Since the 5th century, St. Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) has been a holiday to celebrate romance. Valentine cards appeared in the 1500s, most depicting Cupid, the Roman god of passionate physical desire, along with hearts, traditionally considered the seat of human emotion. On this Valentine’s Day, 53 percent of Americans will express romantic love by spending an estimated $20.7 billion on exchanged gifts of candy, cards, jewelry and flowers.
The Bible’s Four Words for Love
The Bible uses four different Greek words to define “love.” The kind of love expressed on Valentine’s Day between lovers is eros, the name of the ancient Greek god of love and sex. Eros love is traditionally based on feelings — it can be romantic, exciting, and fun, but unfortunately, it can also be totally self-gratifying and short-lived, as roses wilt, gifts are laid aside, candy is consumed and human feelings rise and fall.
Scripture also defines “love” with the Greek word philia (brotherly love, deep friendship), as well as storge (familial love). The Greek word agape describes the highest form of love — God’s love, a persevering, active, unconditional love. Agape love is not self-gratifying, but self-giving, expecting nothing in return. It is devoted, selfless action through ministry to others, a verb-love based on doing rather than feeling.
God, whose very name is love, gave us the most beautiful and vivid example and gift of agape love when Jesus emptied and gave Himself for humankind, His suffering, death and resurrection forever conquering death (John 3:16).
Agape Day: Putting Legs to Love
Imagine what might happen in our nation today if churches and their congregations designated an Agape Day in February to coincide with the traditional Valentine’s Day? What extraordinary verb-love ministries might result from a day devoted solely to showing God’s agape to others! Agape Day ministries are needed now more than ever, and might include:
-Loving the homeless. In the U.S. today, more than half a million people are without homes, with the states of California, Oregon and Nevada containing the greatest numbers of homeless men, women and children. Alabama ranks No. 20 in the nation, with 29.4 percent of its residents without shelter. (Alabama’s 16.8 percent poverty rate is the 7th highest in the nation.) Through designated funds and specific programs, churches can minister to the homeless and impoverished by providing shelter, finances, food, clothes, needed transportation, and other support services.
-Loving the young. Alabama has the ninth-highest teen birth rate in the nation (27 births per 1,000 females ages 15–19). The state is among the top five states with the highest infant mortality rate, with 7.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Churches can help teen mothers through biblical counseling to reduce teen pregnancy, prolife counseling to bring unborn babies to term, adoption encouragement and practical support services after the birth, such as infant-care training, needed supplies (baby formula, diapers, clothes) and practical child-care help.
-Loving the old. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double by 2060 (from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060), the total population expected to rise from 16 percent to 23 percent. Churches can minister to the elderly by providing financial help, health care support and education, loneliness counseling, nursing home care information, transportation to doctors’ appointments, food services/delivery, help and encouragement to caregivers and education about Alzheimer’s Disease and other illnesses. Today, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to double to 13.8 million by 2050. Other life-threatening diseases afflicting the elderly include obesity, disease, cancer and stroke.
-Loving the caregivers. In the nation today, almost 44 million caregivers are providing unpaid care to an adult or child. Almost 40 million caregivers provide care to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or illness. About 15.7 million adults care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Caregivers are devoted, selfless people ministering in areas of shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, dispensing medication, feeding, dressing, grooming, walking, bathing, toileting assistance, coordinating physician visits, managing financial matters, providing medical and nursing tasks, etc. The church can provide ministry to caregivers through financial and hands-on help, biblical counseling, prayer, encouragement and support services.
No greater love
Jesus commands us to love (agape) each other: “… Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30, RSV). He, Himself, ministered with agape love to the poor, the homeless, the young, the elderly, the sick, the lonely, the neglected and the hopeless of His society. Throughout Scripture, He shows 21st century Christians and churches how to show agape love to others through selfless, devoted and caring action.
Denise George is author of 31 nonfiction books, including Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim’s Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace (with the Reverend Anthony Thompson, Bethany House Publishers).