“God commands us to love people, but He does not say that we have to like them.” Have you ever heard that statement before? Many of us have heard this claim and maybe even made it ourselves. The question I’d like us to consider is, is it true? Is it possible to truly love someone without liking them? Can we confidently say to someone, “I dislike you, but I really love you?”
The reason that the sentiment that we can love without liking has become so popular is due, I believe, to two things. Number one, the sinful inclination of our hearts. It is an easy way to justify our less than loving attitude toward others, and number two, a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of love. Although reason one deserves our attention, it is reason two that I would like to consider with you.
Usually those who make the statement contrasting loving and liking are making an assumption about the nature of love. That assumption is this: love has nothing to do with feelings or affections, but only with actions and the will. Love is said to be what you do and not what you feel. Love may then be defined as “willing the best for someone else and doing what we can to bring that best about.” Liking is thought of as something more emotional. It is considering someone to be dear or appealing to you. But is this what Scripture teaches about love?
Let me take you to one place that refutes this unemotional view of love. Listen as the apostle Paul describes what genuine love is like:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:9-10).
Paul is aware that there is such a thing as a counterfeit type of love, and he is anxious that the love of the Roman believers for others prove to be genuine. John Calvin is right when he says, “It is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess. They deceive not only others, but also themselves, while they persuade themselves that they have a true love for those whom they not only neglect, but also in fact reject.”
So what is genuine love like? Notice after Paul says that genuine love hates what is evil and clings to what is good (this in itself tells us that there is an emotional component to love), he says that we are to “love one another with brotherly affection.” This little phrase makes it crystal clear that real affection is a necessary component of genuine love. One writer says that this exhortation “indicates the tender and intimate affection as between members of the same family.”
Search your hearts with me for a moment. Is it possible to dislike someone and at the same time to feel tender and intimate affection for them in your heart? God’s command to love others goes so much deeper than we would like to think.
Some might say that this type of love is impossible. Who can change who they like or dislike? But with God nothing is impossible. It shows us how much we are in need of the work of God’s grace in our hearts and lives. What God commands of His people, He also enables.
One question worth considering: what would eternity with God be like if holy love did not necessarily include liking? What if God said to you or me, “I love you, but I sure don’t like you?” The prospect of spending billions of ages with a God who loved me, but did not necessarily like me, is less than pleasant.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.