Monday, July 6, 2015

The Four Quadrants of Love - 1 John 4:7-21

SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4:7-21
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 6th, 2015

Love is a highly touted word in modern times. The Beatles sing “All You Need is Love.” Antiwar activists tout: “Make love, not war.” Religious groups use the idea of “love” to promote inter-religious tolerance and common activities. A lot of good have come out of the desire to celebrate love. A lot of controversies have also risen.

One of the most contested topics is the area of same-sex marriage. It has divided Churches. It has polarized policy makers throughout the West. It has split families and defied long-held traditions. Last week, I wrote about the way we can respond to the June 26th, 2015 SCOTUS decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage throughout the fifty United States. Hailed as a landmark decision, while many celebrated, equally many lamented on the state of society now. Marriage has been expanded beyond the conventional understanding of male-female union. Now, every sex can marry any sex. It makes a mockery out of the word “marriage” as understood in Ephesians 5:31. In a society that allows the freedom of religious beliefs, atheists, secularists, and non-Christians in general would assert that the Bible does not apply to them because they do not believe. Moreover, they would say that Christians have no right to impose their faiths on a secular society.

Four Quadrants of Divine Love
Christians respond by saying, it is not a question of belief. It is about truth vs falsehood. It is not the Christian imposing anything, but God who will judge, regardless of whether people believe in Him or not. For the battle is not the Christian’s. It is the Lord’s. Everybody have a right to their own opinion, but not every opinion is right. People can be utterly sincere but also seriously wrong. Love too is a many-splendored thing, but it is also greatly misunderstood. Like the proverbial one man’s meat is another man’s poison, a person’s understanding of love is another expression of hatred. The Apostle John, sometimes called the Apostle of Love wrote in 1 John 4, that God is Love. He compares worldly love with divine love. Most importantly, love is not a concept or a nice idea. Love is in Jesus Christ. In such times where love seem to be all kinds of things to all kinds of people, it is good to just pause and reflect on what John has to say about love.

This week, I offer some reflections on 1 John 4:7-21, using what I call the “Four Quadrants of Divine Love.”

Quadrant 1 – Curtain Raiser (1 John 4:7)
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)
Quadrant 1
Love comes from God. It begins in God. It is the essence of God. It is the mark of anyone who knows God. For love comes from above. We love because He first loved us. The way we love is a direct response to how God loves us. Like the saying, it takes one to know one, a phrase used to refer to native people knowing native things. How one begins reminds us of the basis of love. A child who says to his mother, “If you love me, buy me that Nintendo,” is using materialism as a basis of love. A girl saying to a boy, “If you love me, grab that moon for me,” is using fantasy as a basis of love, or just another way to tell the boy to get lost. A young man who says to his girlfriend, “If you love me, sleep with me now,” is using sex as the basis of love. For the Christian, the basis of love is not feelings, not concepts, and definitely not a mental imagination. The basis of love is in the Person of Christ. God’s love is unconditional. Just look at the way that in spite of us being sinners, Jesus came and died for us (Rom 5:8). Love is a response to that great love. The only way for us to love well is to begin with God. The world puts its initiative on self. God puts the initiative on Himself.

Quadrant 2 – Confession (1 John 4:15) 

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.”
Quadrant 2
Knowing God’s love is not enough. We need to let God’s love dwell in us. We learn here that love is not an idea or a concept, but a living Person dwelling in us. That way, love is not just a one-shot activity or a limited set of ideas. It is a whole life lived in love, where every activity is a loving activity. Just like God.

Confession is not about saying the sinner’s prayer. It is about living out the sinner’s prayer. It acknowledges that we are weak and powerless to help ourselves. This keeps us in a mood of repentance. It shows the awareness of our limited abilities, and that we need divine help. Out of this humble acknowledgment, we put aside arrogance and pride, to adopt a spirit of servanthood just like Jesus (Mark 10:45).

There are some Christians who claim that they are saved, but live as if they are entitled to something. When we confess Jesus as our Lord, Jesus must be Lord of all, otherwise He is not lord at all. Love is not an entitlement. It is a confession that only God can truly love, and we can only love truly when God is in us. That is what John is saying when he urges us to abide in Christ, and Christ to abide in us.

Quadrant 3 – Confidence (1 John 4:18)
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Quadrant 3
Living in fear is a common thing. From littering in public places to the fear of getting a ticket for speeding, we are warned about punishment if we fail to obey the laws. There is no fear in love because true love is not about doing something because we are afraid. That would be negative motivation. True love is about doing something out of love, out of desire to make things better. Love as an activity is limited, even vulnerable to manipulation. Love as a Person will drive all activities. Theologian Raymond Brown distinguishes “love” from “loving.” In other words, “God is love” is not the same as “God is loving.” Brown notes that when we say God is love, we are saying essentially that all activities are loving activities. That means:

  • God’s act of creation is loving; 
  • God’s pattern is loving;
  • God’s judgment is loving;
  • God’s mercy is loving;
  • God’s sacrifice is loving;
  • God’s admonishment is loving.
  • God’s _____ is loving.

That is because God is love. Being confident in God’s love, we can go forth to be confident in everything and anything we do, not limited by fear but driven by love.

Quadrant 4 – Commandment (1 John 4:19-21)

“We love because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 John 4:19-21)
Quadrant 4
Some of us may be wondering, how can something that is commanded be love? It is not the commandment per se, but the desire to honour and worship God that is the motivation. Servants of God will see serving God as a joy, not a burdensome command. Just as laws are meant for lawbreakers, lovers need covenants to remember their commitments. While the commandment is to love one another, when the love of God is in us, we will no longer see the commandment as an obligation but a joy to follow.

Knowing the reason for the commandment is also important. One of them is in knowing that obeying the commandments is for our ultimate good. Drivers on a busy expressway will feel safe when everyone keeps to their lanes and follows the rules when it comes to changing lanes. Reckless drivers who ignore the rules do not just risk causing accidents; they may also create a massive congestion if their careless driving results in a nasty pile up. People who beat the red light can kill other drivers and pedestrians.

When God commands us to love, it is essentially having the interests of the community at heart. That is the essence of rules, regulations, and commands.

May these four quadrants be another way to appreciate the rich teachings of 1 John 4.

THOUGHT: "The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell

The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave his Son to win
His erring child he reconciled, and pardoned from his sin
O Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure, the saints and angels' song." (Frederick Lehman)


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