“Ninjago! Oh wow! I love Ninjago.” “Angry birds! Angry birds! I love it!” “No, I don’t want to take off my furry ‘Frozen’ coat! I love it!” Zach, Aedan and Maayana respectively were responding to some of their Christmas gifts. Diane smiled at me; she had just opened her token gift of chocolate bars in a Cadburys’ marked bag, “You know I love chocolate.” And leaning over, gave me a little kiss with the words’ “I love you – and I love the tapestry.”
Before we go any further, perhaps I should interpret. Ninjago, the chosen gift of at least 3 grandchildren, is a themed Lego line with stories around some Lego characters who are Ninjas fighting evil. Angry Birds turns out to be an improbable computer game of a battle between the said birds and some pigs, but in Aedan’s form was further complicated by being “Angry Birds Go! Jenga Pirate Pig Attack Game”, involving a pirate ship made of Jenga blocks in plastic, staffed by pirate pigs and attacked by angry birds in karts with a kart launcher… well, you did ask! Maayana’s gifts included a furry white coat based on the Disney film ‘Frozen’ (every small girl knows every word of ‘Frozen’) which she wore proudly, despite her clearly rising temperature and the suggestion she could take it off. Diane had fallen in love with some tapestry cushions in Brugge while we were on holiday and agreed to let me buy them for Christmas; by Christmas, she had enjoyed completing the first cushion.
February is probably best remembered for St Valentine’s Day, a day synonymous with romantic love, although this year it falls on the first Sunday of Lent, not at first sight an auspicious linking. It is a day of romantic meals (at inflated prices), roses and cards declaring an undying love (although I was always intrigued by a card shop offering a ‘3 for 2’ offer on Valentine’s Cards…). As the song goes, ‘Love is in the air..’ but what do we mean by love – just look at the variety of the use of the word love above and in daily use. I fervently hope that Diane’s love for chocolate is different to her love for me. I know we can use the language ‘utterly consumed by love’, but I hope I’m right that it doesn’t mean ‘like a piece of chocolate’.
‘Love’ has four words in the New Testament Greek rather than our one with meanings that are essentially ‘desiring’ (sexual), ‘sharing’ (brotherly/sisterly) and ‘giving’ (self-sacrificing), the last being the love God and Jesus have for His world and His people. Clearly the different overlapping meanings of love are related, but it helps to clarify what ‘love’ means. Even the deepest and all-consuming love expressed on St Valentine’s Day has little value unless it results in some action, some commitment. Feelings alone are fleeting; love demands a longer term involvement. Sexual desire without loving commitment is simply lust.
Popularly, we say ‘I do’ in the Service of Holy Matrimony; in fact, we say ‘I will’: “…will you love her/him…?” “I will.” ‘I will’ rather than ‘I do’ immediately moves love away from just now to all our future, a commitment to love. Simultaneously, it moves love from how I feel about you at the moment to how I will act in the future: I cannot declare how I will feel even tomorrow but I can commit to acting in a consistently caring way, and if I carry out this commitment to act, the feelings will follow. This is the heart of the marriage covenant, a commitment to put each other’s interests first under God, and to act on that commitment. As we consider St Valentine’s Day, it turns out that the most romantic thing we can do for someone we love is to commit to their well-being and care, to bind ourselves in a series of self-sacrificing actions until death us do part, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…
Jesus makes (to our ears) an astonishing demand: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (The Bible, John 15.12). He develops and repeats this theme in the following verses, an interplay with, and a defining of love in terms of commandment: “I command that you love” – ‘Command?’ ‘Love?’ How can you put these two together? Jesus even links his loving self-sacrifice to our response in terms of command: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15.13-14). Love is more about action and deed than feelings and so is under our control and in our gift.
Praying that you may find in Christ Jesus the true love of self-sacrifice and in that love may learn to truly love one another in deed and in commitment.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
You can find the full text of the February Herald Magazine here