Valentine’s Day is a holiday most people know very little about. In our era it is a day to celebrate love for your spouse, or special friend. We celebrate it by exchanging “Valentine” cards, while giving chocolate or roses, to the person of our affection. Every year 144,000,000 (One hundred forty four million) Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged in the United States, (not including packaged kid’s valentines for classroom exchanges), and an estimated 1 billion worldwide. This means that Valentine’s Day is the second-largest holiday for giving greetings cards. So, what is behind all this sweet talking Valentine’s Day giving?
This special day had a more solemn origin and much deeper purpose than most people realize. The man who became known as Saint Valentine was a godly minister in Rome during the 3rd century. According to “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” written by John Foxe in 1583, Valentinus lived during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, a ruler known for his brutal persecution of Christians. This godly man refused to deny Jesus, though the emperor threatened, and eventually, took his life on February 14. Not only did Valentinus courageously stand for Christ, he fed, sheltered and comforted persecuted Christians during those dark days leading up to his imprisonment. He boldly refused to worship the Roman pagan gods. While imprisoned, Valentinus witnessed about Christ and led many others to believe in Him as Savior. He even shared the gospel of Christ with Emperor Claudius, who was so enraged that he had Valentinus beaten and beheaded.
On the day of his death, Valentinus sent a letter to a young lady, his jailer’s daughter and closest friend, who visited him in his imprisonment. In the note, he declared his love for her, wished her well and signed the letter, “from your Valentine,” as his farewell. According to tradition, his execution day was February 14, A. D. 270. This act of love began to be repeated by other Christian martyrs who were about to die, thus setting the pattern of expressing undying love in the face of difficulties. This ritual of sending a love letter or note on Valentine’s Day became a tradition, though few understand the ancient historical setting. Valentine’s Day began, not just as a symbol of love, but of true Christian love.
Valentinus possessed such a deep affection for Christ that he was willing to face martyrdom, rather than to deny Him. Until recent years most believers in the West only knew of Christian martyrs in history books. However, the renewed hatred of Christ and Christians here and in other parts of the world has brought the possibility of martyrdom to the West in the 21st century.
Though Valentine’s Day is famous for romantic tokens of love among men and women, it originally was famous for the way a martyr could love Christ so deeply, he would willingly die, rather than deny Him. This day also became a day to remember persecuted Christians who loved so selflessly; they gave their own life-blood. God’s word reminds Christian people to remember, love and care for those persecuted for their faith: “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:1-3).
God demonstrated the greatest expression of love for mankind when He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loved humanity enough to give His Son. Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus offered His life on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins.
The unlimited love God has for lost and helpless humanity is summed up in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
It is important to understand that God’s great love originates with Him, not with us. It is not our great love that brings His salvation to us, but His great love for us! John wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God loves us unconditionally, despite our sins and failures.
When God’s love is received and appropriated by faith, it has a compassionate effect on us—“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Love by God to us and by us to Him results in our love for others. John wrote, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
No matter how much you understand about the background, the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” communicate affection and the desire for closer relationship, and is based on the greatest, most compassionate love this world has seen, God’s love for us through Jesus Christ! Enjoy your day!