I find it interesting (and more than a little amusing) that St. Valentine, the man for which Valentine’s Day is named, was actually beheaded several hundred years ago on the day we celebrate. Therefore, we do not celebrate love, for which St. Valentine was not even famous for (his “Saintly responsibilities” involved beekeeping and epilepsy), but instead we celebrate death. Quite a concept, is it not?
I have a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. More than once have I made a complete fool of myself for romance. One such day, about five years ago, I went to great lengths to put a handwritten valentine on the doorstep of my then-crush, even walking almost a mile in the pitch black African bush at 4:00 in the morning. My reward? Absolutely nothing, she never even acknowledged its existence, and is now dating my best friend, a source of enormous amusement to myself and my family. Now, five years later, I am increasingly reminded of the lengths we, as humans, will go to in order to prove our affection for a member of the opposite gender.
The lesson I learned on that day, nearly five years ago, remains with me today. I consistently need to be reminded of my own pig-headedness or, for a better adjective, my stubborn insistence to remain in a stupid, unclear state of mind, without a single care in the world or desire to actually use my head instead of my heart.
But isn’t that what love is? A stubborn insistence to remain in a stupid, unclear state of mind without a single care in the world or desire to use the head instead of the heart? A monk would probably agree.
“Isn’t that what love is? A stubborn insistence to remain in a stupid, unclear state of mind without a single care in the world or desire to use the head instead of the heart?”Tweet
Love is much, much more than what I just described, as I’m sure you could tell me in a heartbeat (no pun intended). Love is more than chocolates and roses, dates and dresses, teddy bears and goodnight kisses, or any other garbage associated with this “day of romance”. It’s not the Disney caricature, promoting “true love”, a stupid concept, or other mushy, unrealistic images of infatuation. As my good friend Stu Dendy would likely put it, “Utter rubbish.”
No, my dear reader, love is not about that aforementioned nonsense. It is neither defined nor conformed to culture. It exists apart from humanity, for its original creator is not human. In fact, I would venture to state that love is the greatest driving force in the universe, the sole reason for my current existence. Where it not for the eternal love and mercy of God, neither I nor you would exist right now, and the universe would have been wiped clean like so many cookie crumbs removed from a mother’s tabletop.
With that rabbit trail explored and completed, allow me to return to my original question: what is love? Or, for a more appropriate response, what is Christian love? I greatly appreciate John Piper’s insight into this intriguing dilemma as he answers this question with a thoughtful response of his own.
Now what I have found most helpful is to divide love into two categories. I got this first from Jonathan Edwards, but it goes way back before him. He divides love into “love of complacency” and “love of benevolence.”
Complacency would be, “I love pizza.” In other words, “I find myself pleased by the qualities I find in pizza — namely, its taste.” That would be love of complacency. Or you might love a place or a country or lots of things. You could say you love them because they are lovely. They are pleasing to you.
Whereas, the love of benevolence is not based on the loveliness of the object of the love, but rather your good will — benevolence — your good will toward the person or the thing that you are loving. Your aim in that kind of love is to do good, to bring about something beautiful, not respond to beauty.John Piper “What is Love?”
So, with this particular question, we find ourselves moving into the realm of “benevolent love.” The greatest word to be used in place of this phrase is one of the eight (yes, eight) Greek words for love: Agape. This word is given three definitions by Dictionary.com.
- The love of God or Christ for humankind.
- The love of Christians for other persons, corresponding to the love of God for humankind.
- Unselfish love of one person for another without sexual implications; brotherly love.
Let’s discuss these one at a time.
1: The love of God or Christ for humankind
This type of love could be referred to as the “original love”, for it existed long before any sensible substance did. As the definition states, this love originates with God and is directed towards us, mankind. God’s love for us surpasses all understanding and defies the imagination. It overcomes all obstacles and never ceases its pursuit. Humans are only able to experience this love, although we rarely (if ever) recognize it as such. We are unable to return this perfect, enduring love to its originator, but someday He will restore our bodies and we will finally be able to return a small semblance of the incredible love He has for us.
2: Love of Christians for others
This is the type of love we are able to return. Because of Christ’s sacrifice for us and our understanding of this gift, we are able to love in a smaller, more miniature way. Thus we are able to share the love of Christ in our own, weaker methods. As Christians, this love is activated by true salvation and extends to all others, including God Himself. Although limited by sin and the world, it is a small candle light shining in a world of darkness. This love is our defining attribute, our so-called “Christian trademark”, for lack of a better phrase.
3: Unselfish, unsexual love between others
Finally we stumble upon the love gifted to unbelievers, a testament to their divine image-bearing statuses. Don’t misunderstand me here; humans are created in the image of God, but this does not make us God. God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen to give every human several pieces of His image, including (but not limited to) a desire to create and a desire to love/be loved. This love exists between humans because they are created in the image of God. It is often flawed in intention, as is the previous example of love, but it is still pure.
While the first example is temporarily out of our reach, the last two are still relevant, particularly on Valentine’s day. Because of my status as a child of God, I deeply love and cherish my fellow believers with a love that can only be created by God.
You will notice that I used the word “love” as both a verb and a noun in the previous paragraph. This was an intentional demonstration. Love is both a noun and a verb. It is an action and a “thing”. I would personally describe the action as “A selfless understanding and appreciation of a human’s personality and a desire to share this appreciation and understanding through other action.” This definition was undertaken with the help of ChristianAnswers.com, who would likely agree with me.
“Love is a selfless understanding and appreciation of a human’s personality and a desire to share this appreciation and understanding through other action.”Tweet
Agape love is selfless and pure. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Because of this definition, I hesitate to tell anybody I love them until I am positive my love is pure and overflows from the love of God for me. I have visibly flinched when others have haphazardly tossed around the phrase “I love you” to someone they have known for a few weeks, and for good reason.
The world seeks to twist all of God’s creation and personality, beginning with His love. It will try to paint another picture, tempting you with pornography or fornication and trying to portray these as “love”. Rebuke this as from the Devil! He tries so desperately to change the way you view the world, but you must not allow him such an easy pathway into your mind.
Love is not love unless it overflows from God in one or both of the two previously mentioned methods. Love, yes, but do so because you were loved first. Love those around you with an unselfish, unsexual, unconditional love (and your spouse even more so), and praise the One who loves you even more for His gifts.
So, my dear readers, buy your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse some chocolates and flowers. Make them a card. Take them on a date. But don’t allow this day to focus on worldly love. If your love for that special someone (see my latest Instagram post) is from God and is pure and untainted, then tell them so! Share this love around. In fact, your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse shouldn’t be the only recipient of such a message. Use the supposed “day of love” to share love with all around you, whether family, friends, or church members. Love as Christ loved us: unconditionally.