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No Greater Love

Happy Valentine’s Day. Really. Whether you have a “special someone” or not, Valentine’s Day can, and should be, a reminder of a much deeper love than the romantic feelings commercialized in our consumerist culture.

I find it interesting that the origin of Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with eros but everything to do with agape expressed in its fullest form of martyrdom. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Valentine’s Day is named after an early saint, Valentinus, who, according to church tradition, was persecuted under the Roman Empire for performing unsanctioned weddings for soldiers and ministering to Christians. Legend has it that he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, and before his execution, he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine.” Inspired by romance? No one will ever know, but most likely, his valediction was merely an expression of servanthood and duty, which resulted in his death.

On Valentine’s Day we celebrate romantic love, which is seen in the beauty of a rose, but it also shares its shelf life. One can give a plastic rose instead, whose “beauty” may last a lifetime, but it shares no life or pleasing aroma.

Christian love, which is the bedrock for marriage, goes beyond our fleeting feelings of romance. To put it in the words of C. S. Lewis:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. . . . You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. . . . [Love] is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when they would easily, if they allowed themselves, be `in love’ with someone else. `Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it” (Mere Christianity, 85).

I’ve been happily married for 25 years now, and Valentine’s Day is a special occasion for Laura and me, like so many other couples, to remember and celebrate our love. But the love we celebrate is not a fleeting feeling but the promise of fidelity. And we are reminded of “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:18). It was this love that drove Jesus to “lay down His life for His friends” and, indeed, for the entire world.

“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” (1 John 3:16). This is the historic meaning of Valentine’s Day, as Saint Valentine followed in his Master’s footsteps to lay down his life for others.

In your marriage, are you willing to lay down your life, your pride, your will for your spouse? With your children, are you willing to express that full devotion of love? For the cause of Christ, are you willing to say, “I am willing to give my all, so that others may encounter all that Jesus has for them in this life and the life to come?”

Whatever you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day (if you do anything at all), may this day be an occasion to remember the deeper love of Jesus and walk in His way of loving others.

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