Today on the eve of St. Valentine’s day I would be remiss not to post something on romantic love. If you take the time to look at the history behind the day, it is just as scandalous as Halloween or Christmas. According to this article, Valentine’s Day was preceded by an ancient pre-Roman pagan festival held on the 13th-15th of February called Lupercalia. This festival was related to fertility and involved sacrificing a goat for fertility and a dog for purity in the mouth of a sacred cave. Then they would skin the goat, cut the hide into strips, dip the strips into the sacrificial blood, and then smack women and crop fields with the blood soaked hide to ensure fertility. I’ll take a box of conversation hearts over that any day! Then to cap off the festivities the names of the available young ladies would be put into a bowl to be drawn out by the eligible bachelors and the newly formed couple would then cohabitate for the next year, apparently with marriage and children often being the result of these unions. Go ahead and take time right now to thank God for your over intrusive grandmother and E-Harmony because those are both much better than the draw-your-name-out-of-the-hat method the pagans employed.
Skip forward in history to 496 AD, and in an effort by Pope Gelasius I to eliminate this disturbing tradition, a new holiday is born. This is also where it begins to get more confusing because there are at least 3 different saints from 3 different regions and times that all bear the venerated name of Valentine. It is because of this confusion that in 1969 the Roman Catholic church led by Pope Paul VI removed the St. Valentines Day Feast from the General Roman Calendar. Does it strike anyone else as fitting that a day dedicated to celebrating love has so much confusion embedded into it’s history?
Love, of course, is something that we all desperately need, even the Beetles said so. When this simple song was written it wasn't simply a bunch of hippie rockers trying to make a buck. They tried to write a song that would be universally true no matter what culture you came from. If record sales are any indicator, they succeeded. This isn't just opinion, the terribly heart wrenching studies done by Harry Harlow in the 1950s and 1960s would support the statement that love is one of our primary needs. We need love in order to thrive or even to survive in some cases. To say as John Lennon sang that “all you need is love” isn’t just some hippie hype job, it is the truth.
Of course to most Christians this isn’t news at all, we are familiar with 1 John 4:8 which tells us that “God is love.” and with Genesis 1:26 where we see that this God who is Love formed humanity in his image. The reality is that mankind’s sin has fouled that image up, but our fallenness only exacerbates our undeniable need for love. The need, though, isn’t the problem. It is all the fouled up ways we go about trying to fulfill that need, both inside and outside of marriage, that cause us trouble. Take for instance the problem of the “broken picker”.
We all know someone with this particular affliction, or perhaps we have our own experiences with this as well. It is identified by the consistent choice to pick someone who simply doesn’t possess the qualities that typically identify marriage material. Often times a deep insecurity belies this problem and rather than waiting for the right person to come along, they pursue who ever seems convenient. Often they don’t really have an idea of what qualities they are looking for in a mate and simply haven’t spent any time trying to determine what the nonnegotiable characteristics of a spouse might be. I recently had the opportunity to talk with a couple in premarital counseling who both wrote down and prayed over a very specific list of qualities they felt had to be there for them to enter into marriage. They shared that list with people who they cared for and who cared for them, and they prayed that God would bring that person into their lives. No, it wasn’t a shallow list that included hair color, body type, and financial statements. Instead it was character traits, behavioral patterns, relational priorities, and spiritual depth that concerned them. In turn upon their very first conversations, their lists were on their minds, and they began to ask questions that would reveal if that person possessed the qualities that they had held so dear. When they found each other and they found out more about each other they discovered the person who God had brought into their lives was exactly the person they had been praying for. Incidentally, on the marriage inventory I use for all my couple’s counseling, they scored the highest scores in every area of relational vitality I have ever seen. For each of them it was worth the wait to pick the right one.
I am rather fond of this method because I too had a list, and my wife was then, and is now, still the perfect woman for me, uniquely able to put up with my quirks and also able to be the perfect helpmate to me as we pursue the call to ministry that God has placed on our lives. I can remember though when a friend in college found my list and the agony that came as he teased me for having such lofty expectations for my dating life. Long story short, he’s single and I am living the dream! Prayer works, and I believe God does have a plan for this area of your life. Making a list of character traits for your future spouse to pray over probably will never make the cover of Cosmo or GQ, but then again they are trying to sell magazines not guide you into good relational choices. But God is.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
-Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)
Then again there are the people who make the fallacious choice to base a life altering decision on a feeling that can usually be boiled down to base physical attraction or simple acceptance. How many chick flicks have I had to sit through that hinged on that magical kiss to confirm “true love”? I honestly don’t wish to down play physical attraction, it does have it’s place, but it is simply too easy to allow that attraction to morph into lust, especially when biblical sexual boundaries aren’t observed. When couples cross physical boundaries early in the relationship the tendency is that the talking and getting to know one another that typically takes place stops. Those conversations and experiences that would reveal potential problems either doesn’t happen or does so only partly, but because of the power of the physical connection, it is difficult to notice until your a few months into the relationship and you realize things you had never seen before. There is a reason God instructs us to wait.
Don't excite love, don't stir it up, until the time is ripe—and you're ready.
-Song of Solomon 2:7 (Message)
For a great article on why we should wait by Allison Vesterfelt click here.
True love isn’t defined by any one specific action or feeling but by consistently placing another before yourself, and that doesn’t always feel good. Jesus himself said,
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Love in it’s truest, most authentic form, is all about self sacrifice. This truth is the essence of the Gospel, that God sent Jesus to die in our place that we might have salvation. That choice was driven by a deep sacrificial love and it is also how the Apostle Paul instructed men to behave in relation to their wives.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...”
The responsibility of placing your spouse above yourself isn’t only relegated to husbands though, in verse 22 wives are asked to submit to the loving sacrificial leading of their husbands. Too many times opponents of the Bible and the church have used this verse to say the Bible is oppressive to women, but they miss the point because in verse 21 Paul clearly commands us to submit to one another. Those who use this verse to justify their misogyny flat out do not understand the Bible and need to take a closer look at how Jesus related to women throughout his ministry. The point regarding marriage though is this; I have never seen a couple committed to loving each other in the manner expressed in Ephesians 5 that is headed for divorce, indeed it is quite the opposite.
Love is more than a feeling or even a set of vows we take. It is expressed in how we relate to one another in the everyday aspects of our lives. In the big overarching areas as well as in the minutia of life that is so often over looked. Of course 1 Corinthians 13 obviously says it the best.
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
-1 Corinthians 13 (NLT)
My prayer for you is that you could both give and receive that type of love with someone this Valentine’s Day. For those who are still waiting for that special person to come through, may you know the depths of God’s love for you. And my hope is that ultimately we all would know the source of that love, Jesus Christ, in a real and life transforming way. I would love to talk to you more about any of this, so if you have any questions drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .