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Service Prepared by Rev Michael Anderson
What is Christian ‘LOVE’ ?
This Friday, 14th February is marked in our calendars as Valentine’s or St. Valentine’s day. It is a day when people express their affection for each other with special greetings and gifts. The holiday has its origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, held in mid-February. This festival, which celebrated the coming of spring, included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by drawing lotts. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day. It came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century on.
Although there were several Christian martyrs named ‘Valentine’, the day may have taken its name from a priest who was martyred about 270 CE by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to legend, the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness.
Other accounts hold that it was a bishop called St. Valentine of Terni, for whom the holiday was named, though it is possible the two saints were actually one person. Another common legend states that St. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. It is for this reason that his feast day is associated with love.
Formal messages, or valentines, appeared in the 1500s, and by the late 1700s commercially printed cards were being used. The first commercial valentines in the United States were printed in the mid-1800s. Valentines commonly depict Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts, traditionally the seat of emotion. Birds also became a symbol of the day because it was thought that the avian mating season begins in mid-February. Traditional gifts include chocolates and flowers, particularly red roses, a symbol of beauty and love.
The day is popular in many countries and interestingly, in the Philippines, it is the most common wedding anniversary. The holiday has expanded to include expressions of affection among relatives and friends. Many schoolchildren exchange valentines with one another on this day.
For many people, Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful opportunity to keep romance alive or to let someone know of your affection. For others it can be a mere ritual or even a sad reminder of love that has been lost or never fully realized.
But despite its limitations, and however you feel about it as a red letter day, it is a yearly reminder of one of the most important Christian truths – real love is the most important thing in life and without it we have and are, nothing.
I say that because it is a summary of what both our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul taught. In the gospels we read that on one occasion a man approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord what is the greatest commandment?” In other words, “What is the most important thing?”
Jesus replied, “The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.”
When reprimanding the Corinthian Christians who were fighting and quarrelling with one another over who possessed the greatest gifts, Paul says to them, “the most important thing you have is not your gifts, or what you give or what you do, it is your love for each other. In fact, he says, no matter what else you have or do, if you don’t love one another genuinely and deeply from the heart you have nothing and you achieve nothing.
So if love is the most important thing and if our lives are essentially worthless without it, what does it mean to really love?
In the English language ‘love’ can have so many different meanings depending on the context. We say we love our mam or Man Utd or pizza, but clearly, we mean different things even though we use the same word in each case. So what did Jesus and Paul mean when they used the word ‘love’ in their language?
Well to answer that question in his book, ‘The Four Loves’ C.S. Lewis points out that in ancient Greek, the language of much of the New Testament, there are several different words for love.
1 In Greek love is Philia
This type of love describes true friendship. True friends are people who share things in common and who take time to be together. So to love means to be a true friend. You know God has given each of us friends. It can include our spouse, someone we’ve met at school, or church, or at the school gate, or in work. It may be a sister or brother or even our parent. These are the people who love us warts and all, who will always have our backs even when at times they have to tell us something we don’t want to hear. The deep relationships that we share with them are worth their weight in gold. These people and the friendship we enjoy with them are God’s gift to us. Whatever else you do each week, make time for your friends and family. Make time to be together, to talk, to continue to get to know each other better and to do things together that you enjoy. To love and to be loved means being a true friend.
Who are your friends? Take a moment to thank God for them. What practical steps might you take to keep those friendships alive?
2 In Greek love is Storge
This describes a good-natured tolerance of one another. Part of being human means we are not perfect. That means in our homes, in our work places and even in our church family there is the potential for us to annoy, upset and even deeply hurt one another unless we learn to love. To love means to cultivate a long fuse and to be willing to forgive one another when we say or do things that we shouldn’t. Whatever differences you have with others- with your work colleagues, with your family and friends; whatever irritations inevitably arise in those interactions, learn to be patient, learn to talk things through, learn to listen, learn to say sorry, learn to forgive, learn to be willing to change yourself where necessary, learn to accept things about other people that you might wish were different. That’s what it means to love.
Who do you need to be patient with? Take a moment and pray for them…
3 In Greek love is Eros
It’s normal for us to feel sexual attraction at times in our lives. We should not feel guilty about those feelings. It can be difficult navigating these emotions especially as a young person experiencing them for the first time. It’s ok for us to express affection with a boyfriend or girlfriend, as long as we remember that the most intimate interactions are best enjoyed within the security of a committed relationship. That’s why God gave us the gift of marriage. As we go through life, it is normal for the majority of people to seek to find a soul mate. But remember that singleness is also an alternative that can be just as good. So let’s never look down on someone who is single and never feel inferior or that you are missing out if this is God’s gift to you.
It’s important that we learn to be happy with who we are in ourselves before we ever contemplate spending our lives with someone else. It’s also important that we are willing to accept that God’s plan for our lives may not be exactly the one we have planned in our own hearts and minds. Sometimes that can be difficult to accept. So be honest with God and ask Him for grace not to become angry or bitter with Him if life does not work out as smoothly as you would have wished. And for those of us who have been granted the gift of marriage remember that love means to be intimate. However busy you are with work and family, as the months and years go by, take time to rekindle romance and hold on to a honeymoon spirit.
Take a moment to thank God for the gift of singleness.
Pray for people who wish to be married but have not yet found a soul mate.
Pray for married people that they might be enabled to keep love alive.
Pray for people who have felt the pain of separation and divorce.
4 In Greek love is Agape
But in this whole discussion, what is perhaps most fascinating of all is that the earliest followers of Jesus who wrote the books of the NT made up a new word for love. It’s a word that they used to describe what they experienced in the life and teaching of Jesus – a life that was so extraordinary that they had to completely redefine the very concept of love and invent a word to describe it.
The word they coined to describe the love of God shown in Jesus was the word, ‘Agape’.
We mentioned earlier that when asked what was the most important command Jesus replied “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.”
So which is the most important? Loving God or loving your neighbour? If you’d asked Jesus that question, he probably would have answered “Yes.” You see for Jesus, loving God and loving people are two sides of the same coin. Our love for God will be expressed by our love for people and vice versa. The two concepts are inseparable.
All of this makes it clear that for the apostles and for Jesus ‘Agape’ love is not primarily a feeling for someone else that happens to us, like when we use the phrase “I fell in love.” For Jesus love is Action. It’s a choice that we make to seek the wellbeing of others without expecting anything in return. This is especially true for people who are in difficult situations who can’t repay us even if they wanted to. This is supreme love. We see it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is practical help at your own expense, regardless of the cost.
According to Jesus, this kind of generous and sacrificial love reflects the very heartbeat of God. In fact, Jesus took this concept even further. He said that the ultimate standard of authentic love is how well you treat the person that you can’t stand. Or to put it in His words, “You shall love your enemy and do good to them, expecting nothing in return.”
For Jesus, this kind of enemy-embracing love imitates the very character of God. We wouldn’t still be talking about Jesus today if he had only said things like “love your enemies.” Jesus is followed all over the world because this was how he actually lived. Throughout the gospels – the biographies written by his contemporaries, we discover that Jesus was constantly helping and serving people around him in very practical and tangible ways. He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he welcomed the stranger and he embraced those whom society despised. Jesus consistently moved towards poor and hurting people who couldn’t benefit him in return. He showed love for the forgotten ones, the people who usually fell through the cracks.
When Jesus eventually entered Jerusalem he made himself an enemy of the leaders of his people by accusing them of hypocrisy and corruption. But then, instead of attacking his enemies to try and overthrow them, he allowed them to kill him. Jesus died on the cross for the selfishness and corruption of his enemies because he loved them. That includes you and me, for all of us, if we are honest, at times ignore the advice of God, we live for ourselves, we do not love God and at times we hurt other people by the things we say or do. But Jesus shows us Agape love- He willingly gave up His life on the cross to take the judgement we deserve for all the wrong things that we will ever say or do.
After Easter morning Jesus and his followers claimed that it was the power of God’s love for the world that was revealed in Jesus life, death and resurrection. The apostle Paul put it like this- “God demonstrated His own ‘agape’ love for us in this- while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Or in the words of the apostle John – “God’s own ‘agape’ love was revealed when he sent His one and only Son into the world so that through Him we could have eternal life.” The amazing thing is, even though we don’t deserve God’s love, God in Christ Jesus took the just judgement we deserve for all the wrong things we have ever said or done. Through that sacrificial act of love we can be freed from our guilt and our relationship with God can be restored.
For the apostle John, it was clear that if we really understand how much God loves us in Christ, then it will cause us to respond in the same way. He writes, “Beloved, if this is how God loves us, then we ought to show love for one another.”
That’s what real Christian love is all about. It’s the fantastic truth that at the very centre of this universe there is an amazing, intelligent and powerful being who is overflowing with love for all that they have created. That means that the main purpose of our human existence is to receive this love that has come to us from God through Jesus Christ. And as we learn to receive this gift, not just once, but every day, we are then enabled to share it with the people around us in the way that we treat them and the things that we say to them. As we live in this way, God creates an ecosystem of other-focused, self-giving love which points back to Himself, the one who is love. This is the meaning of Christian love. Whether single or married, this is a love that all of us can experience and share this Valentine’s day….
Thank God for taking your judgement in Christ so that you could be forgiven and be His friend.
Ask God to show you what it means to love other people in this Agape way…
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.