A Non-Valentine Message
By the time February comes each year, many people look with anticipation to the celebration occurring on the fourteenth of the month. I refer to Saint Valentine’s Day. When I was a child in public school (an option I would never recommend or even endorse today), each year we would prepare and distribute our “Valentine’s cards” to other students in the class. I can recall the colored shoe box with opening at the top that would accommodate the thirty cards of the other students. Later I discovered that the holiday was a favorite one of “lovers” all around–whether married or unmarried. Valentine’s cards, boxes of candy, bouquets of flowers, and other commercial trappings added to the day’s significance. Valentine’s Day dances and parties are also popular on this annual holiday.
As followers of Christ Jesus, we do not claim the Catholic “Saint” Valentine as a true saint of God and do not honor in a special way this third century religious martyr with this name. We really know very little about this man and some even doubt that he existed. On the other hand, some say that there were two priests with this name, both martyred on February 14, in AD 269. Furthermore, we totally reject the connection with Cupid, the ancient Roman “god” of love, represented as a winged, naked, infant boy with bow and arrows.
We also renounce all connection with Lupercalia, the Roman festival with vile fertility rites honoring the gods Juno and Pan, a feast that occurred on February 15 of each year. We definitely refuse to endorse the emphasis on romantic lust or sexual infatuation that is prominent on this popular holiday. All in all, Saint Valentine’s Day does not hold the place in our hearts that it does to the people around us in the world. (Notice the article under “Questions and Answers” about Saint Valentine.)
During the days of Geoffrey Chaucer, the fourteenth century poet, the English people thought that birds were mated on February 14. Shakespeare made mention of this in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” When two lovers are discovered in the woods, someone asks, “St. Valentine is past; / Begin these woodbirds but to couple now?”
By the 1700s, women in England thought they could learn who their future mate would be through Valentine’s Day rituals. In the early 1800s, commercial valentines appeared, with space for a special message in each card. In the latter 1800s, Kate Greenway produced cards with joyful children and beautiful gardens, and these are collector’s items today. Cupid and hearts were favorite symbols during this period. From the 1800s and into the early 1900s, comic Valentine’s cards were popular; they were called “dreadfuls” and sold for a penny. Today, Valentine’s cards of all kinds are available at nearly all drug stores, card shops, and discount chains. (See Compton’s Encyclopedia and World Book Encyclopedia for much of this information.)
In rejecting much of the world’s holiday named “Saint Valentine’s Day,” we want to make it abundantly clear that we stand positively for something! We stand wholeheartedly in favor of love between marriage partners! We advocate the bliss of marital love and rejoice in the institution of marriage as God would have it!
In the beginning, God our Creator made the man and the woman. He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). He continued, “A man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). The Bible says, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). It was “very good” for there to be one man and one woman, united in the relationship of marriage! It was “very good” that they express genuine love and be intimately united as “one flesh” in this holy relationship.
While we would reject the world’s conception of love and marriage, we earnestly advocate marital love as God designed it! We wholeheartedly encourage true, genuine, unselfish love of a husband for a wife and of a wife for her husband. This love is basically an “agape” love–an outgoing love and concern for the welfare and blessing of the beloved. Further, there is the romantic dimension in which a husband or wife definitely is attracted to his or her life partner. There also is the “friendship” aspect to their relationship, a joy in simply being together, working together, living together, and sharing life’s pains and pleasures with each other. There likewise is the sexual “love” within marriage, a wholesome sexual attraction and expression that is hallowed by a holy God. The ideal but rare marital relationship, therefore, involves a multi-faceted response to the beloved. This should be celebrated every day throughout the year and not simply on one special day that the world has chosen.
Scripture has much to say about this positive aspect of love and marriage. The Hebrew writer says, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all” (Heb. 13:4). Paul shows the lofty ideal of a loving relationship in Ephesians 5:22-33, which is a classic passage unequaled in the Word of God. In this rich passage, Paul shows that a husband should respond to his dear wife as Christ related to His people or His body. While he is head over the wife (v. 23), he loves her (v. 25), nourishes and cherishes her (v. 29), and gives himself for her (v. 25). Surely he will not be harsh, unkind, unloving, cruel, or domineering.
Likewise, the wife will express her love to her husband, just as the body of Christ does to Christ. She will submit to his leadership (vv. 22, 24), respect him (v. 33), and love him (cf. Titus 2:4-5). She will not be insubmissive, unkind, selfish, disrespectful, or unloving. Jesus also addresses the marriage relationship. He pointed out that God joins eligible people together in the marriage relationship where they become one flesh (Matt. 19:4-6). Therefore, while we would reject the world’s conception of “love” and sex and marriage (cf. 1 Thess. 4:3-8), true love, marriage and the sexual relationship is very much in God’s wise plan for His people! “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage,” as the popular song puts it!
Regretfully, most marriage relationships are defective to one degree or another. Very, very few are ideal. They fail to reflect the divine plan as God intended it from the beginning. In our day about half of marriages end in divorce in the Western world and many of those that continue are unhappy ones. Therefore, there are countless alienated, hurt, disillusioned, and broken people in the world. Some have experienced a relatively blessed relationship in the past but the union has been shattered–and dissolved–through selfishness and lust. Many have succumbed to numerous sexual encounters with a variety of partners and have found that what they thought would be fulfilling is only a mirage with empty promises. This is not the way to assure future marital bliss! Others have never found a fulfilling human relationship with the opposite sex. They do not have such a relationship at present, and they will never in the future have such a relationship.
Saint Valentine’s Day, to the people above, is a mockery that serves to remind them of what they lack and can never have. Some, of course, allow themselves to dream, vainly imagining that a particular person is the “lover” or “beloved” whom they have always wanted. Yet, when they face the truth honestly, they realize that their relationship lacks the key ingredients that constitute the ideal love relationship.
There is a further aspect to all of this that should be prominent in our thinking. No human relationship is perfect. Even the relatively healthy and good relationship has some lack, some defect, and some unfulfillment. Because of this, no human being–whether husband or wife–can fulfill the deepest needs of our heart. No one can entirely meet our inner yearning for wholeness, comfort, peace, and fulfillment. But, thanks to our God, we can find a relationship that offers these blessings in abundance. It is a relationship that is open to all, whether single or married, whether separated or divorced. I refer to the fellowship that God graciously offers us with Himself.
Again and again in Scripture we have a glimpse of this marvelous relationship that can be ours moment by moment, day by day, and throughout life–and into eternity! Notice the passion of the psalmist for the living God in Psalm 73:23-26:
“I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Another psalm adds the following words of love and longing (Psalm 63:1, 6-8):
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirsts for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water .
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you; your right hand upholds me.”
Is this kind of intimate, warm, intense, and loving relationship really available? Indeed it is! God longs to have it with you and me. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, His dear Son, we may be reconciled to the living, loving, passionate God. With the removal of our sins through forgiveness, all barriers are removed and sweet peace with God is granted. We may be united to God Himself in spiritual union! In this way, we will be closer to our God than we are to any other human being, however dear and close that person may be.
The personal and close relationship with God of which I speak does not come immediately; at least the enjoyment of it does not come at once. It comes through nurturing the relationship, just as a relationship with a husband or wife comes through patient, loving, forgiving, and nurturing fellowship. We must receive God’s Word into our heart and meditate on it. We must openly and continually pray to and worship our God through the day. As time goes by we will find ourselves more and more in love with the One who first loved us!
Even the best of marital relationships are only temporary. They are limited to a few short years on earth. Jesus explains, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). The marital union and sexual relationship will cease but an even deeper, spiritual, non-sexual relationship with your spouse is possible in the Kingdom of God.
Let us rejoice, therefore, that God sometimes does grant a close and warm human relationship between a beloved husband or wife during their fleeting earthly journey. He sometimes blesses a single man or woman with the knowledge that another person on earth extends love and genuine care that will blossom into the full expression of marital union and fellowship. But let us rejoice in an even greater way that we may have a deeper, higher, and broader spiritual relationship with God Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Through our commitment of genuine love and submissive faith, this is a relationship that will never end!