Sometimes Christians say silly things like, “I love that person, but I don’t have to like him” but I guess I’ve said it too. My idea of love used to be sacrificing for the good of others, as if giving a person my time or a gift was sufficient to make them feel loved, and liking them had nothing to do with it.
Jesus said to His disciples and to me: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)
He said I’m to love others as He loved me. That might be where the above limitations initially came from; I’m thinking He died on the cross for me (which is sacrificial love), but He really doesn’t like me.
However, the more Jesus reveals Himself to me, the more I realize that thinking love is a sacrifice only could be some sort of self-protective device. Doing that can make me look good without any emotional commitment. That way, other people cannot reject or hurt me because my so-called actions of love might look good, but I am keeping my heart out of it.
An author, Joshua Harris, said this: “Christ taught that love is not for the fulfillment of the self but for the Glory of God and the food of others. True love is selfless. It gives; it sacrifices; it dies to its own needs.” This is true and it means that dying to my own needs includes that need to feel emotionally safe.
Timothy Keller, another author and pastor whom I’ve come to highly respect, says this: “We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need - regardless of race, politics, class, and religion - is your neighbor. Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbor, and you must love your neighbor.” (italics mine)
That puts me closer to what Jesus says about loving others as He loved me. He didn’t love me because I had any merit at all. My love for others is to be like that, not picky at all. As Keller says, I am to love those that I otherwise might turn up my nose at, or reject because they are not like me.
But that still doesn’t deal with “liking” them. What does it mean to like someone? Obviously Jesus supplies the best answer in how He loves and I cannot imagine Him showing love with an “I don’t like about you” attitude. For Him, “love” and “like” are the same thing . . . He is with me all the time. He cares about everything I care about. He is ready to talk whenever I want to talk. He arranges circumstances for my good. He comforts me when I am sad. He gives me great joy over even little blessings. He grants answers to my requests. He takes care of my needs. He gives me gifts and friends and family and all that I need. He makes a total investment in me: physical and emotional.
One thing that I’ve noticed about attitudes toward others is this: if I do things for someone, even if I am angry with that person, the act of taking care of them changes my attitude. I’ve seen that in others too. We have a grouchy neighbor who has decided to restore from the curb all the emptied garbage cans in our complex. He does it every week and his attitude toward everyone has changed dramatically.
Jesus knew that. When He commands His people to love each other, and to love our neighbors, He knows what that sacrificial love will do; it will be a witness that we are His disciples, but it will also make us like each other.