John's message of love is precise, profound

Understanding true love requires spiritual insight, Matthew O. Richardson said Sept. 18 at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the Scriptures: "The Life and Teachings of John the Beloved."

"John approaches love in its fullest sense and those who study his writings must be willing to consider that the scriptural essence of love might be something different than what they are either used to hearing or have come to expect," said Brother Richardson of the BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine.He added that when one approaches John's text with a casual attitude, only varying portions of the fullness of love can be realized. "This is not to say that we are incapable of loving, or that the love John describes is beyond our grasp, it merely emphasizes that John's message of love is precise while remaining profoundly simple."

He said that when properly understood the love described in John's works can provide direction for all mankind. Following are several examples he used of John's teachings about love:

  • John connects the fullness of love not with casual emotions, affections, or even passion, but with God. "To ensure that he was not misunderstood, John taught in the simplest of terms that `God is love.' " (1 John 4:8,16.)
  • While love is intended to eventually become a reciprocal relationship, Church members must understand that the love of God is not contingent upon their love for Him. "It begins with God, not with us," he said. "John later explained that `we love him, because he first loved us,' " (1 John 4:19.)
  • John makes it clear that "he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16.) "Since the love of God is genesis to our ability to truly love, if we remove God, for any reason, we forfeit our ability to practice love in its fullest sense."
  • The scriptures teach that loving others is regarded as the badge of Christianity. "The discerning fruit of discipleship was determined by whether the followers of Christ loved others," he said. " By this shall all men know ye are my disciples,' Christ taught,if ye have love one to another' " (John 13:35.)
  • "The pinnacle of our understanding of the love of God is centered not only upon Christ's life, but also upon His sacrifice.

"John taught that we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us,' (1 John 3:16) and that the love of God is manifested toward us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the worldso that we might live through him.' " (1 John 4:9.)

Brother Richardson said the writings of John clearly teach of a fullness of love. "John taught that the full measure of love is founded in God. It is from God that all love springs forth," he said. "He taught that Jesus Christ . . . is, in reality, the love of God and thus as God's mediator, we can feel of the fullness of God's love as we enter into a covenant and become born of Christ. We demonstrate real love by keeping the commandments and loving others."

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