The Greatest Valentine
By DANNY MINTON
Holidays when I attended elementary school in 1950’s Plano always brought a festive time. The Halloween carnival had each classroom decorated differently with a different game inviting you to participate. At Christmas, we drew names and exchanged gifts with classmates. I remember Easter and an egg hunt at the Haggard farm. However, it was Valentine’s Day that took more participation than any other holiday. Valentines gave a chance to engage with every member of your class.
Valentine’s Day at school began at home. To start, we searched the house for a shoebox; size didn’t matter. Our mother had bought various shades of pastel crepe’ paper, and we began to glue it on the bottom part of the box. The top project involved first cutting a slot in the top and then covering with multicolor paper, layered with a few added ruffles and a fancy edge. The boxes would be taken to school for classmates to deposit their Valentine cards.
The Valentine cards represented the most personal part of the project. Mother would typically purchase a package of about forty cards; sometimes, they were separated, while at other times, we had to tear them from the perforated sheet. Included in the cards was always one for the teacher. The time-consuming part was deciding who would receive which card. You never gave a card that had two people kissing to the wrong person. The word “love” remained reserved for only certain people. You would give your favorite cards to those you liked best. To not give a false impression, the back was simply signed to someone and from your name. Seeing the cards, your classmates left for you would tell you lots of secret information.
Valentine’s Day is considered the day of love, especially to the person closest to you. The Bible talks a lot about love. In the version I use most often for these writings, the word love(s)(d) appears 757 times. The New Testament uses the word 323 times, of which almost a third are in the Gospel accounts. Love is one of the essential concepts that Jesus shares in his ministry. Love is the keyword in the two greatest commandments. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘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 the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV2011)
Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 spends time defining what represents love. He shares that it’s not saying “I love you” that matters as much as how we express our love in action. He tells us that love without action is nothing but a lot of loud meaningless noise. When I read his words, the image comes to me of a hundred-piece orchestra, each member with only a pair of cymbals.
Jesus once sat down with Peter and asked him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Some sermons make a point that Jesus uses two different Greek words for love. The first two times are a word for true unconditional love and the third time is a familial love. However, I don’t think the word is what Jesus is getting across to Peter. In each instance, he tells him that if he loves him, his love will take place in the action of caring for those that follow Jesus.
The most excellent form of love, Jesus tells us, is the love that gives one’s life for another. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13-14 (NIV2011) Every apostle lived their life in such a way that they gave their own up to share the word of God, some by death and some by exile. History radiates with stories of men and women who have given their lives for their fellow human beings. Many have died so that others could be free. Others have dedicated their lives to doing great things for people they didn’t even know. Their stories are humbling to those of us who at times think only of ourselves.
I could go on about love. The Bible speaks of loving our enemies. It encourages us to love our husbands, wives, and children. We hear that we are to love people we don’t even know. If God spends enough time and energy to make it known in His word over seven hundred times, then it must be important. If it’s important to God, then it should be important to all of us.
Many feel that some are unworthy of our love. People who have wronged us in some way. People who don’t care about our feelings or beliefs. People who are mean to others. Do all these deserve our love? Do I have to like them to love them? Do the people I don’t like deserve a Valentine in their box? You know, every year I gave a Valentine to every classmate, whether I like them or not. Why? I guess because I was taught that’s the right thing to do. Everyone deserves love!
One more point to make is that if we expect others to love, they need to see the love in us. Jesus taught us this. You see, a long time ago, Jesus gave us a Valentine. Oh, it wasn’t on Valentine’s Day, but it would be the greatest Valentine we would ever receive. We open our box, and there is one Valentine that we weren’t expecting, one we feel we may not deserve but shows the most authentic love of all.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8 (NIV2011)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ