For Valentine’s Day, Breakpoint re-broadcast an excellent Chuck Colson commentary on the history of the celebration and the relationship between romantic love and sacrifice. After explaining how the day was originally all about men who were killed for their faith, Colson points out:
Now, it’s fun to exchange gifts with our sweethearts, and I’d be the last person to ask you to give up roses and romantic dinners on Valentine’s Day. And I won’t ask you to give up reading love poems and substitute meditations on Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
But we ought to take a moment to remember the early Christian saints as well, and how their martyrdom dramatically illustrates their love for God. In the midst of our romantic celebrations, we ought to remind ourselves that for Christians, the love between husband and wife is meant to reflect the love between God and His church. Throughout the Scriptures, the imagery of the love between a husband and wife is perhaps the most compelling symbol of the relationship between God and His people.
Love between a husband and wife, then, ought to be characterized by the same sacrificial attitude of the martyrs. Husbands ought to sacrifice for their wives and wives ought to sacrifice for their husbands, because that is what God has done for us (Eph. 5:2). That is an important point that deserves to be fleshed out a bit more. Indeed, I think that a proper understanding of the part that sacrifice plays in love is one of the keys to a successful romantic relationship.
Let’s start with a deeper examination of the nature of love. As I write in chapter 4 of How to Talk to a Skeptic,
Love is first and foremost a response to value. It is a recognition and affirmation that someone is objectively valuable. To love is to proclaim to the beloved that he or she is of great worth. Many of us have experienced this, of course, in the very first stages of a relationship: You see that girl or boy across the room and think, “Wow! I’ve found someone very special!” Exactly. You don’t love someone you think is worthless. Love is not present or possible if one does not think the other person has any value.
Secondly, love is the giving of oneself sacrificially for the good of another. To love someone is not just to say that he or she is valuable, but it is to act sacrificially for that person’s good. It’s not enough to think that a person is great, or even to tell them that several times a day; we must act in a way that benefits that person. We don’t just love in word and thought, but in our actions (1 John 3:18).
An essential element in love, then, is properly ordered worship. To worship is to ascribe worth to something or someone. To sacrifice is to give up something. To love someone you must do both, and according to the nature of reality. Worship is intimately connected to sacrifice and love. I expand on this notion in the same chapter:
I think we see this principle in our relationships everyday. For example, have you ever heard someone say, “He just worships the ground she walks on” or “She absolutely worships her husband?” These are good and proper sentiments. To say that you “worship” your wife is to say that you ascribe great worth to her and are willing to do anything for her good. This is a sure sign of love.
We can also see this truth in potentially less commendable examples. If you hear that your friend “worships the Green Bay Packers” it may not cause too much alarm (because you think that hyperbole is being used) but if you hear that he is “worshiping money” or “worshiping alcohol” you probably should be concerned, especially if it is at the expense of his wife and children. Why? Because money and alcohol (and football, for that matter – in today’s culture it may not have hyperbole) are not as valuable as one’s family. It is wrong to ascribe more worth to stuff and sports than you do to your wife and kids because those things are not as objectively worthy as your family. As such, if a man truly loves his wife and kids more than money and football and beer, he will give up those things if necessary. In other words, he will sacrifice those things if they get in the way of his family relationship….
So, then, a major key to love is to only worship what is truly worthy, and then to only ascribe the proper amount of worth to that thing or person. We need to keep our love ordered correctly. Some aspects of creation are worth more than others. Animals are worth more than rocks and humans are worth more than animals. We should not sacrifice the good of our child for the sake of the dog, for example. This is not arbitrary; it simply is the nature of reality. To ascribe more worth to a rock that to a person is to live contrary to the real world.
For example, if a man decided to sell his wife into slavery for a million dollars, he would be doing the wrong thing not because of some arbitrary standard, but because his wife is actually and objectively worth more than all the money in the world.
So love is all about worshiping according to the nature of reality, and sacrificing accordingly. That is one of the essential keys to successful relationships. Just like St. Valentine gave himself for God, and God gave himself for us, so we must give ourselves for each other.