Submitted by Pastor Richard Boettner, Rock Port Baptist Church
I can see that I get to write on Valentine’s Day this year. This holiday has a lot of long and complicated traditions from history. Perhaps it is best to think about what we do with it today and take time to remember the ones we love and care for in our families and our churches. Perhaps some instruction and meditation from God’s Word will also help us as well.
1. First and foremost is to remember the love of God. The Greek word in the Bible that describes this love is agape, which means an ongoing, outgiving, unselfish benevolence to another that is demonstrated without regard to merit. His love is unconditional. His love is not something I earn but receive as a gift. His love is demonstrated through the gift of Jesus Christ His Son. His love is best experienced when I return love to Him through devotion, worship, and faithful service to Him and to other people.
Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5). We did not deserve such a sacrifice, “but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We are to love others with agape love, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44). Agape love as modeled by Christ is not based on a feeling; rather, it is a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.
Agape love does not come naturally to us. That is why we need instruction in how to live as spiritual people, both through teaching from God’s Word and by godly examples from real people. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love – that agape – can only come from its Source. This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5) (Galatians 5:22). “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). Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another.
2. Second, the Bible also uses another Greek word for love which is phileo or philea. This word reminds of the city of Philadephia found in Revelation 3 as the “city of brotherly love,” with the same name being borrowed by William Penn when the colony of Pennsylvania was formed in 1682. In our relationships we use phileo to describe the affection we feel towards others of like mind, similar interests, or shared occupations. In the Bible the relationship of Jonathan and David describes this phileo love: “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” (1 Samuel 18:3). While we may not have the capacity to show agape in every relationship, we can at least aim to show kind affection, dignity, value, concern and care for anyone we meet and demonstrate God’s kindness as well.
3. Finally, we find an additional Greek word eros which allows for sexual or romantic love to be expressed, although this word is not specifically used in the New Testament of the Bible. The limits for this expression are found in God’s creation of men and women, and his design for the two to be joined in an exclusive marriage of one man and one woman who become one flesh. For Christians, Jesus has affirmed this special covenant relationship: “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Although the world around us may misuse or abuse eros, we can take instruction to aim for marriages that are holy and honorable as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:2-5: “For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”
May we use this unique gift of eros to strengthen our marriages, to support marriages that need assistance and counsel, and to provide example and guidance to our young people who will move towards marriage at some time in the future. Our marriage relationships by God’s design provide the best place for children to grow and be nurtured for their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. They will take instruction from those of us who are married, by our example, and wonderfully in God’s grace, they can learn from our successes as well as our mistakes.
I pray that these instructions will keep use secure in God’s love and help us all to love in ways that please God.