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For February 14, do you prefer flowers, chocolates, or your head cut off? Below you’ll find out what St. Valentine’s story and those things have to do with each other.

 

Maybe Valentine’s Day doesn’t elicit more than an annoyed sigh from you. Or it puts you under pressure to have a Valentine this year, or do something especially romantic (and potentially especially expensive). Whatever your reaction to the impending February 14, stopping to wonder what a 3rd century Christian saint has to do with flowers and greeting cards may offer a fresh and unexpected perspective.

 

You might have guessed it: spending in the name of romance wasn’t on Valentine’s agenda. It seems that the connection between St. Valentine and romantic love wasn’t drawn until about 1000 years after his death – by famous English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales). Since then, sending each other love notes on February 14 took off, until it evolved into the huge act it is today.

 So what about the actual St. Valentine?

 Turns out we don’t even know for sure whether the saint we are referring to was one person – or rather two different persons who were both martyred on the same day. Supposedly Valentine was a bishop who either healed a blind girl and subsequently converted a prominent Roman household to Christianity, or he secretly married young couples even though that was against the law, or both. And he wouldn’t keep quiet about the Christian faith. Which is what got him killed.

 

In light of the lack of information we have about his life, what can we glean from this saint as we look forward to February 14, the day his martyrdom is remembered?

For one, if the accounts of him secretly marrying couples in Rome are true, then this speaks to us about the nature of love. In today’s dating culture, you can have a “Valentine”, a “love interest”, or any other option from among the many forms or stages of “significant other”. The tendency is to use the word “love” loosely, and handle commitments to each other also fairly flexibly.

 

However, when Valentine married couples against the emperor’s edict (yep, we’re remembering a lawbreaker here!), he implicitly stated that marriage is the way to go for men and women who profess that they love each other. It makes an important point on the nature of God’s love, actually: namely, how does God love us?

 True Love

Quite often, we immediately connect the word love with a sensation, a feeling, a rush of hormones. Since God-Father and God-Holy Spirit do not have bodies and therefore no hormones, it begs the question as to how their love for us functions (and we can include pre-incarnation Jesus into that as well). As Scot McKnight has wonderfully explained here, the Bible shows us a God who loves us through commitment. God’s love is a rugged commitment to be with his people and for his people, so that their lives would be infused and enriched and transformed by His.

 

So you may know people who wouldn’t hesitate to send a text or a note that say “I love you” to someone they might have met yesterday. What we need to realize is that this is a far cry from the Bible’s beautiful perspective. From the vantage point of the Older and Newer Testament, we can see how God’s commitment to His people – before and in Jesus – lays the only foundation that can bear a lifelong relationship with all its complexities and surprises and mistakes.

 St. Valentine, Breaking the Law for Love

So when St. Valentine, through his actions, declared that the covenant of marriage was more important than the emperor’s law, he was making this statement: that love is first of all a commitment, and only this commitment is the foundation strong enough for true intimacy and relationship – feelings ebb and flow, and romantic hopes can be dashed. Committing to each other in marriage is the way that shows forth God’s own character, and the actually best option to see our dreams of lifelong romance and faithfulness fulfilled.

Another thing we can observe in St. Valentine is his personal commitment. We don’t know whether he was married (probably not), but that’s not the commitment I am talking about.

Valentine was outspoken about Jesus and the need to commit (!) one’s life to Him. Depending on the source material, he even urged the emperor himself to become a Christian. Unfortunately, the emperor didn’t like that suggestion and had Valentine beheaded.

 

Being Committed

Here is something to think about: do I show the same commitment in my walk with Christ? To stick with my Lord even when threatened with dire consequences? How much easier is it to just keep quiet for a moment and avoid ruffling the feathers. After all, there are plenty of other people who would be more agreeable to the message of Jesus – right? Maybe I’ll just wait to share the Gospel with them…

 

Even in today’s supposedly tolerant world, there are plenty of voices that take offense with the Gospel message – and consequently with its messengers (read: you and me). As one of the many martyrs (the word simply means “witness”) is remembered this Valentine’s Day, maybe we can rethink where we stand. Are we more prone to bite our tongue at the slightest opposition to Jesus – or are we growing towards a wise and courageous sharing of Jesus’ message, regardless of whether we step on proverbial toes?

Feel Free to be Romantic!

By the way, if you are in a relationship, by all means go and get the flowers, the chocolates, the dinner and dancing, or whatever your time and budget allow. Romantic gestures are important – especially when you are committed to someone.

But in light of St. Valentine’s example, let’s reflect for a moment: if love is primarily a commitment, then how committed am I – to my partner, my neighbour, to God?

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