We all love someone or something, and at the same time, there is always competition for our love. Some love can be casual, as we would love music or art, but, other love, true love, is covenant in nature, singular in focus, evidenced by its consumption of our heart. As we choose the one focus of this true love, I find the results, the fruit, are always a reflection the choice. History is filled with these stories.
Legend has it that Saint Valentinus* was a good man who loved Christ and did not have much admiration for Roman authority. He spent his later years ministering to Christians and performing marriages to soldiers who had been forbidden to do so. (The Roman empire felt that unmarried soldiers made the best soldiers – no one at home to distract from their duties.)
Ultimately, his ministry wound up with him in jail. But, as I shared earlier, Valentinus was a good man and while he was in jail he helped a young lady named Asterius, who was the jailer’s daughter. They fell in love, but the romance was cut short when his day of execution arrived. He left Asterius one last letter, a letter pledging his love, the legend has that it was signed “from your Valentine.” From that simple love letter, we celebrate the strength and devotion of love in his honor each Valentine’s Day.
Another good man, a “rich young ruler,” had a different love. From his short story in Mark 10:27-37, we find a young man in search of answers. He was from the right family, one of power and prestige, had wealth, which you would expect given his family and position, and was well educated in the law, which he shared in the story.
Can’t you just see this handsome, well-educated, powerful, wealthy, young man. His head held high, walking with authority to intercept Jesus. When he finally caught up to Jesus he kneeled, and asked, “What must I do to have eternal life?” As Jesus looked into the heart of this young man, he instructed the young man that he “. . .must keep the commandments.” In his prompt response, it was obvious the young man was confident and sure that he had always done so, yet Jesus knew what was competing for the young man’s heart.
Jesus continued, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Consequently, we are left with a powerful example of how the love of wealth is a barrier to the truth and love of Christ.
As I have counseled families in their financial stewardship and generosity journeys, the situations may vary, but like the rich young ruler, without exception, the most common culprit competing for their relationship with Christ is their wealth, their money. Our attitude about money often follows an age-old pattern – more money is better. The more money we have, the more secure we can feel. Many families would say that more money would solve most of their problems. Rarely is that true.
In Matthew 6:24, we are told that, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” This opposition, this tension, left undone, will ultimately tear your faith apart.
Like many in history, both men left their mark on the world through a singular devotion. Valentinus – loving Christ, a ministry to others, a love letter, and an unforgettable signature. The rich young ruler – loving wealth, seeking life, one question, and an unforgettable response. I am confident that neither man had any idea of the legacy they left behind. Though in both examples, the world is still impacted today, and interestingly, both ultimately point to Christ.
Something other than God will always be competing for your love for Him. I have found that many times it is wealth and money. When it comes to our relationship with Christ, He alone can be the focus of your true love. That is what God truly desires. You. Your heart. Your devotion. Through His love story, God has sent us the simplest valentine of all . . . Be Mine.
* St. Valentinus data and legend story excerpts are from Wikipedia