Happy Valentine’s Day!

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My wife Pat’s seventh generation grandfather, Valentine Hollingsworth, came to America from Hollingworth, England, by way of Belfast, Ireland, in 1682. He was a Quaker, and was accompanied by another famous Quaker named William Penn, the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, which later became the state of Pennsylvania. Valentine and his family were early settlers to the Wilmington, Delaware, area.

Since it is almost February 14th, the interesting thing to me is his name—Valentine.

The celebration of Valentine’s Day as we know it, began during the 14th century. The day is very much about cards—about 144 million are exchanged in the United States annually, and an estimated 1 billion are given worldwide. In fact, Valentine’s Day only ranks behind Christmas as the largest card-giving holiday.

So, what is the deal with all the candy and card-writing on Valentine’s Day?

As with many holidays, Valentine’s Day has a dark beginning. The man who became known as Saint Valentine was a godly minister in Rome during the third 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.

The godly Valentinus refused to deny Jesus, though he was threatened, imprisoned, and eventually killed by the emperor. 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 pagan Roman 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.

Our Valentine’s Day practice was patterned after the action of Valentinus on the day of his execution, February 14, AD 270. That day, he sent a letter to a young lady, his jailor’s daughter, who had visited him during his imprisonment. In the note he declared his love for her, wished her well, and signed the letter: “from your Valentine,” as his farewell.

His great expression of love began to be repeated by other Christian martyrs who were about to die, setting the pattern of communicating undying devotion in the face of certain death. The ritual of sending a love letter or note on Valentine’s Day became a tradition, though few today understand the historical setting. Valentine’s Day began, not only as an expression of love for another, but of deep, sacrificial devotion to Christ.

Until recently most believers only learned of Christian martyrs from history books. However, the renewed hatred of Christ and Christians in other parts of the world has brought martyrdom back into the spotlight in the 21st century. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today. CSGC states that 900,000 Christians have been martyred in the last decade. That means 25 Christians a day pay the ultimate price for their faith in Christ.

So, though Valentine’s Day is famous for romantic tokens of love among people, it was originally remembered 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 consider persecuted Christians who were imprisoned, tortured or who willingly gave their own life-blood. God’s People are to remember, love and care for those persecuted for their faith: “Let love of the brethren continue….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). Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He 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).”

We need to understand that this great redeeming love originates with God, not with us. It is not our love that brings His salvation to us, but His 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). “Propitiation” means the sacrifice or payment for our sins. God loves us unconditionally and Jesus paid the price.

When God’s love is received by faith, it has a reciprocal 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).

I hope Valentine’s Day will take on a new meaning for you this year, and that you will experience the redeeming love of Christ, in addition to the love of others. Let the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” communicate affection and the desire for closer relationship—in light of the greatest, most compassionate love this world has seen—God’s love for us through Jesus Christ!

Author: Larry E. Clements

Follower of Christ, fortunate to be husband to Pat, father of 5, grandfather of 12, writer, associate pastor of Pauline Baptist Church

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