I remember how my grade school teachers reminded me to ask my mother to purchase Valentine cards to give to everyone in the classroom. I dutifully signed my name to all the cards the night before the school Valentine’s Day party. Sometimes there was one particular card for one particular person to which I added a particularly personal greeting.
No one was excluded. Were our teachers trying to teach us to be friends? Was this an experiment in unselfishness? By exchanging greeting cards were we being encouraged to love one another? As I think about it now there is something tender in that memory, however awkward it felt then to send a Valentine to the playground bully or to the pretty girl across the room I was too shy to talk to.
I confess I feel awkward sometimes when I remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
My hesitation is rooted in uncertainty, or rather, the certainty that I have fallen short and I have not kept this greatest commandment. I must repeat the church’s confession and make it my own: “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us…”
I do want to love the Lord. I really do, in ways that are meaningful to him. Is there help for my awkward faith and inconsistent love? I believe there is. Scripture suggests the following ways for me to know and to show that I am actively loving God.
Jesus in Matthew 22:39 connects loving our neighbors with loving God. Elsewhere the New Testament explicitly teaches us to love our spouses, our fellow-believers, strangers, and even our enemies. This is a way for me to show my love for God; this is the starting point. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 5:11-12 NIV).
This is discipleship: learning, following and obeying the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus. He tells his followers, “If you love me, keep my commands… whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” Then he adds an astounding truth, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father” (John 14:15, 21 NIV). If I want to live in the love of God, I must obey the commands of my Master Jesus. That is how I show my love for him.
Regular communication is a sign of love. Love grows cold if creeping separation creates emotional distance. God gives his Holy Spirit to help us communicate love for him in prayer. “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 NIV). “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father“(Galatians 4:6 NIV).
The act of thanking God is an expression of love. This is illustrated in the beautiful story of the sinful woman who in gratitude anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and washed them with her tears. Our Lord said of her, “Her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47 NIV). How can we not love God for all that he has done for us in Jesus Christ? “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV)
How may I be sure of my love for God? By my active and purposeful response to his love. If I choose to love God by loving others, by obeying his Son’s commands, by prayer and by thanksgiving, my tentative emotional response can be transformed into certainty. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NIV).
Happy Valentines Day!