When Jesus walked the earth, He talked a lot about love; more importantly, He modeled it. For instance, one of His most famous sayings about love is found in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." He showed us what that sort of love looked like when He hung on the Cross, dying for a lost and sin-sick world.

Many have followed in Christ's self-sacrificing footsteps over the years and centuries. The term "martyr," from the Greek for "witness," was first used in reference to the Apostles. But as persecution of Christians increased, the term was used for all Christians who gave up their lives rather than deny their Lord. The second-century Church Father Tertullian declared that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," meaning that believers' willing sacrifice of their lives drew others to faith in Jesus Christ.

Many of us have heard the valiant stories of those martyrs of the early Church, but the truth is that more Christians have died for their faith since 1900 than in all the previous centuries of Christendom combined. Even today, at this very moment, someone somewhere is suffering for love of Christ.

But what about those of us who live in countries where persecution to the point of imprisonment, torture, or death has not yet invaded our lives? We are grateful for that freedom of worship, of course, and hopefully we are praying for and supporting those Christians less fortunate. But does that mean we have no opportunity to show others the great love that is our birthright as believers, that love that is evidenced in selfless living?

Not at all. And what better time of year to consider that sort of love than during the month of February, when hearts and flowers abound and romance fills the air?

Li Ying is one of my personal heroes. A devout believer, she lives in China, where she is currently serving a ten-year sentence for distributing Christian writings to children. Separated from her family and working long hours in a labor camp, this courageous young woman has yet to literally lay down her life for her beliefs, but she daily pays a heavy price for remaining faithful.

Danny is another one of my heroes. He is seven-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and a passion for Jesus. In his halting way, he tells everyone he meets about the great love of the One who died for sinners. Though his awkward speech and mannerisms often result in Danny's being the butt of many jokes, particularly from his peers, he doesn't let that stop him. Greater love drives him on.

Ruby is yet another hero I greatly admire. This feisty octogenarian can only get around with the help of a walker, and even then her painful arthritis makes her movements slow and arduous. But Ruby refuses to give up or give in when it comes to taking every possible opportunity to model God's love to those who so desperately need to see it.

Pastor McDonald ranks right up there at the top of my hero list too. He and his wife have served Jesus for decades, though they've never built a huge church building or hosted a TV program to proclaim the gospel. Instead they have faithfully preached of God's love and mercy, week after week, month after month, year after year, to their grateful congregation of poor and homeless in the old part of town. As a result, the McDonalds still live in a tiny apartment above the sanctuary where they have worked and served since the early days of their marriage. No one in need of a meal or a bed or a prayer is ever turned away, though it often means the pastor and his wife do without themselves. But as they are so well known for saying, "It's what Jesus would have done."

There is no end to the list of heroes out there, people who are willing to model God's great love and lay down their own lives—whether literally or figuratively—for others. But what about us? Do we live in such a way that people can see that great and selfless love of Christ operating in and through us?