Love is in the air. Valentine’s Day is a romantic time designated to express our love. Saint Valentine was a priest who was executed on February 14, 270 A.D. His crime was secretly marrying couples in ancient Rome against Emperor Claudius’ wishes who felt marriage made his soldiers soft. According to legend, Saint Valentine prayed for and healed Judge Asterius’ daughter of blindness, leading to his conversion. His last words before his execution were written on a note to her which he signed, “from your Valentine.” Thus, the tradition began.

Valentine’s Day is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Lovers will spend over $20 billion in the U.S. on Valentine gifts—chocolate, jewelry, cards, candy, flowers, dinner, movies, lingerie, and more. Beware, Cupid is aiming his arrows at you. Truly, love involves giving—“For God so loved the world that He gave . . .” (Jn. 3:16). When we express our love by giving, we are following the divine example. Love is a two-way street. Love must be returned to be complete. It must be given and received. If it’s all one-sided, it won’t last long. Love, like tennis, is a two-player game. The old saying is true: “A bell’s not a bell till you ring it, a song’s not a song till you sing it. Love in your heart is not put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.”

True love is hard to hide and must find expression. God expressed His love for us in actions not just words. Jesus, who was love personified, taught and modeled true, agape love. “This is My commandment that you love [agapao] one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). This was not a suggestion if we feel like it and we certainly can’t do it within ourselves. It takes God’s help for “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8). We are by nature selfish and unloving; that’s why we must be born again with a new, divine nature. God’s greatest expression of love was Calvary—sacrificing His own son to save us. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus went above and beyond that and laid down His life for His enemies. God even loved us when we were unlovable! “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Dottie Rambo’s song lyrics say it well: “He left His splendor in heaven, knowing His destiny was the lonely hill of Golgotha, there to lay down His life for me. If that isn’t love the ocean is dry, there’s no stars in the sky, and the sparrows can’t fly. If that isn’t love then heaven’s a myth, there’s no feeling like this, if that isn’t love.”

There are five main ways we express love (author Gary Chapman calls them the “Five Love Languages” in his excellent book):

1. Words of Affirmation: Say supportive, loving things to your partner. Words are powerful. Words can heal or harm. The old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is not true. Our words are either like a wrecking ball (destructive) or like mortar (constructive). Don’t criticize or put down your mate with unkind words. Instead, affirm their value and worth with soft, uplifting words.

2. Acts of Service: Go out of your way to do kind, practical things for your partner. Love is not just words; it is proven with actions. We know faith without works is dead; love without works is dead too. “Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions” (1 Jn. 3:18, TLB). Talk is cheap, except when congress does it. True love is displayed in how we treat people (1 Cor. 13:4-8, 13). Plus, the way we treat people is the way we treat God (Mt. 25:40).

3. Giving Gifts: A simple present lets your spouse know you care and have been thinking about them. It doesn’t have to be expensive (like a new car) just something thoughtful. Loving is expressed through giving. You can give without loving but you can’t love without giving!

4. Quality Time: Spend meaningful time with your partner. This is getting harder to do in our busy, distracted culture. Put down the cell phones, take a break from the hectic schedule, talk to, and focus on each other. Give your spouse your undivided attention regularly.

5. Physical Touch: Hold hands, give back rubs, neck messages, and put an arm around each other. If you’re not married, keep your hands to yourself. If you are married, keep hugging, petting, snuggling, kissing, and making love (it’s biblical—1 Cor. 7:3-5).

Consider the four greatest instances in which Jesus expressed His love with actions not just words:

1. Jesus washed His disciple’s feet. This included Judas, even though He knew Judas would betray Him only hours later. At the Last Supper, Jesus poured water into a basin and washed His disciple’s feet. In Bible times, that was a servant’s job, but none of them were rich enough to hire servants. Imagine, the King of the universe bending down to wash the stinky feet of fishermen. If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is! Some call it “basin theology.” Pilate used a basin to wash his hands to avoid getting involved; Jesus used a basin to get involved and to serve by washing feet. Which basin will we choose?

2. Jesus Healed Malchus. A servant of the high priest, Malchus was the last person Jesus healed. He was in the mob who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane. In the chaos, Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus as a scuffle ensued. He probably aimed for his head, but Malchus ducked, and Peter chopped off his ear. In one of the most amazing displays of compassion, Jesus picked up the warm, bloody ear of His enemy and lovingly reattached it to his head. If Jesus healed His enemy, how much more will He heal His friends. If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is!

3. Jesus forgave His own murderers. Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). He not only forgave the Jews who conspired His death and the Romans who executed it, but every sinner whose sins made His death necessary—including us! Once God’s enemies, we are now His friends (Col. 1:21, Jn 15:14-15). If Jesus forgave His enemies, how much more will He forgive His own children (Rom. 5:8-10). If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is!

4. Jesus saved the crook on the cross. Two criminals were crucified on either side of Christ. Both blasphemed Him at first. Then one had a drastic change of heart. One was saved; the other was lost. One was forgiven; one was condemned. One went to heaven; one went to hell. One’s heart was hardened by hate; one’s heart was melted by love. One cursed God with his dying breath; the other uttered a soul-saving prayer. What caused the redeemed robber to change his mind and call on Jesus? Perhaps when he saw Christ forgive His own executioners, it had a profound impact on him. His eyes were opened when he witnessed such an extreme expression of love.

The cursing crook was so moved by Jesus’ love, it ignited faith in his heart that he too could be saved. His sincere, nine-word prayer changed his eternal destiny: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). The only thing they had in common was their method of execution. One was a convicted criminal, the other the just judge of all the earth. One was as guilty as sin, the other was the only innocent man to ever live. That thief, though crucified on earth for his crimes, now walks a free man in heaven. If Jesus saved a desperate, dying thief, how much more will He help and save you. If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is!