How can I love some Christians when I don’t even like them?
Our question contains two words which, in everyday conversation, are often used interchangeably but actually they are very distinct from each other. Not only are they distinct in meaning but they also derive from two different sources. To like is a human quality, but it is restricted in its extent to people or things which appeal to us in some way. In contrast to this human and limited attribute, love is a spiritual quality that derives from God – ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God’, 1 John 4. 7, and it is unlimited for we ‘ought to love one another’, 1 John 4. 12.
Throughout His public ministry the Lord Jesus taught His disciples many things, but on the eve of His death He gave them a commandment that He described as being ‘new’. He said, ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you’, John 13. 34. In His statement the Lord gave an instruction ‘love one another’ and the standard to be aimed at ‘as I have loved you’. Christ loved the disciples despite their foibles and unworthiness.
Whilst most of us may not be prepared to admit that we don’t like every Christian we know, the reality is that we don’t. It is also quite possible that we don’t even like all the saints with whom we are in fellowship – and this ought not to surprise us. Church life brings people together that, naturally speaking, would have little or nothing in common. As we think of the composition of some New Testament churches we find slaves and masters in fellowship, Jews and Gentiles sitting together, rich and poor were alongside each other. The unifying bond between these disparate parties was God’s salvation; they had become Christians. The challenge of Christianity isn’t limited to us living harmoniously together or putting up with each other despite the miscellany of behaviour, outlook and culture that exists amongst us. The challenge is for us to love one another – that is even more demanding.
Although we may not know much about several of the disciples, we are given sufficient information for us to observe significant differences in their temperament and background. It was to that dissimilar band of men that the Lord said, ‘By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’, John 13. 35 NKJV. Maybe this is one aspect of ‘church life’ we often fail to obey. We know that the word of God gives unequivocal teaching on head coverings for the sisters, the requirements for elders, instructions relating to the breaking of bread, etc. – and it is absolutely right that we seek to comply with all this teaching. However, how many fellowships have been blown apart because of a failure to manifest love one for another? How many saints have been permanently damaged through the carnal attitudes that have been directed at them by fellow believers?
So, how can we achieve this love for one another, even those who irritate us or those with whom we have little in common as far as everyday life is concerned? John was the disciple who really appreciated Christ’s love and he supplies the answer to this issue. He wrote, ‘We love him, because he first loved us’, 1 John 4. 19, and frequently we meditate upon these words as we participate at the Lord’s Supper. However, many translations omit the word ‘him’ and therefore the verse reads, ‘We love because he first loved us’. The context of the latter part of that chapter doesn’t focus on our love for Christ but primarily on love for our fellow Christians. John is teaching that God’s love for us enables us to love one another.
In verses 9-11 of 1 John chapter 4, the apostle teaches that God’s amazing love for us ought to motivate us to love our fellow Christians. Is it possible that our failure to display mutual love is rooted in a lack of appreciation of what we were and what God has done for us? In verse 12, we learn that God loved us for a purpose and that purpose was that we might love each other. When we do that, God’s love achieves its purpose; His love is ‘perfected in us’.
Our love should not be selective or exclusive; it ought not to be limited to those with whom we are in fellowship but be shown to all saints no matter where they gather. Although we may not feel free to engage in collective fellowship with believers who meet in other ways, we should love them none the less. We must avoid the error of upholding one form of church truth at the exclusion of another. We should defend New Testament principles relative to the local assembly but equally we should value the teaching relative to the church which is His body. After all, ‘we are members of one another’, Eph. 4. 25.
I recognize that it is much easier to write or speak about this love than it is to demonstrate it, and some of us may be conscious of deficiencies relative to showing it. However, let us seek to exude something of God’s love which is classless, genderless, non-racist and non-sectarian.