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The Joy of Relational Intelligence


A family friend told me recently that his 42-year-old daughter was going through a midlife crisis and a difficult time in her relationship. He was busy helping her through this tough time, but, being a father, he felt awkward to help an adult daughter, “We are too close to help each other on issues like this.” He wanted her to find a professional counselor to sort things out. In the end he said, “Sam, separation is the worst thing in life. I wish there weren’t such a thing as separation. I wish she didn’t have to go through it.” I think he is right.

Each time when I reflect on my life, about the joyous days and miserable days, I realize that they all have something to do with relationship. The most joyful days in my life were when I lived in harmony with my family and friends—when love became a reality. And the worst days of my life were when I encountered broken relationships—whether it was simply a dispute or dishonesty, from my side or the other.


Another friend once told me that she didn’t know whether there is going to be a hell after this life or not, but she thinks this world is hell enough and she had been through it. Nothing can be worse than what she had been through. She had a perfect and dignified family, but it suddenly fell apart, leaving her alone in the cold. Separation is like a burning hell fire, no wonder hell is often defined as the eternal separation from God.

I am sure if you reflect on your life, you will also agree that the best and the worst days of your life have mostly to do with relationship, rather than money or possessions. The richest moment of your life is not when you are rich in possessions, but when you are rich in relationship. When I asked the late Margaret Johnson what her hobby was, she said, “I collect people!” I used to treat it as her sense of humor, but now it has become the wisdom of the ages to me.

If you don’t believe that we live in a fallen world, just look at human relationships around you. We all have seen that human relationship within us, around us, and all over the world is not what it is supposed to be. The most obvious sign of human sinfulness is broken relationships. If only we could all live in healthy relationships, we could solve every problem in the world. There would be no broken families, no crimes, and no wars.

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and sin happens! We get hurt by sinful people, and we hurt others without knowing it, just as Jesus said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Even though we cannot control other people’s sinful actions, God wants us to stop it right here with us—the believers. Since joy can be found only in healthy relationship, we must not leave the state of healthy relationship to find joy, even when others try to push us out of this state. One of the evil forces of this fallen world is that we have people around us pushing us out of the state of fruitfulness—the state of being filled with the Spirit, the state of bearing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, etc. and the state of being in the kingdom of God—a place of ultimate joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).

Even though you might not have any conscious intention to hate anyone, or hurt anyone, you are constantly being affected by the hates and hurts of others. Everything around you in this fallen world is trying to push you out of God’s kingdom. They don’t want to see you in there. Miserable people find joy by making others miserable.

How can you stay healthy in relationship even though the other party doesn’t want to have a healthy relationship with you? First, don’t let the relationship be broken by you. “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18) However, it is one level to not to be the person who breaks relationship, but it is another level of maturity to keep the relationship healthy or to hang in there to regenerate healthy relationship when the situation is hopeless.

I call this level of spiritual maturity “Relational Intelligence.” We have IQ for Intelligence Quotient, EQ for Emotional Quotient, and now I want to talk about RQ, Relational Quotient.

God wants the believers to have a higher Relational Quotient. Jesus said that you will suffer in this sinful world, but you must rejoice in suffering. If your relational quotient rises to the level of independence from other people’s reactivity, you will be able to feel secure and even rejoice when you walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Romans 12:9-21 summarizes the relational intelligence in a short paragraph. There are about 23 instructions starting with “Let love be genuine.” Even this very first instruction is quite challenging.

I grew up in a Christian family and we always talked about love, and the community knows that Christians are all about love. One day, a non-believer told me that “You Christians are always talking about love, but we see no love among you.” I wanted to defend myself, but when I looked from his point of view, it seems to be true. We talk too much about love but our love is not genuine. Our words can’t touch people, but only our hearts can touch people. People want to see a genuine love that flows out of our non-hypocritical hearts.

According to the original language, this sentence actually says, “Let love be not hypocritical.” We are good at seeing other people’s hypocrisy, but God wants us to deal with our own hypocrisy first, particularly on the issue of love. We might not be able to completely eliminate hypocrisy since we are fallen beings living in this fallen world, but that doesn’t mean that we should be blind to our own hypocrisy.

There was a father who asked his son to go to church, but the son said, “I don’t want to go to church. The church is full of hypocrites.” The father said, “Well, it doesn’t hurt to have one more!” After hearing this joke, I found a defense. Christians are hypocrites, but at least we are recovering hypocrites. Still, when it comes to love, God wants us not hypocritical, but genuine. Can we do that?

Another element of this instruction is the word “love.” It was translated from the Greek “agape,” pronounced “a-gaah-pay.” There are three different words for love in biblical Greek, Philia (faithful or brotherly love), Eros (sensual or sexual love), and Agape (sacrificial deep love). Loving with Agape means your love cannot be transactional. It’s not give and take. There is only give. If you love God only when he blesses you and stop loving God when you go through a difficult time, you need to ask whether your love is genuine. Does God deserve a fair-weather friend? If you love your spouse and expect something back, then your love might not be of a genuine Agape love.

Let’s face it! There is no joy where there is no healthy relationship. God wants you not to act like a victim of broken relationship; instead, God wants you to be an agent of transformation. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) God wants you to be spiritually mature and strong enough to crank even the dead relationship into life, relying on God’s power. God wants you to not only seek the kingdom for yourself but also extend the kingdom to others. God wants you not only to stop being part of the problem of this world, but to become the solution of the problems. I know that’s a tall order, but why do you think Jesus had to die on the cross?

The Christ on the cross is the apex of Relational Intelligence. He wants his followers to carry the cross for the same reason.

In order to become a solution to our relational problems, we must be relationally intelligent. How do we do that? Live the instructions found in Romans 12:9-21 because that’s what a community of relational intelligence is like. You won’t become spiritually mature overnight, but at least this is the starting point with some significant goals to shoot for. The pursuit of relational intelligence is the same as being hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) Let us hunger and thirst for relational intelligence and we will be greatly blessed and filled with joy. Amen!

Image Credit: Sanja Gjener

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