I am what my husband would call “gushy.” I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic. I’d say that I express my love for my husband completely and fully. He may doubt my desire for perhaps a clean car, but I can confidently say he doesn’t doubt that I am in love with him.
My expression, though, goes beyond the four walls of my home. God has given me a real love for people. You know; the ones of us made in His image. The people he loved so much that he sent his only son to die for. God really loves people and I find myself desiring, though falling short, to love people too.
Valentine’s Day is set aside most often for romantic love. It’s probably one of my favorite holidays. But I think it’s a great opportunity to show our friend and our neighbor that love isn’t a word that is wasted on trivial things. “I love hamburgers!” I love my new socks!” “I love the movie Nacho Libre!” Those things are fine but there is something unique, special, and set apart by the type of love God calls us to in relation to people.
If we boil love down to only romantic love, we will get it wrong as we relate to others. I do believe romantic love is one of the highest forms of expressible love for married couples. But when I look at the Word, God commands us to a radical love for others. So radical it includes loving our enemies and persecutors (Matt. 5: 43-48) and loving without expectation of receiving love in return (Luke 6: 27-36). But the most challenging call to love in all of Scripture, in my opinion, would be the great commandment love God with all of our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22: 34-40).
Love God, Love Others
To truly love, we must first know God. Love starts with God and ends with God because God is love. We see this in 1 John 4: 7-8 when he writes: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Love isn’t something that is derived from within us. It is radical. It is supernatural. For the kind of love that God calls us to–the love that loves our neighbor as much as we love ourselves– that must come from Him. We cannot love like that without first being born of God. God’s common grace allows for all men made in His image to love, but there is a love that is set apart for the Christian. And it is also God’s enabling Spirit that allows us to love God. We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
This should cause us to pause. If we are enabled by His Spirit to love and if this love is set apart, we should be seeking to express it and to know it. Our love for each other has great implications. Jesus says that, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35).
Preaching a sermon in 1995, Pastor John Piper recognized that overwhelming commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves:
I say it is overwhelming because it seems to demand that I tear the skin off my body and wrap it around another person so that I feel that I am that other person; and all the longings that I have for my own safety and health and success and happiness I now feel for that other person as though he were me.
It is an absolutely staggering commandment. If this is what it means, then something unbelievably powerful and earthshaking and reconstructing and overturning and upending will have to happen in our souls. Something supernatural. Something well beyond what self-preserving, self-enhancing, self-exalting, self-esteeming, self-advancing human beings like John Piper can do on their own.
We can’t do it on our own. But, with God, we can love radically “for the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
Motivated by a love for God I want to actively pursue loving others both in practical ways and through expression. Practically putting others above myself, my needs, and my wants. That may look differently for everyone, so I won’t list off a ‘must do’ list. But we will know if we are sacrificially loving others because it might be a little painful. What I mean is there may be a loss. The loss may be time, sleep, money, whatever it is, we may feel it. And I want to love expressively through three sweet words: I. Love. You.
I have a conviction to love people and to make sure they know that they are loved. I will fail miserably at this if I try to love in my own strength. I don’t always want to love, but I can choose to. And by the grace of God, I will grow in loving others. This Valentine’s Day I don’t want to forget that God calls me to a sweet and binding romantic love towards my husband, but He also calls me to a radical love for others.
For further reading or listening:
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Part 1 by John Piper
Consider Each Other How to Stir Up Love by John Piper
p.s. I. Love You!