A Month for Love

It is February. Overcast, chilly, bleak-and-barren February. If you’re not skiing on the slopes, skating on the ice, or singing in the freezing rain, there’s not a lot outside to excite you. No wonder bears hibernate this time of year—there’s not even Monday Night Football!

But wait. There is something special about February. Valentine’s Day. Hearts and flowers. Sweetheart banquets. A fresh and needed reminder that there is still a heart-shaped vacuum in the human breast that only the three most wonderful words in the English language can fill.

“We love Him,” John reminds us, “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NKJV). In fact, at the Last Supper, in that upper room in Jerusalem, Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). In other words, He loved them “to the maximum—He sought their highest good.” That’s amazing, isn’t it? Do you remember what follows?

In that torch-lit room, Jesus reclined at the table with His disciples who didn’t wash before supper (wash their feet, that is). Noticing that, without announcement, Jesus got up, put a towel around His waist, drew water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Guess what they had been talking about just before they heard the splashing of the water? Which one of us will be the greatest in the kingdom? How’s that for men who had spent the last three-and-a-half years walking beside the Saviour who led them faithfully and loved them to the maximum? With strong words from their competitive spirits barely out of their mouths, they saw Jesus draw water, kneel down, and take on the menial task of a servant.

“Do you know what I’ve done to you?” Jesus asked them. Silence. “I have left you an example. As I have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet” (instead of wrangling over who’s the greatest). Then came the shot across the bow, “A new commandment I give you” (John 13:34). A new command, Jesus? They all knew the old command: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV). After all, who wouldn’t love God? God is good, God is fair, God is just, God is merciful, God is forgiving, God is grace, God is perfect—God is love. But Jesus gave them a new command: “just as I have loved you, love one another” (John 13:34). How had Jesus loved them? John said it best when he later restated Jesus’ command: “let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18 NASB1995).

Ready for a practical suggestion? Tell your spouse and children, “I love you.” Don’t just say, “Hey, love ya!” Say, “I love you.” There’s a difference. If you don’t have a spouse or kids, call up a close friend and say those three powerful words with sincerity. Better yet, tell them while looking them square in the eyes. For example, men, when you put your arms around another man you love and admire, tell him, “I love you.” He can take it. In fact, he will never forget it. You’ll be amazed at the effect these three simple words will have.

But just saying the words isn’t the assignment, remember? Jesus didn’t merely tell His disciples He loved them. He grabbed a towel and showed them “in deed and truth.” And then the next day...He died for them.

The Apostle Peter wrote it this way, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Why would Peter tell believers who loved each other to love each other? Because to one kind of love, we should add another.

The first “love” comes from a Greek term that speaks of a pleasant feeling toward someone. It’s the word, philadelphia. We know Philadelphia as the “city of brotherly love,” and that’s precisely what the original term meant. It speaks of a friendly affection. It’s the potluck-lunch love. It’s the talk-to-your-neighbour-over-the-fence love. It’s the puppy love of the first date. It’s a love based entirely on feeling pleasure from being around someone. And it’s perfectly fine. But by itself, it’s like standing on one leg. It won’t last long.

A love with only feelings can quickly turn into selfishness and conditional love when pleasure goes south. It’s fickle. In fact, I would say the vast majority of relationships—both Christian and non-Christian—centre on this kind of love, which is why people claim to “fall in and out of love.” Feelings change. They were never intended to be the basis of deep, lasting relationships.

So Peter writes that we should add to philadelphia another kind of love: agapo. This love finds its roots not in how we feel toward someone but on the genuine value of someone. While philadelphia begins and ends with your feelings, agapo begins and ends with your will. (Read that again.) It’s translated: “fervently love one another.” Simply said, God commands us to go beyond feeling love for one another to showing love for one another.

With this love, no difficulty will pull us apart. No test will push us under. No calamity will steal our commitment. No disaster will bring an end to our family. Love doesn’t stop because there’s a financial crisis. Sacrificial, selfless love is the glue that holds lives together. It keeps us forgiving each other’s failures and tolerant of each one another’s foibles. It makes us stay when we feel like walking away.

This kind of love goes beyond a dozen red roses. It means more than simple sentiments on a Hallmark card. For some of us, it may mean changing our schedules. Or putting that hobby on the shelf for a few years. Or changing jobs. Or at the very least, changing attitudes.

I love you.... There are no more powerful words. But when love goes beyond our feelings to our wills, love becomes supernatural. It becomes like the love of God in Christ—who showed us the full extent of His love.

God commands us to go beyond feeling love for one another to showing love for one another.

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, “A Month for Love,” in The Finishing Touch: Becoming God’s Masterpiece (Dallas: Word, 1994), 58–59. Copyright © 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.