Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and the theme is love. We hear a lot about love from many different directions, but predominantly in our culture love is a fleeting feeling filled with passion that can rise one day and fall or even fade away the next, whose target is ever changing as the fickleness of the human heart demonstrates its indecision.
None of this is love, at least not as the Bible speaks of it. In the New Testament, when we see the word “love” appear, it is almost always a translation of the Greek word agape. Here is the thing with agape: it isn’t really used to describe a feeling at all. Rather, agape describes a commitment or a decision to do what is right and necessary for another no matter the cost or sacrifice to oneself. While there are feelings that are associated with love, those feelings are the product of love, rather than the actual love (agape) itself. And if the actual love itself is missing, the commitment, then the feeling and one’s actions often become self-serving.
On the day I married my wife, the commitment I made was to show agape love to and for Michele. There’s a marvelous quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” There are certainly challenges and struggles in every marriage, but God has sustained our love in marriage for over 17 years now. On the day of our marriage, I thought no one could love another any more.
Then my daughter Ana was born (on Valentine’s Day, coincidentally), and as I held that little one-hour old child, I loved her so unconditionally and realized I would climb the highest mountain for her if it were necessary. It isn’t that I loved her more than my wife, but differently. I thought that was a love none could surpass.
Until the first time I saw anything that threatened her even a little bit and realized my wife would bareknuckle box a grizzly bear if it was necessary to protect her baby. That might be the height of agape love for human beings like us.
What a marvel it is, then to recognize that our human attempts at living out agape love for others merely scratch the surface of our holy God’s divine agape love for us. Ours is a pale reflection in comparison to the brilliant fullness of His love.
Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” This is exactly what Jesus does. He lays down His life for those whom He has called to be His friends. But it is even more amazing than that. In Romans 5:8, Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus did not lay down His innocent, perfect, righteous life for people who had earned that privilege. He didn’t do it for those who were appealing, those who were attractive, those who were in some way worthy. He laid down His life for those who by their sins made themselves His enemies, all so that they could then become His friends. So that you could be numbered among His friends who gain the benefit of His life-laid-down.
And why? Not because it did Him any favors. No, rather for one simple reason: because you needed it. Because I needed it. And our Savior dedicated Himself to doing what was right and necessary for us, no matter the cost or sacrifice to Himself – even if that cost was taking up human flesh and blood all so that He could lay it down again. But through the Savior’s agape love for you, you now have life in abundance.
And because He loved us, we can love (agape) those whom God has placed in our lives to love, be it husband or wife, children, parents, neighbors, or anyone else. Reflecting the love of Christ to others is a worthy calling. May you shine brightly with the love of Christ this Valentine’s Day and always.
Peace in Christ, Pastor Lieske