Though many debate the origin of Valentine’s Day, here in the U.S. its observance is synonymous with love and romance. This week, tangible expressions of love and celebrations of relationships will be commonplace. These demonstrable acts will warm hearts and brighten days as we verbalize our concern for and commitments to others. Some will emphasize it more than others, but the nature of this holiday exposes our abiding desire for relationships that matter.
Even the music we enjoy tells on us. Titles like “Endless LOVE;” “Best of my LOVE;” “I Will Always LOVE You;” “LOVE Me Tender;” and “I Want to Know What LOVE Is” are just a small sampling that articulate our hunger to give and receive love. In addition, popular slogans such as “Love Wins;” “Love is Love;” “All You Need is Love” defend our quest for meaningful connection, albeit in misguided ways.
For a society that prioritizes love so enthusiastically, one would think we would have a greater understanding of exactly what we’re talking about.
Love and Scripture
Thankfully, the Bible very clearly defines what love is, and therefore, what it is not. In what some have referred to as the Love Chapter, the Apostle Paul lays out extensive characteristics of true love by personifying the virtue (1 Cor. 13:4–7). Love is patient, he says, rather than demanding. Instead of jealousy, love manifests itself in a kindness that prioritizes others. Refusing to be braggadocious, love resists arrogance. Instead of pursuing licentiousness, love chooses holiness over unbecoming actions. Contrary to the narcissism of our day, love does not prioritize self-interests. Because it is not easily provoked, love keeps no record of wrongs suffered.
The anchor holding all these noble attributes together is truth. Not an individual’s version of truth or society’s manipulation of truth, but THE TRUTH as defined by God Himself in Holy Scripture. Instead of lies and injustice, love rejoices over the truth.
In fact, rooting love in lies is more akin to hatred rather than love. Thus, the Bible admonishes us to speak the truth in love rather than merely parroting what people want to hear (Eph. 4:15). The craftiness and deceitful scheming of a world hell-bent on rejecting God leaves no room for communicating without clarity. To do so is the opposite of love.
Alternately, true love should be without hypocrisy (Rom. 12:9). Elsewhere, the Bible refers to the same concept as “genuine love” (2 Cor. 6:6). Even more elaborately, 1 Tim. 1:5 calls it “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Why such a strong emphasis on truth?
Falsehood and pretense are the enemies of knowing and sharing authentic love with others.
Outside of truth, people can only love the images of who we pretend to be, which is a far cry from who we really are. Likewise, our efforts to be loving fall flat if we do not care enough about others to live and speak the truth to them. No wonder we are told to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9).
Interestingly, the reason Paul wrote his famous words about love (1 Cor. 13) was his effort to correct the carnal, wicked behavior of the Corinthian church.
He reminds them that love is not envious because they coveted one another’s spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). Knowing that some claimed to have superior knowledge, he warns them about being puffed up (1 Cor. 4:1-14). Due to the prevalent sexual immorality within the church and throughout the culture, he contrasts love with the indecent behaviors of wickedness (1 Cor. 5:1–5, 7:36). Juxtaposed against their frivolous lawsuits he insists that love is not self-centered (1 Cor. 6:1–6).
Sensing the backlash that will certainly come when we refuse to divorce love from truth, with sweeping encouragement God’s apostle reminds us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” These descriptions are far from the sentimental shell that characterizes so many modern descriptions of true love.
Freedom in truth
With this background in mind, it is remarkable to think that God loves each of us (John 3:16). His affection is much more than an affirmation of who we are, though.
While some say God loves us just the way we are, Scripture teaches that God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. Because we only find freedom in truth (John 8:32), Jesus comes as the way, the truth, and the life for any man or woman who will call out to Him in repentance and faith (John 14:6). My prayer is that you will experience God’s amazing love this Valentine’s Day, and every day.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.