Next week, our culture will celebrate romantic love – and our love for chocolate. But the Valentine’s Day tradition didn’t start out as simply a celebration of romance (or chocolate) but the celebration of Christian marriage. Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is about how God’s love is revealed through our love for one another in marriage.
The book of Revelation paints a clear connection between the love revealed through a healthy marriage and God’s love for us, referring to us, the Church, as Christ’s bride. And the promise of Scripture is that, in the future, God will dwell with his people as a husband delights in his bride. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)
So how do we, the Church, make ourselves ready as Christ’s bride?
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us to love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as our self. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always love my neighbor as myself. If you’re like me, it’s not that we don’t try to love our neighbor as our self – we’re just not very good at it.
The real problem for most of us is that we’ve never learned to truly love ourselves as we are in Christ. Until we experience God’s love for us in our darkest shame, we cannot love ourselves, or our neighbor. If we want to reach the world with the Gospel, we must first let Christ’s love transform our opinion of ourselves. We must begin to see ourselves as worthy in Christ. We must learn to forgive ourselves and love ourselves as God loves us. We are the Body of Christ. To love Christ, we must learn to love ourselves as well as our neighbor. We should give the same grace to ourselves as Christ gives us. We must learn to see ourselves as God sees us in Christ.
To God, each and every one of us is a spectacular creation. Unfortunately, we rarely see ourselves this way because we are so conditioned by performance-based acceptance. But God’s love for us is not based on our performance. The only performance he looks at is Christ’s finished work on the cross. And through that finished work, we have become God’s beloved.
If you have trouble imagining a love like this, think about how much you delight in chocolate. God delights in each of us more than we delight in chocolate. He loves you more than you love chocolate. And, I promise you, his love is better than chocolate.