I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone (guys, I am talking to you), but Valentine’s Day was this week. It’s a day we associate with the word love, but I really wonder if we even know what the word means. We use it in so many ways, from “I love my wife” to “I love my job” to “I love my dog” to “I love pizza.”
I didn’t come from a loving, affectionate home, so it was very hard for me to express love and receive love. It certainly was difficult for me to use the word love.
A lot of people don’t want to make themselves vulnerable to love, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in his book “The Four Loves.” “Love anything,” Lewis wrote, “and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
When you love someone, you can be hurt, which reminds me of an episode from “The Simpsons.” It was Valentine’s Day, and no one at school had given a valentine to a little boy named Ralph. He was feeling very sad, so Lisa Simpson had some sympathy for him. She gave him a valentine with a picture of a train and the caption “I choo-choo-choose you.” Ralph was very moved by that. In fact, he thought Lisa was in love with him. But Lisa really wasn’t in love with Ralph. She just wanted to be kind.
Lisa’s valentine would make a great theological statement: God choo-choo-chooses you. He did, and he does. He chooses you not out of mere sympathy but out of his love for you. God said in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (31:3 NKJV).
This love God has for you goes back further than you could ever imagine. God, in his great love, chose you to be his child. God personally chose and loved you as though you were the only person on earth. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16 NKJV).
Do you think that God the Father loves God the Son? Yes, I’m sure he does. But here’s something we ought to consider. God loves us as much as he loves his own son, because Jesus said in his prayer to God the Father, “That the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:23 NKJV).
God showed his love toward us in a tangible way. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NKJV).
And we have these words from Jesus in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV).
It is one thing to know that God loves the world, and we are thankful for that. But God loves you. The apostle Paul personalized it: “The life which I now live … I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NKJV). Yes, God loves the world, but he also loves you.
No matter what you are going through, nothing will ever separate you from God’s love, and nothing will ever stop God from loving you. Again Paul said, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39 NKJV).
God loves us, and we should love him. Why? Because he first loved us, the Bible says (see 1 John 4:19). The more I know about the awesome love of God for me, the more it will cause me to want to respond in kind and to love him back.
But what does it mean to love God?
On one occasion the religious leaders came to Jesus with a trap of sorts. They said, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36 NKJV).
In response, he told us how to love God and what that actually means: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (verses 37–40 NKJV).
Loose paraphrase: “Guys, instead of trying to focus on all of these rules, try this: Just love God. If you love God as you ought to, then everything will fall into its proper place.”
Jesus got to the heart of the matter: we are to love God with every part of our being. And if we really love God in the way the Bible tells us to love God, then we will want to do what pleases him.
The bottom line is that our love for God needs to be emotive and intelligent. One doesn’t cancel out the other. We need to love God with our emotions and our intellect. We need to love God with our strength. We need to love God with our time and resources. We need to love God with everything that we have. That is what it means to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind.
If we get this right, then everything will find its proper place. We start there.