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Because of the gospel, which displays God’s love for us, Christians are to love others in the same way (1 Jn. 3.16). However, we often struggle with understanding and applying this verse. One helpful clarification is the distinction between “loving” and “liking” people.

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones is extremely helpful in drawing this distinction for us. What follows is a quote Life in Christ a collection of his sermons on First John.

So let me put it like this: we are not called to like the bretheren, but we are called and commanded to love them. Furthermore, I would assert that loving and liking are not degrees of the same thing but are essentially different.

What is liking? What is it to like a person? Well, I would say that liking is something natural something instinctive ore elemental, something that is not the result of effort; you find yourself liking or not liking. In other words, liking is something physical and unintelligible.

Now do not misunderstand that. When I say that something is unintelligible, I meant that it does not happen as a result of the operation and the use of the intelligence. Liking is something that belongs to the animal part of the life and nature. You find it in the animal world itself; there is something instinctive, something that is just an expression of nature…Or, to put it further, the state of liking is one in which we are naturally interested in the person as such. It is certain qualities of that person, certain things about them which we like or dislike. In other words, liking does not penetrate to the central height of personality; it is an interest in superficial things, appearance, colour, temperament, behaviour or certain mannerisms….

But when we think in terms of love, we must think along a different plane. We should not think in terms of a worldly understanding or basis of love (infatuation, solely emotional, or even intensified liking) but instead think of God, who is love (1 Jn. 4.8).

Lloyd-Jones continues…

Love is always highly intelligent; nature is not the greatest thing in love; the intellectual and intelligent aspects are indeed the most prominent. Love is never elemental or instinctive, because love is something that penetrates to the person; it goes beyond the superficial and the visible, the carnal and physical attraction, to something bigger and deeper. Indeed it is an essential part of love that it goes out of its way to do that. Love overcomes obstacles and excuses; it sees beyond what it does not like and minimises it, in order to the see the person who is at the back of it.

Now all this inevitably becomes a part of our definition of love, otherwise it would be impossible for God to love the sinner. We draw a distinction often, and we say God loves the sinner in spite of his sin. Love penetrates beyond the ugliness and the unattractiveness; it seeks out something. It is highly intelligent, it is thoughtful, and it is understanding. It is discriminating, and that is why I thus emphasised and stressed the intelligent aspect of love.(Life in Christ p. 358-359)

Surely you can see that loving and liking are entirely different. Too often we don’t love people because we think that we have to like them. This is actually falling far short of what it means to love. Loving is defined by and modeled by God. It is the response of one who has been loved by God and is seeking to love God in the other person (if they are a Christian) and love the image of God in that person (if they are an unbeliever). It penetrates beyond any outward unattractiveness and fastens itself upon the new nature in the individual. It is highly intelligent and not merely instinctive. It thinks, reasons, and works to reflect Jesus in willful and joyful sacrifice and service of others for their good.

If you are a Christian you may not like ‘em (that’s ok) but you must love them.

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11 thoughts on “You May Not Like ‘em, but You Have to Love ‘em.”

  1. This is something I have preached to my kids for years, only in a more elementary version. I think this hits the nail on the head, that God has a higher calling for us in loving people. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      Good to hear. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Norma says:

    This something I’ve belived for a very long time. Thank you posting this.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      Good to hear. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for the post. I;ve wondered about this for a long

  4. For years, my daughter (6) has expressed affection with:

    “I love you AND I like you!”

    I’m glad she does both…even if she doesn’t have to.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      You my friend are obviously a great dad.

  5. Rosario says:

    Erik I’d like to say that this article is in my top 5 favorites on your articles. Problem is that list is full so I’m gonna say it’s in the top 6 now.

    I like this along with The brotherly love article, the gossiping article and the church prevailing sermon series. Loving and serving someone that you don’t like is very difficult especially if they are continuously being vicious to you. Grrr :(
    frustrating !

    Not only it was good to reinforce that loving them had to be taken at a different plane ( that’s really the only way that you can do it) but it was also good to know that loving them is highly intelligent. So not only can I say I did something that pleases God I can also say I did something intelligent :) Not something foolish but intelligent. I like that. Thank you for this article. They’re always very refreshing.

  6. Katie Potter says:

    Thank you for briefly writing on this topic. It is one I have been thinking through and I believe to be very relevant. I however, have come to the exact opposite conclusion. Its commandment that we love people in the Bible so thats obvious and I’m sure common ground. “Liking” is less obvious in Scripture. However, with Christ being our example as well as the source of love, “God is love”, I keep looking to how He demonstrates love. It has many facets, but within the Trinity, the source, it has great affection. It was that affection/love, that lead God to create the world, save the world, in the future judge the world, and bring complete restoration. If we are to love like God, how is that void of affection? I dare say, that every time we do not like someone it is because of sin – ours, theirs, or both. We should never be ok with sin. Love is not only affection, but it is not only sacrificial acts either. We must ask why we do not like someone and get to the root. Through sanctification, the root of our love should always be Christ, for whom we should have great affection; that should pour over onto people through sacrificial acts for their good because we have love and affection for them.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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