Jesus and Valentine’s Day

Imagine a television commercial that featured Jesus Christ as the most important person in a romantic Valentine’s Day advertisement. That seems out of place, doesn’t it? Culturally, this day is about romance, not religion. But there is an important point to be made here. The Ten Commandments teach that God is to be first in all of life. The first two commandments establish that only God is to be at the center of your life. When Jesus proclaims the he is the Way, the Truth and the Life, he is claiming the same territory. All of Scripture develops this theme. No one else may be first but God.

Man has always been adept at coming up with convenient interpretations of God’s Word. We can always find a way to make God’s standards a little easier to keep, a bit more doable. Or, we might start with a negative  response:  “Surely God didn’t mean that!” So when we think about romantic love, putting Jesus at the center of that experience just doesn’t seem right. Surely this is an area that we can handle on our own! Candy is offered, flowers are delivered, jewelry is bestowed with little thought to the worship of God, but with every thought to achieving pleasure.

Valentine’s gifts often fall into one of at least two categories. The first is appeasement. The holiday remembrance and gift are meant to somehow atone for all the wrong or inconsiderate behavior of the last year. The second category is self-service. The gift is given to make the recipient appreciate the giver of the gift. To verify this, just consider how you would feel if you gave a special Valentine’s Day present that cost a great deal.  Then suppose the one you gave it to didn’t really like it. If the gift was really for the other person, then it would not be a problem to find a gift that they did like. Usually, however, it doesn’t work that way. You are hurt that your gift was rejected. You feel disrespected, and even angry, at the one you gave the gift to. You feel this way because giving the gift was about what you wanted, what you hoped to gain by giving it.

This kind of thinking is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches gift giving should be about:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  ―Luke 6:32-36

You see, most gifts are given with an expectation of what you will receive back:  Two dozen roses should return warm feelings back to me. Giving a gift on this basis means that you are not really giving the gift to your loved one; you are giving the gift to yourself. (This idea was adapted from Prodigal God, by Tim Keller.)

Does this view of Valentine’s Day love strike you as too cynical? We can be thankful there is more to the story. All those who follow Jesus’ example of love show a different way to live. Jesus wants you to love as he loved. Jesus loved simply and profoundly to please his Father. He is our model. Whatever Valentine’s gift you give, it is a gift that should first be given to God. Giving a gift you can’t really afford to give ultimately pleases no one but yourself. Giving a gift to gain a favorable response is not really a gift; rather, it is purchase to acquire something that you yourself really want.

Jesus is absolutely essential if your Valentine’s gift is to be one that expresses true love and appreciation for the one you to whom you are giving it. Jesus Christ must be at the center of all of life, especially your love life.

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