On our American calendars, this day, the 14th of February of every year, is marked as “Valentine’s Day.” It is a day of celebration of love where those in romantic and love relationships, and including married couples, usually express their affection for one another with mushy romantic greeting cards, with gifts, and sometimes with a nice meal out in a restaurant, for those who can afford such a luxury. But not everyone celebrates Valentine’s Day.
There are differences of thought on the origins of the day of celebration of what they refer to as “love,” some of which tie the celebrations back to Christian roots while others tie the celebration back to pagan roots. I’m not here to make a call on that subject of the roots of the celebration, for I don’t know enough about it to make such a call, and I am not certain that how it all began is actually relevant to how it is acted out in our lives today.
John 13:34-35 ESV
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Don’t Call it Love
Now, Jesus wasn’t talking about romantic love here. He wasn’t talking about mushy-gushy feelings people have for one another which they call “love.” And I am not discounting the idea of romantic love here, but I do want to look at the difference between romantic love and the kind of love Jesus was talking about here, for the kind of love Jesus was talking about is the kind that it takes to keep a marriage going and lasting “until death us do part.”
I used to love to watch movies on TV. And I loved musicals, because I am a singer, and I love music, so I was an avid fan of musicals, most of which were stories of romance, at least in part. But then one day the Lord woke me to the reality of what most of these musicals and other romantic movies were about. Often the man was much older than the woman, and often he was a jerk, an abuser, user, manipulator, who took advantage of women.
This was the picture of love I was given growing up, plus I had a very abusive father, so that did not give me a good picture of love, either. But I romanticized the idea of falling in love and getting married, and these musicals were often the concept of love I was being fed into my mind. But what I was watching, and what I was feeling, and what I was dreaming about and longing for was not real love but a false idea of what love was.
And I know I am not alone in this, for anyone growing up in my era, who grew up watching television, and then movies, has been fed wrong ideas about what true love is. And Valentine’s Day, I believe, just helps to perpetuate those wrong ideas of what love is really all about. For if you are a user and an abuser, and if you cheat on your spouse, and then lie about it, it isn’t love if you then buy your spouse a card, gifts, and flowers.
So, what is romance? It primarily is based in our feelings, in our emotions, and often, too, in sensuality and in sexual desire. It involves the lusts of the flesh. For it is based in what makes us feel good emotionally and/or physically. It is about passion. It is about mushy-gushy warm and fuzzy feelings which tingle our emotions and our bodies. And it is a fairy-tale concept of what love is, something which is based on circumstances, too.
But romance will not hold a marriage together or keep a spouse from wandering off to “other lovers.” For our feelings fluctuate, as do our circumstances, so if you are wanting romance and that tingling feeling we get inside us when we “fall in love,” and that is what you seek after, thinking that is “love,” then chances are that you will not be faithful to your marriage, because marriage is tough, and romance is very temporary.
What Love Is
When Jesus commanded us to love one another, he wasn’t talking about our feelings or our emotions, although certainly they are involved, but what he was talking about was self-sacrifice, holiness, faithfulness, honesty, moral purity, and godliness, which are not based in how we feel, but which are based in doing what is right even when our emotions tell us the opposite. For to love is to prefer what God prefers and it is to walk in those choices.
So, what does this love look like? Again, it is doing what is the right thing to do even when we don’t feel like doing it. It is a mother of young children taking care of her sick children when she is sick herself with a high fever. She hears them vomiting in the night, and so she gets up out of her sick bed to go take care of her children, to clean up the vomit, and to take off the yucky bedding and to put clean bedding on the sick child’s bed.
It is to put others’ interests before your own, taking care of their needs even when it is inconvenient, and even when it is costly, and even when you might get treated badly in return and not be appreciated for your sacrifice of love for others and for their needs. For not everyone is going to be appreciative, and some people may even return hate and mistreatment for your sacrificial love and kindness to them.
Sometimes it is speaking the truth in love to others who need to hear the truth but who may not want to hear the truth and so they may fight against you, and even accuse you falsely of things you did not do, and they may even blame you for things that they did. Or they may try to discredit you, not just to your face, but in front of others, because they want you to look bad so that others will not listen to you. But you still do what is right.
It is loving an unfaithful and adulterous spouse sometimes, too. And the Lord will give you wisdom regarding what he wants you to do in those situations. For the Scriptures do allow for divorce in cases of adultery, but they don’t demand it, and they do teach love and forgiveness, so sometimes the Lord will lead a faithful spouse to remain with an unfaithful spouse in hopes that the unfaithful spouse will one day change and follow Jesus.
But bottom line here is that the kind of love Jesus was talking about is not based in our emotions nor in our circumstances, but His kind of love does what is right and loves others and does good to them no matter how one is treated in return. We keep on loving, and we keep on doing what is right even if others do evil against us. That is the kind of love Jesus modeled for us and this is the kind of love we are to have for one another.
By Ann Aschauer
Well, some folks think that “love” means emotion,
So it comes and goes their whole life through.
Some folks never know that when the magic goes,
If you keep on lovin’, it’ll come back to you.
I was so afraid we’d lose the special feeling,
And someday we’d find our love wasn’t true,
But then God opened up my eyes and made me realize,
Love is not what you feel, it’s what you do.
And so we stood side by side at the altar,
As our wills and God’s power combined.
With His help I could say, “I do love you today,
And I will for a long, long time.”
c 1987 Ann Aschauer
Used by permission