We just celebrated Valentine’s Day a couple of days ago, and last night was our annual Valentine’s Banquet here. The way the story is usually told, the holiday traces its origins to a Roman priest who was imprisoned during an outbreak of persecution under the Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century. He ran afoul of the law for performing clandestine weddings for Christians in the army who were forbidden to marry and was consequently sentenced to death. While awaiting execution, he healed the daughter of his jailer. Just prior to his martyrdom – on February 14 – he wrote her a letter, signing it as “Your Valentine” in farewell.
Unfortunately, none of that story is true. There were several early Christian martyrs named Valentinus, and more than one came to be connected early on with February 14. In fact, in establishing the feast day in 496, Pope Gelasius I included Valentine among those, “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God” – in other words, already nothing was known about his life. There is no record of such a marriage ban; in a sharp contrast, Claudius II actually encouraged his soldiers to take 2 or 3 wives after defeating the Goths. And there was no association of Valentine with love until Chaucer’s day.
Nevertheless, we associate Valentine’s Day with love, or what our culture shallowly calls love, at any rate. According to the estimates published this week, spending on the holiday in America was expected to be $27.4 billion. That’s an increase of 32% over the $20.7 billion spent in 2019, which was already a record. Average per person spending was expected to be about $200, a number that rises every year in a constant effort at “one-upsmanship” in relationships: making sure flowers go to work where everyone can see them, posing your unique gift just right for that Instagram or Facebook shot, getting a reservation at that exclusive—and expensive—restaurant. It’s one more indication that the world around us has a very different view of love than Scripture. Our world is obsessed with the externals, with the outward appearance of love; we could obviously note that in other aspects of society too.
In contrast, I think of what God says to his man Samuel. Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7). This is in the context of anointing a new king of Israel. Saul, the current king, had the right look: he was handsome, a head taller than anyone else, a king straight out of central casting. But the Lord rejected him, because he was unfaithful. Yet here, Samuel almost makes the same mistake with Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab: Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me (1 Sam 16:6). Why? Because he looked like a king! Yet God chose a ruddy youth, out watching the sheep in the field: David, a man after God’s own heart.
God looks at our hearts. He doesn’t care how good looking we are. He isn’t impressed with where we went to school or what degrees hang on our walls. He isn’t awed by our wealth or our success in our careers. Instead, he’s searching to see whether or not we have a heart for him. What does that mean?
For one, our lives need to be built around God. David himself would write, Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! (Psalm 105:2-4). People with a heart for God want to be in God’s presence. That means they want to worship him: to sing praises to him, to gather around his table, to tell of his mighty works.
Secondly, we need to build our lives around his Word. Again, let’s see what David said: The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:8-10)
Finally, we need to build our lives around God’s people. An expert in the Law once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. He responded 1) love the Lord your God with all your heart and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. If we are going to love God, we have to learn to love others. And that especially goes for his children, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We could list other characteristics, but this is a good start. Do you want to be a person after God’s heart? Commit yourself fully to the Lord, to his Word, and to his people. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how frequent your attendance is in the church assembly or how many Bible verses you share on Facebook. God knows our hearts.