Back to the Beginning
While immediately associated with romantic love, Valentine’s Day’s ties to romantic love actually did not take place until Chaucer’s poetry in the 14th Century. Instead, Valentine’s Day originated in commemoration of at least one early Christian saint named Valentinus, martyred between AD 197 and AD 496 for acts of sacrificial love.
This focus on sacrificial love — of focusing on others over self — ties with what Jesus said that all scripture hangs on (i.e., is summed up in and depends on).
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:38-39)
Paul amplifies Jesus’ words by connecting them specifically with new life activity in our relationships:
“And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)
So, loving God above all and then loving others as yourself not only provide the most important principles for our lives but also the most important article of clothing for our new natures in Christ.
A long-time struggle for me in living this principle lies with fulfilling the second of these commands, loving others as yourself.
Years of chronic depression involved a great deal of self-hate. Outside of that struggle, failures in relationships led to significant self-dislike, while comparisons showed even more reason for wishing I was anyone but me. This selfish focus blocked my ability to love others.
Over time, the impact of Jesus’ sacrificial love changed how I viewed myself. As my focus went from feelings, emotions, and comparisons to how He saw me, I began to realize not only the importance of self-love but how it must be rooted in God’s view of me and how He exercises His love.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
Realizing God’s sacrificial love for me helped bring me to a point of self-love that allowed a focus outside of myself, one intent on love God and others as I am loved.
As I Am Loved
The commands to love others and to love self are not two separate commands. Rather, they are two parts of one command to live out love for God, a love that consumes the heart, soul, and mind.
Love for self does not include selfish pursuits that make us feel good or happy, and self-love does not justify fulfilling the flesh’s wants and desires. This selfishness provides only a temporary emotional happiness fix.
Instead, self-love involves accepting ourselves — personality, physical appearance, weaknesses, faults — because our own identity lies grounded in Christ’s unconditional love for us exactly as we are right now. Out of this flows a love for others that comes through in our attitudes, actions, and words as we live in relationship with them.
When our identity exists grounded in Christ, in His love for and acceptance of us, we discover a self-love that gives us the capacity to love others as Jesus exhorted. To help grasp this, think about what’s at the heart of you feeling loved, of your feeling genuine acceptance of who you are as a person. Gifts and even kind acts mean very little in the absence of genuine acceptance of who you are as a person.
Something significant happens in how we view ourselves when our Christian identity involves being accepted by Christ and is not earned by works or moral standing. This creates a love for self that transfers to how we love others; it serves as an example of how we are to love others.
Celebrate Valentine’s Day
With the idea of Valentine’s Day’s original intent in mind along with understanding the tie between loving others and loving self, celebrate Valentine’s Day with fresh perspective. Celebrate the sacrificial love that seeks for the greatest good, that accepts how God made you and others. Celebrate a love that sacrifices any focus on self and instead embraces personalities and makes allowances for faults. Live love that comes only through complete focus on God’s love for us.