February is traditionally the season for love and romance, with Valentine’s Day on the 14th being the primary focus for cards, flowers and chocolates. If you haven’t already booked a table for a romantic meal for two by now you’d better get a move on because restaurants are generally heavily oversubscribed that evening.
Sadly for many all this focus on romantic love simply reinforces the pain they feel because they feel left out, having no one to share it with. Others, more cynically, just view it as an opportunism by the industries who make money from the increased sales.
But what is love anyway? Shouldn’t true love find its expression 365 days a year rather than just one?
I am often amazed by the richness of the English language and how extensive the English lexicon is. Developed over thousands of years, and borrowing heavily from diverse international sources the dictionary of English words is one of the largest of any modern language. It is surprising then that the simple word ‘love’ is used in so many different ways. Clearly the statement I love chocolate is very different from saying I love my wife. But we could go on, my love for my children is different again, which is different from saying I love travel. Although there are synonyms which can be used to convey a degree of emphasis even these can be applied in many different contexts.
The first century Christians primarily used Greek as, like English today, it was the language that crossed the boundaries for international trade and business. The writers of the New Testament used four quite distinct words for love: Storgē – family affection, the kind of love we see between parents and children or between siblings; Phileō – friendship, the kind of love we see between friends; Eros – romantic love, the kind of love we see between lovers; Agapē – divine love, the kind of love that God expresses towards people.
It is this latter kind of love that I wish to focus on briefly. The word agapē itself is used rarely outside the bible yet is used approximately 320 times in the New Testament. It describes a love that originates from God’s nature rather than from the merit or worth of the person being loved. It is a love that keeps on loving even when the loved one is unresponsive and unlovely. It is unconditional, sacrificial love.
Paul sums this love up in this way: ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8) A modern writer has expressed it like this: ‘Nothing I can do will make God love me, nothing I can do will make God love me less’. This is the essence of the Christian message. None of us will ever be good enough to deserve God’s favour. Consequently we all need the mercy that comes from his love. Yet none of us will ever be so bad as to be beyond his grace. However, unless we actively respond to his offer of love we forfeit its benefits. Like a cheque which is worthless until it is presented to the bank, God’s agapē love does us no good until we admit we are sinners and receive the mercy and forgiveness that are the outward expressions of it.
Whether you receive any Valentine’s Day cards or gifts this year or not don’t miss out on the greatest love gift in eternity – God’s agapē love in Jesus.