“Is it possible to love people but not like them? We are called to love everyone, but do we have to like them and what they do?” ~ Anonymous
Often both like and love go hand in hand.
For instance, I both like and love my wife. Yes, it’s true. I enjoy her company, I enjoy conversation with her, we have an emotional connection, and we are affectionate. That is the “like” part of our relationship. I also put her best interests before mine. I work to provide for her and the kids. I lead her in our walk with Christ (as he leads us both.) I will protect her. Love is a resolved act of will, not merely an emotional thing. I liked my wife, long before I loved her.
When we first met, I liked the way she looked. I liked the way she made me felt. I liked being with her. It was emotional. Loving her was a decisive action, which culminated in the marriage vows.
I also love bacon. I mean I like it. Mmmm bacon…
I think the way we interpret the word “love” in our society has given rise to the confusion over what it is to love someone. So to the question at hand. Is it possible to love people but not like them? In Luke 6, when Jesus calls us to love everyone, even our enemies, sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking that we are failing at this command because there are some people who we just plain don’t like. Let’s say, for instance, that you have an uncle who is an alcoholic. When he drinks he gets mean, violent, and gets in fights. Even when he is not drinking he is still not a very nice guy. He is negative, rude, and not a very friendly guy. He insults you and is not nice to anyone. Being around him drains you of precious energy, it brings you down. You do not like him at all.
Yet Jesus says to love him.
What does that look like?
Well loving him does not mean you have to like him. So please stop beating yourself up over that one. Loving someone does not mean condoning the sinful behaviour. It does not mean forgiving and forgetting. According to Ephesians 4, the most loving thing you can do for unrepentant sinners is to speak the truth to them; to call them to repentance and hold them accountable according to scripture. If they do not change their ways, after repeated urgent calls to repentance, then the most loving thing to do for them is to excommunicate them from your life. This is what Matthew 18 teaches. By the process of excommunication they may see the error of their ways and come to repentance and so believe on the promises of Jesus in the gospel; or they may not come to repentance, and then be given over to their sinful desires. In this case the most loving thing you can do for a person is to have nothing to do with them.
So what if they repent and then ask you for forgiveness? Do you grant that forgiveness?
Does that mean you now have to like them?
No. Not at all.
The hurt caused to you may be so great that you cannot ever have an affectionate, emotional relationship. Trust may be ruined beyond repair. That is an unfortunate consequence of sin. Just because we have forgiven someone does not mean we have to be friends with them.
As my friend J.S. Park said in his book What the Church Wont Talk About
There’s some Christian myth which demands that we must all get along and be buddy-buddy and pretend like traumatic betrayals never happened, but the major problem with that is the Bible. The Book of Proverbs constantly tells us to be wary of fools, thieves, and unrepentant scoundrels.
We can certainly love everyone including our enemies, like Jesus does, but it’s straight up harmful to try to be in close fellowship with everyone on an equal playing field. There’s no sense in re-drinking the poison of bitterness and anger just to “refine” yourself like that’s so spiritual.
Please don’t put yourself, or your loved ones, in harm’s way in some noble but misguided effort to like and be friends with everyone; we need to have boundaries. If your alcoholic uncle causes you to become bitter and angry and that affects your family, then, in your effort to “like” him, you are not being very loving to your own family. We are constantly told to seek wisdom. We should take our cues from Jesus. While he associated with the lowest of the low, he also spoke the truth in love quite harshly to sinners. He also knew when the crowds were hostile toward him and he would quickly escape to avoid harm. Jesus’ example to us shows that we do not need to put ourselves in harm’s way for no reason. We are not to blindly trust someone who has proven to be untrustworthy.
There is a warning to this however: We must also be discerning of why we don’t like another believer, and we should try to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12). Do we not like somebody based off of some gossip we have heard? Do we have a preconceived opinion of someone? Maybe we are basing our dislike of someone on his having a bad day when we first met them, or on a label that person may have from years ago. If so, then we best put those notions to rest and get to know that person before we declare them unlikeable. Likewise, if you do not like somebody, if you just can’t get along, if you both have type A personalities and just don’t work well together…Keep it to yourself. Spreading it around is at best gossip, and at worst, slander. And yes it is ok to not like another believer or something they do, as long as we keep our focus on Christ, and not on the other person. Look at Paul and Barnabas, for example, who split up after a “sharp disagreement.” It is not known if they ever spoke again, but they both went and did the Lord’s work.
So if we place our trust completely in Jesus, and if we are seeking after wisdom and holiness, if we are seeking to know God in a covenant relationship, then we will develop a love for others through the Word and Spirit. We have to. Love is what flows from a heart redeemed by grace. We will even love to those who hate us. We will love those who do harm to us. Loving others doesn’t mean we have to like them.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful
One Christian Dad loves his kids all the time. He does not like them when they wake him up at 3am.