Be My Valentine
(previously “Valentin” preached 02/11/96)
(34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
(35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
I heard about a young man whose girlfriend was mad at him, so he decided to make it up to her by sending her a nice Valentine's Day card. Several days later he received his card back in a small pile of tiny pieces. I guess that card did not have the desired effect.
On the other hand, I heard about a farm boy who got better results. He sent a Valentine's Day card to his girl, and a little later that day he had to carry some stuff over to his neighbor's house. He was leading a cow, carrying a washtub on his back. He had a chicken under his arm and a cane in his hand. On the way to the neighbor's house, he met his girlfriend, carrying his valentine. He said, "Why don’t you walk along with me and we can talk." She said, "I don't know. If I do that you might try to kiss me or something." He said, "Look at me carrying all this stuff. How could I possibly kiss you?" She said, "You could stick the cane in the ground, tie the cow to it, and put the chicken under the washtub" I would say that was an effective valentine.
Valentine's day probably comes from the ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. The festival honored Juno the goddess of love and marriage and Pan the god of nature. After the spread of Christianity, the church tried to Christianize the old pagan holidays. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius changed the Lupercalia festival of February 15 to Saint Valentine's day on February 14. His intent was to honor two martyrs named Valentine, but it did not work out that way. The people moved the Lupercalia to February 14, and they called it “Valentines Day,” but they continued to celebrate just as they always had. And why not? Why should Christians be opposed to a festival of love? After all, Jesus said that is the law of the Christian community.
The OT described the Messiah as the new lawgiver. Isaiah 2:3 says, "Many peoples shall come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.'" In John 13, Jesus is "teaching us his ways." He is giving us “a new commandment.”
The new commandment that Jesus gave us was not “new” in the sense that no one ever heard it before. Five hundred years earlier, Confucius had said, "Do not do to other people what you do not want done to you" In the OT, in Lev. 19:18, we read, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Therefore, what Jesus said about love was not new in that no one had ever heard it. It was new in that it had a different foundation. It was founded upon the love of Jesus. Jesus emphasized this when he said that we should love, "Just as I have loved you."
The GK word that is translated "just as" is s. It can mean "even as" or "to the degree that." The love that we have for people is to be of the same kind and degree as the love Jesus had for us.
Let us talk about that love.
First of all, it was a selfless love. Today what most people call “love” is just the opposite. Often today, when someone says, "I love you," what they mean is "I love me and want you to do something for me." Real love puts the other person first. Real love seeks the benefit of the other person. That is the kind of love Jesus had for us. That is the kind of love we should have for others.
Secondly, the love of Jesus was an understanding love. He knew his disciples. He knew their weaknesses, yet he still loved them. Again, this shows us what real love is. Those who really love us are people who know us and still love us.
One of the problems of marriage counseling is that most of the time the young couple have only seen each other at their best. They are all made up and dressed up. They are on their best behavior trying to please each other. Nothing is wrong with that, but then they get married, and that day soon comes when all the barriers are down. He sees her in a robe and no makeup; she sees him unshaven in a dirty sweatshirt, and they realize that this is the way they are, and that can be a problem for many people. That is when I have to remind them that in the wedding vows it says that we take the other person not only for better but for worse. Everyone has a worse side. When we live with people, we find out about their worse side. We find out about their moods, their irritabilities, their weaknesses, and they find out about our not-so-good qualities. But the great thing is that we can still love each other. Who says there are no miracles?
Thirdly Jesus loved us sacrificially. His love had no limits. When love demanded the cross, he was ready to go to the cross. This points out a mistake that we make about love. We think that love is supposed to bring us only happiness. That is our selfishness. Real love sometimes brings agony.
Ask any parent. The special agony of parental love is that parents want to do everything for their children, but they know that they cannot, and should not. They know that children must do for themselves, that sometimes the parent must watch the child fail. That is the agony of love. Real love sometimes demands a cross.
Fourthly, real love is forgiving. Jesus loved his disciples, and one of them betrayed him and their leader denied him, and they all forsook him in his hour of need. The disciples were often blind, insensitive, slow to learn, and in the end, they were cowards. Nevertheless, Jesus held nothing against them. Forgiveness is a characteristic of all real love. We are all fallible creatures. Sometimes we hurt those who love us most; therefore, all enduring love is built on forgiveness.
So, as followers of Jesus, we have a new commandment, new because it is founded upon the love of Jesus, new because Jesus extended the circle of love. With regard to love, we tend to draw a very small circle, and say, if you are in the circle, I love you, but if you are outside, too bad.
I remember a story about the poet Edwin Markham. Friends persuaded him to invest his life's savings in an unsound business venture, and he lost every penny. At first, he felt bitter toward his friends, but then his basic Christianity reasserted itself. He took a sheet of paper and drew two circles, and beneath he wrote his famous poem: "Outwitted." He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
The circle of love that Jesus drew for us takes everyone in. When Jesus said that we should love one another, he meant all the "one anothers." In the OT, the neighbor was a fellow member of the tribe. Another Israelite, that is your neighbor. The OT could go that far in love, but no further. In the NT, when Jesus told us the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he emphasized that a neighbor is anyone who needs our help. Our neighbor is no longer limited to our kind or our tribe. All people have a claim of neighbor upon us.
It is interesting as we study the history of the church down through the centuries to see how this love commandment has developed.
For example, in the time of Jesus, slavery was the excepted economic system, but over the centuries, as people became more Christian, they came to see that slavery is contrary to Christian love. It is no accident that in England, and in many other countries, the antislavery movement came primarily out of the church. Now I know that there were many factors involved in slavery. In the old South, the invention of the cotton gin made Black slavery economically profitable, and so we kind of ignored Christianity in order to make money. Many people were employed in the slave trade by the way, and they were not all in the South, but we have to add that was a long time ago. Certainly today, no one seriously advocates slavery as an economic system. I think that part of the reason for that is that Western Civilization, under the influence of Christianity, has learned to set a high value on human life, such a high value that no one is willing anymore to keep people in chains so that we can exploit their labor.
Of course, the same thing applies to the slavery of women. Throughout most of recorded history, women were regarded as inferior beings. Among the plains Indians, women were traded for horses, which meant that a woman was only a kind of horse. Among certain African tribes even today women are traded for cattle--which means that a woman is only a kind of cow. When the British came to India in the 1700's, it was the custom there for a woman whose husband died, to throw herself upon her husband’s funeral pyre and be burned to death. She did that because in their view she had no life other than through her husband. The British stopped that, and every Indian woman today owes them a vote of thanks.
In first century Palestine, a woman was regarded as the property first of her family, then of her husband, and so we have verses like I Timothy 2:11-12 which says, "Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She is to keep silent." That pretty much sums up the first century view toward women.
However, that was not generally the view of Western society, even in the first century. Even in ancient times, women were treated better in Western society than in any other society. For example, among the ancient Celts, women inherited the property, men did not. When this western society became Christianized, and Christian love began to percolate through that society, a different attitude developed toward women. This began to be noticed in the west during the Middle Ages. It was expressed in particular by the idea of romantic love. Romantic love is the idea that a specific man and a specific woman should fall in love and get married. Romantic love is so much a part of our society that we do not realize what a radical and recent idea it is. Now men and women have always fallen in love, but no other society ever recognized that love was a reason to get married. In most societies, marriage has always been, and still is, arranged by the family. As soon as the girl reached adolescence, around age 13 or 14, she was married off, perhaps to someone that she had never met. We see an example of this in Genesis when Abraham sends his servant to get a wife for Isaac. The servant goes to the family of Rebekah and talks to them about it. Now the family did ask Rebekah if she would go along with this marriage, and she did agree to it, but there was no question of love at that point. Rebekah and Isaac learned to love each other later, after they were married.
That was the usual way things were done. But in Western society we came to realize that the woman is the equal of man, and Christian love commands that she be treated as the equal of man, and so we developed a different view of marriage. We said that the woman and the man ought to choose each other, that their marriage ought to be based on their love for each other.
Now if you pick your verses out of the Bible, you can justify the slavery of the woman--because the bible was written in first century oriental society, and in that society the woman was a slave. However, as we have applied the principles of the Bible, we have come to see that if love is our commandment then we are to act for the benefit of others, and thus, there can be no more slaves and no more oppression. The love that Jesus showed us just does not allow those anti-people attitudes.
Let us conclude then. I once heard a story about two preachers. One preacher said, I love people because Jesus loved people. The other preacher said, I love Jesus because Jesus loved people. Now they got into a deep theological argument, but the argument was pointless--Because the love of Jesus and the love of people is the same love. No one can love Jesus who does not love people, and surely, anyone who loves people will love and honor the one who taught us to love others.
It may be that in John 13:34-35 Jesus told his disciples to love one another, because they had been bickering among themselves. It is almost like Jesus is saying to them, "If you really understood why I am here, you would not be arguing with one another and putting one another down. If you understood that I love you, you would love each other."
Then he adds, this is how people will recognize that you are my people--by your love. In other words, Jesus said if someone were to come into this church, or any church. How would they recognize it as a Christian church? By our love. The opposite side of that coin is that no love means no church. A church may have all kinds of liturgy and tradition, all kinds of theology and creeds, all the people may affirm all the right doctrines, but if there is no love, it is not a Christian church. Let us make sure this is a Christian church.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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