Valentine’s Day is coming up on February 14th. The day originally started as a Christian feast holiday meant to honor a martyr named Valentine or Valentinus. Historians are not quite sure which man is the inspiration for the holiday as they know of multiple martyrs by the name of Valentine. For example, one was killed for defying the Roman emperor, Claudius II, by marrying young couples after the Romans outlawed marriage for young men. Another was killed for illegally freeing Christian prisoners.
Regardless of what or who exactly inspired it, we do know that Valentine’s Day is very old and has changed quite a bit over the centuries. Originally, it had very little to do with love. Over time, that became a more and more significant aspect of the way the holiday was celebrated. The concept of a Valentine’s Day being a celebration of love started to really be embraced in American society in the 1700s, and, as is common for things introduced into American culture, it was eventually commercialized with the first mass produced cards being sold in 1840.
Commercialism aside, a holiday celebrating love certainly isn’t a bad thing. Love as a concept is very important to humanity. In some ways it’s what keeps some of our most fundamental groups, such as families, together. It also shouldn’t really be much of a surprise that the holiday has its roots in Christianity given the importance that love has in the Christian faith. That said, the love that we tend to celebrate for Valentine’s Day looks very different from what Christian love is supposed to be.
When we think of Valentine’s Day, we mostly think of romantic love, but familial love and the love between good friends have also been subjects of the celebration for quite some time. The common characteristic between all those types of love is that they are conditional in nature. Whether it’s the love between spouses, parents and children, or friends, in each of those cases, the love is supposed to be reciprocated. One side loves with the expectation, and maybe even the requirement, that the other side loves in return.
There’s nothing wrong with that type of love, but it’s not what Jesus was talking about when he preached about the importance of love throughout his ministry. In fact, Jesus wasn’t really impressed with conditional love at all.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? – Matthew 5:46
The point Jesus was making in this verse is that even sinners and people who aren’t trying to live righteous lives love the people that show love in return. That kind of love, in Jesus’ opinion, is not anything worthy of celebration. It’s easy to love those who love you. The type of love that Jesus wanted his followers to show needed to also be directed towards those who did not show love in return and even to those who might respond to the love with negativity.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. – Matthew 5:43-45
It’s much harder to show love under those circumstances but doing so is critical for Christians to accomplish their mission. Believers are tasked with spreading the Gospel and bringing people over to God. That often means that those who follow Jesus must act not in a way that represents what is but instead what could be. The lack of love in our society is evident in virtually every issue that our nation and the world at large face today from the persistence of the pandemic to the potential for upcoming war to the inability of our government to pass any of the proposed legislation meant to help people.
Our society is not built on the type of love that Jesus taught, but what if it was? What would the world be like then? Most people probably can’t even conceive of such a world. That’s sad, but that’s where Christians are supposed to shine.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:15-16
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. – 1 Peter 2:12
The point that both Jesus and Peter are making is that God’s people should behave in a way that would lead even nonbelievers to praise God. People should be able to look at Christians and get a glimpse of the goodness that God represents. If nonbelievers can look at Christians and see an example of real unconditional love, then maybe they will be inspired to believe that a world built on that real love could actually exist. If they tie the ability of Christians to display such a love to the Christian commitment to God, then maybe those nonbelievers will seek God for themselves.
The reality is that a lot of people in today’s world are lost and looking for something that they can’t seem to find. That “something” might simply be the feeling of being loved, and all they need is to feel it without having some expectation thrown on them for something in return. Christians might literally be able to save lives as well as souls just by showing a little real unconditional love, the kind of love that Jesus taught about.
So, for this Valentine’s Day, we should all certainly make a point of loving those that love us but let us also strive to love those who don’t have any love to give in return.