By Michael E. Brooks
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 NKJV).
One of the impressions that I as a westerner have as I travel in South Asia, is the basic lack of emotional demonstrations between members of the opposite sex. I have worshiped in congregations many times, and still not been able to identify husband-wife pairings.
Men typically sit together with other men; ladies sit with other ladies. They often travel separately to accommodate differing schedules. I cannot recall hearing husbands or wives refer to their spouses with endearments like “sweetheart,” “honey,” or “dear.” Hugs, kisses, holding hands, and other physical touches are simply not done publicly.
My perception is that such are unused even in private, at least in the casual and frequent manner common in the west. It is rare that a man will even introduce his wife to a visitor, unless specifically requested to do so.
Holidays celebrating relationships are also virtually unknown; at least those familiar to Europeans and Americans. Valentine’s Day is not celebrated by any of my acquaintances in South Asia.
Part of that is no doubt economic. Most of the people just cannot afford the frequent gift giving occasions observed in developed parts of the world. Of course many western holidays originated in Europe and America, are celebrated there, and have simply not been introduced or accepted in other cultures.
Does all of this mean that people in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal do not love their mates? Of course not. Nor does it mean that their love is not demonstrated in ways appropriate to their culture and perceptible to one another. Their ways are simply not our ways. Love exists; it is shown; relationships flourish.
There are universal displays however that are common to and recognizable by all regardless of culture. Kind words, affectionate looks and acts of service are among these. The greatest of all “love languages” however is undoubtedly that referred to in our text. God gave us his son (John 3:16), proving his perfect and infinite love for all mankind.
Nothing is comparable to that. Humans are incapable of such expression (Romans 5:7). However we can respond appropriately to God’s love. We express our love for God first by obedience. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).
We also express our love for God by loving his children. “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). This is not simple emotional attraction, fondness, or friendship. Brotherly love is much deeper than that.
“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
Valentine’s Day was intended as a reminder of those who are important to us, and an opportunity to express to them that importance. Let us not be restricted to a small circle of relationships, nor a single time to embrace them. Love is far more important and far reaching to be limited to a few acts or times of expression. Love God. Love his children. Express that love continuously.