As I begin to see advertisements already for Valentine's Day, I found myself thinking about God's love and how the world has come to view love and in many cases how distorted that view has become. We hear that God loves us and that God is love. We also know as believers that we are called to love God and to love others. Yet too often, our view of loving others is based on what the world tries to shape as love instead of basing it on Christ himself. The overwhelming love that God has shown us should overflow out of our lives. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19, ESV). It starts by realizing that our amazing and wonderful God loves you.
A good friend of mine just experienced the birth of his third child. I was overjoyed by the news and for whatever reason had several past memories flash in my mind. I remembered a moment years ago when he shared with me that he didn't understand how God could love him. He understood that God was calling Him to ministry and that he was obediently responding to that call, but he confessed that there were times that life was just hard. And in the midst of those hardships, he felt he was constantly coming up short, and with as many times as he messed up questioned how God could possibly love him.
I saw the hurt and pain in his eyes. I wondered how this dedicated believer gifted in so many ways could feel this way. It hit me that there are times we sink in self-depression and in those moments that we need God most somehow get tricked into doubting His faithful goodness. It's a dangerous downward spiral and path that we cannot go down. God loves us. We cannot forget that truth. His love is not contingent on how good we are or upon actions that earn us some sort of brownie points, because if that were the case we would be in a disastrous situation constantly falling short.
"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, ESV). Even when we don't deserve it, Christ died for us. And He did it because He loves us.
Another memory quickly intertwined with the first one as I remembered this same friend sharing what he was feeling in his heart after the birth of his first child. The way he felt for his newborn son gave him a glimpse of what God's unconditional love was like. As he looked at his son, he had this feeling of an immense love combined with an intense desire to do everything and anything to protect this frail and precious child. This is a taste of the type of love that Scripture is referring to when it speaks about loving God with all of our mind, body, and strength.
But this is where it gets tough. We are also called to love others – to truly love others in a manner that is so contrary to the ways of this world that people will actually be able to know us by that love. "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35, ESV).
As we experience God's love in our lives, we are called to love Him back and to also love others. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7-8, ESV). Let us love one another, not with a concept of conditional love shaped by the world, but by the example from Christ as He loves us. Going back to that friend and that moment he expressed doubts of being lovable, I had to share, God loves you and I love you. As a church family, I hope that we love one another in a manner that members never have to express any doubts of being lovable – where so much love, caring, and encouragement is expressed that it truly is a reflection of God's love.
Scripture doesn't say to love only those people that agree with us or only those people who are nice or only those people who do things for us. We are called to love one another. Christ loves them. Who are we to say otherwise? I am certainly grateful for that unwavering love. I hope as we observe Valentine's Day, we are thankful for the love God that has shown us and take intentional opportunities to express our love for one another.