On or around the year 270 A.D.. a Christian minister near Rome by the name of Valentine was arrested under the rule of Claudius VII. There were a number of charges against him, according to legend, such as refusing to worship the pagan gods Jupiter and Mercury because of his exclusive worship of Jesus Christ. Valentine also had violated the emperor's orders forbidding wartime marriages, an order apparently motivated by the view that married men would be reluctant to accept long-term service in the beleaguered Roman armies. Valentine, we are told, performed secret marriages against this ban and thus forever linked his name with the romantic ideal.
Some 200 years later, when Christianity had become the official religion of the empire, Pope Gelasius set out to eliminate pagan religious practices. Accordingly, he banned the mid February festival to the god Lupercus, a god of fertility and sensual pleasure. In keeping with the papal practice, however, Gelasius offered a day to commemorate St. Valentine, a sort of "lovers' saint" who might be venerated in Lupercus' place. Unfortunately for the pope, more of the Lupercian ideal of love attached itself to St. Valentine's Day than the Christian mercy and devotion of the martyred priest. This fact is attested to by the prominent role of Cupid in the holiday today, another name for the pagan semi-deity Eros, the son of Aphrodite, who randomly shoots his arrows of passion, into willing, if unsuspecting youths on Valentine's Day.
St. Valentine went to prison for love, and because of love he eagerly ministered to his fellow prisoners and even the guards. One of these guards brought his adopted blind daughter to the Christian priest. Valentine prayed and the girl was given her sight, with the result that not only the guard but his whole household came to faith in Jesus. Fed up with the love-motivated evangelist's activities, the imperial authorities ordered his death by beheading. But before this cruel end, Valentine managed to get off a letter to the once blind girl, in which he expressed his fondness for her, and which he signed the legendary words, "From Your Valentine."
Ever since that letter, or at least ever since Pope popularization of St. Valentine, the longing for love has been declared with the words, 'Be My Valentine". It is certainly right for men and women to long for love, even, yes, for romantic love. The Bible hardly censors the throbbing heart of a man for a woman, as the biblical account of God's gift of the woman, Eve, to the first man, Adam, found in Genesis 2, makes abundantly clear:
The LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. Gen 2:23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." Gen 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Gen 2:25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Nor is the Bible scandalized by a woman's desire for the affections of a man. The Bible's Song of Songs begins with this enticing foray:
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine… Take
me away with you—let us hurry!"
Contrary to many of the press reports, God is not scandalized by romance. God invented romance. And yet, given our own culture's obsession with the erotic, to the exclusion of that which is genuinely romantic, we do well to speak with some specificity when we talk of love. And in that respect, we could hardly do better than the words so oft-emblazoned on the greeting cards we share this holiday: "Be My Valentine."
The Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples, "Greater love has no one than this, that be lay down his life for his friends" John 15:13). Surely this aptly describes what we know of that Christian martyr, Valentine, who gave his life in service to others, in fidelity to His Lord, and in zeal to share the Good News with the lost.
Isn't it true, both men and women, that when we scrawl out, "Be My Valentine", perhaps with a tear falling to smudge the paper, out heart's cry is not so much for Cupid's arrow to stoke someone's fleeting desire, but rather for this love which the Bible sets forth not with Eros but Agape. The manly love that puts the woman even before himself, loving her 'as Christ loved the Church, giving Himself for her"; the feminine love that honors and strengthens out of a beauty that is from within. The love that declares, "We love because God first loved us." (1 Jn. 4:19). The love that remembers us with its dying words, even as the martyred saint penned: "From Your Valentine".
Although we long for such love, we will not find it in a card in our mailbox. Many women will not find it in a man in this life, and vice versa. None of us will either live up to such a standard of love, nor find it in so perfectly lived out in our mate, though thoughts of such love should stir our hearts towards it.
And yet there is One who not only fulfills our 'Be My Valentine" longing, but was Himself the author of St. Valentine's love. The Apostle Paul tells us about Him by writing,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.
So our desire for belonging is fulfilled in the love of Christ, who tells us "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5).
Our thirst for One who will passionately and sacrificially love us is satisfied only in Him who for the joy of His love for us "took up the cross and scorned its shame" (Heb. 12:2).
Yes, Valentine was a great lover, and he showed his love by dying for his friends. But "God is love, " writes the Apostle John. -This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love.- not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another' (1 Jn. 4:8-11).
So in the deepest sense, only Jesus can be our Valentine. But in Christ, let us be Valentines for one another, giving ourselves for our brothers and sisters, and also with that special love between a man and a woman that portrays the love between Christ and the Church, For, as John concludes, "if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" (v. 12).
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