A popular phrase that is currently high on my ‘makes me want to punch a wall’ list is: “I don’t have to like them, I just have to love them.” This is the attitude of many people when it comes to their fellow Christians. But I would love nothing more than to ban that phrase, and here’s why…
Being a Christian is fundamentally about being in a relationship with God. But it’s also about being in relationship with one another. Here’s what Jesus says: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22:37-39, emphasis mine). In other words, loving God is the most important thing but loving others is incredibly close behind – in fact, you can’t have the first and not have the second.
Right from the beginning the Bible emphasises the importance of relationship with those around us: Genesis 1:27 tells us “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This seems to mean that we were made to look like God. And God is in relationship – remember, we call it Trinity: three persons in one. That’s a relationship. That’s God. And we were made in God’s image. No wonder the New Testament says that the way we imitate God is by loving one another (Eph 5:1). In fact, no matter where you look the Bible reiterates the same thing: a relationship with God cannot exist without relationship with others (go look up Matt 5:23-24; 1 Cor 13:1-3; Gal 5:6; or 1 John 3:14 if you don’t believe me).
But the thing is, the Bible doesn’t settle for just any kind of relationship. Look what Jesus prays for us right before He goes to the cross. After praying for His disciples, He says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21, again the emphasis is mine). That’s amazing. He is praying that the same oneness that exists between the Father and the Son may exist between us. And this is not just a passing thought, for He prays it again: “that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22-23). And if that’s not enough, the last words of His prayer clarify what He really wants: “that the love you have for me may be in them” (John 17:26).
Let this sink in. This is Jesus praying. This is what He wants for us. This is His last request, as it were, for believers and it boils down to this: “I want them to love each other in the same way that the Father and the Son love each other.” In his commentary on John’s gospel, D. A. Carson writes on this section of verse 26: “The love with which [the believers] learn to love is nothing less than the love amongst the persons of the Godhead.”
Now if that’s true, we can’t get away with statements like, “I don’t need to like you, I just need to love you”. That just doesn’t square with what Jesus is praying for. Thinking that we can love someone without liking them is just crazy; it completely misunderstands what love is. Do you think the Holy Spirit ever says to Jesus ‘I love you, but I just don’t like you very much right now’?! The powerful, sacrificial and transformational love of God – which is the kind of love Jesus prayed we would have for one another – simply leaves no room for ‘liking’ each other or not.
Paul got it: “Be devoted to one another in love” (Rom. 12:10). The writer of Hebrews got it: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Heb. 13:1). James got it: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right” (James 2:8). Peter got it: “Above all, love each other deeply” (1 Pet. 4:8).
Now we need to get it too.