Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
Hearts! Hearts everywhere! Hearts on sweaters and hearts on earrings. Hearts on cards and hearts on candy. Hearts on billboards and hearts on store windows. Hearts on Facebook and hearts on text messages. Hearts, hearts, hearts!
Chances are you’ll see literally hundreds of hearts today because, after all, it is St. Valentine’s Day, a day of love, a day of romance, a day of candy and flowers, a day of hearts. In our culture, the heart, or a stylized heart shape, at any rate, is the sign of romantic love.
1 Peter 1:22 makes a strong connection between love and the heart, but it’s not the kind of connection that sells cards and candy on Valentine’s Day. The main injunction of this verse reads, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.” This almost sounds like what you’d read in a Valentine’s Day card. But, in fact, the meaning is much different from the romantic norm of most cards.
For one thing, the verb translated here as “love” is, in Greek, agapao, related to the noun agape. This is not the Greek word for romantic or erotic love (eros). Rather, it refers to choiceful, self-giving, sacrificial action for the sake of another person. Agape is what you need in a relationship precisely when romance is at its low ebb because it flows from commitment, not emotion.
But doesn’t “Love one another deeply” imply emotion? Not in the original Greek. Peter uses the adverb ektenos, which might better be translated as “eagerly, constantly, or persistently.” This adverb is used to convey the quality of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, a prayer of painful persistence (Luke 22:44). We love people ektenos when we hang in there with them, in bad times as well as good times, on Valentine’s Day, yes, but also on the day when we’d like to shove them off a metaphorical cliff.
Okay, but Peter says were to love each other “from the heart.” Isn’t this about emotion, if not romance? No, not really. English speakers locate emotions in the heart. Speakers of New Testament Greek, however, put them in the bowels or kidneys. The heart, in the language of 1 Peter, was the seat of thinking, willing, choosing, and feeling. The emotional dimension of the inner life isn’t absent from the heart, but it isn’t the main part either.
So, is love a matter of the heart? Yes, in the sense that love is something we choose to do, being motivated as much by conviction as by emotion. Is love something romantic? Yes, in a way. But the love we find in 1 Peter 1:22 is a different sort of love, a love that transcends feelings and romance, a love that flows from commitment and conscience, a love that perseveres in good times and in bad.
So, today, send hearts and flowers to the one you love. But, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and every day, love one another deeply, from the heart. Act out of self-giving commitment to what is best for others. Be persistent in loving even when it’s hard. Choose to love because you know it’s right.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of a time when you chose to love, even though your feelings were disengaged or even negative? What happened to the other person? What happened to you? How does “purifying ourselves by obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22) enable us to love each other more consistently?
PRAYER: O Lord, I do give you thank today for creating us with the capacity for romance. Thank you for the feelings that come when we fall in love, for the happiness of weddings, and for the deep joy that comes from a romance that lives throughout years and years. (Thank you, Lord, that I’m about to celebrate thirty years of marriage in a couple of months.)
But, even more, I thank you for love that is so much more than emotion. Thank you for the committed love of parent for child, husband for wife, friend for friend. Thank you for your love for us, a love that claims us and never gives up on us. Thank you for revealing this love in Jesus Christ, in his life and death, in his words and deeds.
Help me, dear Lord, to love others deeply from the heart. Help me to love them sacrificially. Help me to love them consistently. Help me to love them both when it’s easy and especially when it’s hard. May I love others with the same love you have shown to me.
All praise be to you, God of love. Amen.