or our neighbor, with rose-colored glasses. Christian love doesn't minimize evil. It hates it. And Paul goes on to show us how to do this.
There is so much I could say about the love-sickness that is rampant in our world, but, due to time constraints, I must move on. There is another aspect of love I want to explore. Not only do we live in a love-sick world, we live in a love-starved day and age as well.
I first came across Mother Teresa's startling diagnosis twenty-five years ago. I believe that she is right. We live in a love-sick, and a love-starved, time. Which leads me back to where I started.
Valentine's Day is almost upon us. On Monday, many of our fellow American's will declare and celebrate the love that they share. But, for many others, it will be a sad, and even miserable day.
As I think about Mother Teresa's words, I think about those I know who live on the margins; both the margins of society, as well as the margins of the church.
Let's go back to the Word of God.
Paul wasn't the only apostle to think long and hard about love. John was another. Here is what he wrote:
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth....
I will close with a passage that my friend Hayden shared with me earlier this week. It, too, came from the pen of John, the beloved disciple:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.