All Loves Excelling
Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, which for some reason has come to be associated with candy, cards, and flowers. Those wares, with pink/red/white bunting to spare, have been up in some retail outlets since the Christmas gear was packed away.
Commercialism aside, today’s a good day to ask, what is love? Depending on your translation the word appears between 300-550 times in the Bible. In just over a quarter of a second a Google search for “love” (without quotes) returns over 3.5 billion pages. Clearly, humans are interested in the idea, however differently we may define it. Depending on who’s talking, it can refer to ‘friendship,’ ‘sex,’ ‘bonding,’ and a host of other things. The day named after the Christian martyr Valentine has in particular come to be associated with affection and romance, although one would be wise to suspect few know why that connection exists or even who he was to begin with.
There are a lot of lonely people out there who miss out on Valentine’s Day. Some are widowed, others divorced or not in a mutually caring respectful relationship. Whatever the reason, we who follow the same way as did Valentine can reach out to them in Christian kindness and charity (a word which now refers merely to almsgiving but used to mean divine love, love that gives with no need or expectation of receiving in return). The late Leo Buscaglia once said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest complement, or that smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Wouldn’t you like to turn someone’s life around? Just as the Apostle Paul referred to Philemon’s love as his source of joy and encouragement, you and I can do likewise for those who need it most.
Oh, I’m all in favor of romance, don’t get me wrong. But I fear if we equate love with romance we wind up with something more vapid and shallow than God intended. Many of us have memorized what is said about love in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, but look how else the concept is defined in Scripture:
Love is better than wine – Song of Songs 1.2
Love is as strong as death – Song of Songs 8.6
Love is the fulfillment of the Torah – Romans 13.10
In other words, God’s kind of love is intoxicating, unstoppable, and the culmination of what he wants to bring about in civil society. As much as you might like chocolate and hot dates, you have to admit that’s a lot better. As Wesley put it,
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.
Finish, then, thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
‘Till in heaven we take our place,
‘Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Image credit: mosaic of Valentine by cafecesura.com, flickr creative commons