Today’s message is about love.
There are three Bible passages to be highlighted in today’s message. Before that, how about some love trivia.
From February 12 through 14, an estimated 110 million roses will be delivered. About one billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, which is the second biggest card holiday, second only to Christmas. Teachers receive the most Valentine’s Day cards. In 1866, candy manufacturer NECCO made the first Conversation Hearts, then called Motto Hearts. Now eight billion of the little heart-shaped candies are sold between January 1 and February 14 each year.
And how about this, answering the question, who was St. Valentine?
Valentine was a Roman priest at a time the Roman emperor Claudias persecuted the church. During that time, Claudias also issued a law that prohibited marriage for young people.
The emperor’s reasoning was that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what would happen to their wives or families if they died. However, a result was an epidemic of multiple-partner, unmarried relationships, which was and is against the teachings of the Christian faith.
One person upset by that was the priest Valentine, who sought men and women who, despite the law, were interested in the sacred institution of marriage between one man and one woman.Encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine promoted, going so far as to perform weddings for them.
Of course, the weddings had to be performed secretly. That was because of the emperor’s law. So it was that eventually, when Valentine was caught, he was imprisoned and tortured.
As it turned out, one of the men in charge of Valentine was named Asterius, whose daughter had been blind. It is believed Valentine, I suppose before his arrest, had prayed with and healed the young girl.
That caused Asterius himself to become a Christian. However, he was forced to carry out Valentine’s sentence. After a time of torture, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution of beating, stoning, and decapitation.
All that because of Valentine’s stand for Christian marriage. The story is that the last words Valentine wrote were in a note to Asterius' daughter. He inspired today's romantic cards by signing it, “From your Valentine.”
What interesting history. What a meaningful example Valentine was of taking a stand for the teachings of Jesus. A stand he maintained despite the threat that eventually led to his suffering and death.
Am I strong enough to do that if called upon? That is a humbling question. But for now, let’s move to two others who stood strong, despite threats they faced. Two who also spoke and wrote of love - Jesus and the apostle Paul.
Jesus is love. Everything He did was because of love. Everything He taught had love as the foundation. To cover every way Jesus portrayed love, everything in all four New Testament Gospels would have to be covered.
We obviously are not going to do that in this message, but let’s consider John 3:16-17.
This is one of the best-known passages in the Bible. It records words spoken by Jesus toward the end of a conversation with Nicodemus, who was a ruler of the Jewish people. Nicodemus had gone to Jesus to ask Him about His teachings. Specifically teachings about being born again and about eternal life.
Nicodemus went to Jesus at night. Maybe he went at night because he did not want to bother Jesus when He was busy during the day. Maybe it because he wanted to hide his visit from other Jewish rulers who were not anxious to have anything to do with Jesus. But Nicodemus went to Jesus. He met with Jesus. There was a conversation, during which Jesus talked about the love of God, including John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world.” God loved the world. God wanted the best for the world. For the people of the world. In other words, God is not some mean deity, off by Himself in Heaven, watching for people doing wrong so He can punish them.
God loved the world. He so loved the world “that He gave.” It was not taken from Him. It was not forced on Him. He willingly gave, doing so because of His love.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus.” Why? “That whosoever believeth in Him.” Whosoever. Anyone and everyone. Either gender, whatever age, whatever race, whatever ethnicity, whatever political party, whatever class. “That whosoever believeth in Jesus shall not perish [shall not perish spiritually] but have everlasting life.”
Does anyone feel like no one loves him or her. I can understand how some might think that. But it is not accurate. God loves everyone.
A love expressed this way in verse 17. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world.” Again, God is not mean. Condemnation will happen to those who never believe in Jesus, but that is not what He wants. Instead, God gave Jesus “that the world through Him might be saved.” Salvation is God’s hope for all people. That is because of His love. His love for all in the world, which of course includes you and me.
Valentine knew the importance of love. Christian love. He stood up for Christian love. So, too, did Jesus know the importance of love. In the conversation recorded in John 3, He explained the love of God. A love Jesus helped fulfill by coming to earth so, as an adult, He could teach about love. Love for which He suffered, all the way to the cross.
How did Nicodemus respond? I find it interesting that his response is not recorded in John 3. In fact, there is nothing more about him until after Jesus’ death. At that time Jesus’ body was given to Joseph of Arimathea. As Joseph prepared the body for burial, he was helped by Nicodemus. Apparently Nicodemus took advantage of the love of God by accepting Jesus, if not at the time of the conversation, then later. How good it is to know Nicodemus may have been a recipient of God’s love.
Something Jesus also taught to His disciples, which takes us to John 13:34-35.
This passage is part of a conversation Jesus had with His disciples at what we know as the Last Supper. It was a quiet time for Jesus and His disciples shortly before the Lord’s arrest that led to His crucifixion. In it, Jesus prepared His disciples for the troubled times that would soon come.
Jesus began the passage by saying, “A new commandment I give to you.” What Jesus was about to present was not a suggestion. Not a hint of what His disciples could do if they felt like it. It was a commandment. It was what His disciples were to do. Since we are His present-day followers, this is what we are to do.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” Love one another. Maybe get along with each other. Definitely want only what is best for one another. Probably serving one another in such a way that the best happens.
“Love one another. Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Of course, Jesus was and is perfect. Loving comes naturally to Him. It may not be as easy for us, but it is His standard to which we are to be moving.
Love one another. Why was and is that to be the case? “By this [by loving our fellow followers of God] all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Valentine loved fellow Christians, so much that he took great risks to uphold the concept of Christian marriage.
Jesus taught all His followers to love one another. Without that, how are others to know we belong to Jesus? What a humbling question that is.
However, what does it mean to love one another? Are there some examples we can follow? Interestingly, there are, which takes us to I Corinthians 13, where several acts, behaviors, and attitudes of love are listed. Acts, behaviors, and attitudes that are important, not only in a marriage relationship, but in all relationships.
This is I Corinthians 13:4-6, written by the apostle Paul.
“Love is patient and kind.”
Patience is, after being wronged by someone, choosing to not take revenge, which means that even at the start of the list, love can be very difficult to accomplish.
Have you ever been wronged by someone? Has anyone ever misunderstood you and yelled at you or insulted you? Have you had trouble handling that? If so, you are certainly not alone. But patience means moving on from that, not even holding a grudge against that person. Again, that is difficult, but we are to have love. That is a commandment from Jesus, so we need to at least try to be patient.
Being kind is being sweet, trying to reach people, including reaching them for Jesus, through being nice.
Love is patient and kind. “Love is not jealous or boastful.”
Jealousy is sometimes translated envy. They are closely related. Envy is wishing you had something someone else has. Jealousy is not necessarily wanting something someone else has, but wishing they did not have that something, which might give them some sort of advantage over you.
Being boastful is reminding others of something you have or that you have done. Reminding them for the purpose of trying to prove superiority, hoping they will be demeaned by comparison.
Jealousy, envy, and boasting are all hurtful, which means they are not love, so we are to avoid them.
“Love is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful.”
Arrogance refers to being impressed with one’s own importance. And hey, when we are successful, it is natural and acceptable to feel good about it. If we attain a position of authority, it is fine to be confident in fulfilling that position. But only if the success and the authority are exercised with love. With using the success or the authority to help others.
Rude is the opposite of being gracious to others. The opposite of being polite.
Insisting on one’s own way means concentrating on rights more than on responsibilities. More on what is owed from others than on what we should do for others.
Irritable refers to being exasperated with others when they do something that rubs us the wrong way. As with all the others, that can be difficult to avoid, but we are to avoid irritability because it is a commandment from Jesus that we love. Especially that we love one another.
Speaking of irritability, I am usually able to know when I am irritable. That usually reminds me to be careful what I say, which might make it easier for others to not be resentful toward me, resentment referring to keeping a memory of the wrongs done, which of course can lead to grudges.
“Love does not rejoice at wrong.” But then another positive phrase. “Love rejoices in the right.” Together they mean love finds no pleasure when anyone fails or experiences a problem. Instead, it celebrates when things go well for someone else. When anyone speaks and benefits from what is right.
All that is a description of love, which we are commanded by Jesus to show for one another. Love that is a reflection of God’s love.
And listen to this, which comes before and after the list just discussed. Listen to how important, according to Paul, love is.
Verses 1 through 3. Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Tongues of men and angels can relate to a lot of things, including the ability to speak so well, so clearly, so intelligently everyone will be able to understand everything that is said. Not only understand, but be impressed by, and not only be impressed, but actually follow and do whatever is said.
If I can do that, but have not love as the purpose of my speaking, I am no more important than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Instruments at the time this chapter was written that were used in heathen worship. Instruments that make a lot of noise, but have no substance.
Love is more important than speaking ability. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
Prophetic powers refer to preaching.
Understanding mysteries relates to understanding all spiritual teachings. Including those that are difficult to understand. This refers to having all knowledge about all spiritual things and how to accomplish each one.
If I someday attain so much faith there is nothing I cannot do. If I have all that, but have not love - if I do not use prophetic powers and understanding and faith to promote love - then I am nothing. Yes, other people might be impressed, but God will not be pleased.
“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Give away relates to charity. To giving help to the poor. All that I have means giving away everything to help those in need.
Delivering my body to be burned means being a martyr.
If I am strong enough to do either of those things, but have not love - if I do either to satisfy my own pride rather than because of love for others and for the cause of Christ - then I gain nothing. Nothing spiritual.
Speaking well, having understanding, knowledge, and faith, being charitable and spiritually loyal are all, of course, important. But more important is love. Love is to be the reason we do anything.
Then after the list describing love is this teaching. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It allows relationships to stay strong, even in difficult times. It promotes encouraging others to do and be even better. It helps give a spirit of looking forward to even more strength in relationships. It fosters joy. The joy of knowing the relationship will be lasting.
And this. “Love never ends.” We know that is true about God’s love for us. What a challenge for our love for each other.
Other things will end, including preaching and knowledge, but not love. God’s love will not end. Our love should not end. In fact, only three things, according to the last verse of I Corinthians 13, will last. “Faith, hope, and love.” As it is recorded, “the greatest of these is love.”
Paul knew the importance of love. He even described what love is.
Jesus knew the importance of love. He gave a commandment for His people to love one another. Such love is proof to the world that His people belong to Him.
Valentine knew the importance of love.
Thinking of all three, these thoughts.
There do come times when you have to lay your life on the line for what you believe. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do that, even to the point of death.
Therefore, before you enter into a Christian marriage or a Christian friendship, you want some sense of God in your life so it will be easier to maintain your commitment and, in marriage, your vows.
And do not be surprised if the gushing feeling you have for someone changes to something less gushing. What will come is more maturity.
Are you ready to love? Am I? Let’s work on that together, knowing God loves us. Let’s love, not so Valentine will be pleased. Not so the apostle Paul will be pleased, but so Jesus will be pleased as we fulfill His commandment to love.
Today’s closing song is Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire. The first two verses summarize the first part of I Corinthians 13. The third verse is an invitation - let’s sing it that way - that the Holy Spirit will help us to love in everything we do.
Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.
Come Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship and are freed.
Two more bits of love trivia.
The most fantastic physical gift of love is the Taj Mahal in India. It was built by Emperor Shahjahan as a memorial to his wife.
In the 1800’s, doctors commonly advised their heartbroken patients to eat chocolate, claiming it would soothe their pain.
While a huge building for any of us would be impressive, and while I certainly agree chocolate is soothing, at least until the scales are looked at, there are better ways to show love. Such as following the descriptions of love in I Corinthians 13. Following them in loving one another, knowing such love will be proof to the world we belong to Jesus. Which will honor God, who loves us so much He gave Jesus so we can have everlasting life.
Let’s love. Amen.