“Love,” Sinatra and others tell us, “is a many-splendored thing.” I think this captures much of the Hallmark sense of what love is: love is made up of many splendid virtues and attitudes. As you shop for Valentine cards this month you will see that love is passionate, it is pure, it is constant in faithfulness, it is liberal with praise… But the very splendor of such things might make it more difficult for us to see the Christian’s love for what it should be: love is kind.
You might say, “but what a minute, kindness is splendid in itself as well!” And in a sense you may be right. But consider how 1 Corinthians 13:4 begins it’s definition of love:
“Love is patient, love is kind…”
Patience indicates a capacity for long-suffering. When is the last time you opened a glossy, red card with hearts and roses on it in the middle of February and read the inside message: “I will graciously put up with your short-comings.” Similarly, and more to the point for this month’s reflection on Christian love, when is the last time you opened up a Valentine’s Day card and read the announcement: “I am going to start being nice to you.” Not quite the splendid profession of love we might have looked for? In fact, everything about this word suggests a common, normal, everyday kind of attitude. The word Paul uses in the original Greek he was writing in is literally translated “suitable,” or “serviceable.” It was a common name for slaves. It implied a general capacity to do the right thing at the right time. When applied to relationships, it requires civil, polite, acceptable behavior – in Acts 27:3 it is sometimes translated “courteous!”
Kindness, you see, is not an idea we immediately connect with the highest aspirations of love – whether we are talking about the love of a husband and a wife or of a father and a son. We tend in our poems and greeting cards to focus on the “always trust, hopes and perseveres” ideas. But by its inclusion at the front of this definition of love, we should be reminded that just as a building when shaken from it’s foundation will surely fall, the highest aspirations when removed from the everyday, universally required etiquettes that we associate with mere kindness, will prove to be nothing – just words.
So often we find our words and actions are actually less kind – less civil or courteous, when directed at the people we supposedly love the most! This month, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s remember that in as much as we are not kind, we by definition are not loving. Love is first of all an everyday civility that we are commanded to direct towards everyone that must produce everyday decencies. This year, let us focus on being kind to all in imitation of the Most High who is himself “kind” even to ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:26).