The end of winter is in sight, Instagram is filled with overly sentimental captions, and it’s impossible to find a dinner reservation at any place fancier than a McDonald’s. Valentine’s Day is a time of greatly mixed emotions. Some love the chance to celebrate their thriving marriage, others are reminded that the spark is gone. Some think that the sentimentality is obnoxious, others wish they had someone with whom to share that sentimentality. Whatever your feelings about Valentine’s Day are and whatever your relationship status is, this is a perfect time of year to renew our commitment to Jesus’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Love is the defining mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). We are not known as disciples because we follow a certain set of rules, worship in a particular style, or hold a certain set of political views. In the height of Jesus’s ministry, religious leaders were constantly trying to find ways to get Jesus in trouble. One Pharisee attempted to trap Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). No matter what particular law Jesus said in response, the Pharisees would be able to blame Him for picking the wrong law. Jesus knew what they were up to, and gave this answer in reply: “‘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. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). Jesus, tasked with picking the most important commandment, instead summarized the entire Law by saying that we are to love God and love one another. When someone looks at a Christian, the defining characteristic they see should be that we are a people who love well, not just on Valentine’s Day.
This is a weighty commandment. Love is not something that comes easily. It requires work and sacrifice, especially when we define love in the way God defines it. Jesus, preaching His famous sermon on the mount, says of love, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:32, 35). Christians are called to love all people, especially our enemies. The word enemy conjures up images of combat, those who would seek to do us physical harm. While this meaning is included, it also includes anyone whose actions or desires will injure us. This includes people who gossip about you, people who mock you, and people who take advantage of you. When is the last time you did something good to your political opponents just to demonstrate that you love them? When is the last time someone asked you for money and you lent it to them, fully expecting them not to pay it back, just to show that you love them? This is the call that Jesus Himself places on us as His followers.
Beyond loving those who harm us, we are also called to love those who do not have any earthly power. Throughout the Bible, God consistently reveals that He especially cares about showing love to those whom the world disregards. When God commanded the Israelites, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exod. 22:21), it is because God’s love goes beyond culture or immigration status. When God says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land'” (Deut. 15:11), it is because God cares for all people regardless of socioeconomic standing. God consistently and directly demonstrates that His love is subversive. He loves those who are seemingly undeserving in the eyes of the world.
How great is the God we serve! His love is infinite and unchanging. No power in heaven or earth can separate us from His love. He has loved us with so great a love that He came to earth, dwelt among us, and died a terrible death; and this in order that we may stay in His presence forever, starting now, renewed daily by the joy and peace that comes from unification with our Creator. This is the love that God desires to share with the whole world, and we are the vessels through which He wants to do it. We can fulfill God’s radical call to love others by drinking full of this glorious truth and actively participating alongside the Spirit to show others the same sort of love.
If we love in the way God calls us to love, then we truly will be known as a people who love in the most radical, brilliant, and holy way. To allow ourselves to be defined by anything else is to fall short of revealing to the world just how great God’s love is for them. We have a wide range of avenues through which to love people, and we need to be diligent is utilizing every tool at our disposal to demonstrate the love of God to the people He calls us to love. Our time, our money, our individual actions, and our political actions should all point to the fact that we love people, and in that love we can pave the way for the love of God’s kingdom to go forth. Throughout this Valentine’s Day season, let us prayerfully renew our determination to demonstrate this most incredible love of God to our neighbors.