This week I’m at a pastor’s conference in Minneapolis. It’s a trip I make every year, because it’s a conference that's designed to give pastors something we all really need: a chance to experience worship from the other side of the pulpit. So there is good teaching, and good worship, and lots of time to fellowship with folks who all do pretty much the same thing. And while I always come away refreshed, I also come away challenged by what I hear from the teachers and other participants.
That’s exactly what happened yesterday at one of the workshops I was attending, when I overheard the couple in front of me arguing over whether or not Christians are called to “like” everyone. It was a fairly intense debate, with each person expressing strong opinions and feelings about their position on the issue. Finally, the one who was arguing that Christians ARE called to like everyone triumphed, and the other person conceded their position. That’s when I leaned forward and said, “I don't think so”.
The reality of life is that we all have different personalities, and so it is unrealistic to think that we will like everyone we meet, or want to be in relationship with them. And Christians are not exempt from this reality. But even more importantly, the Bible does not call us to like everyone we meet. However, it does call us to love them.
There are 4 Greek words for love, and the two that are used the most in the New Testament are phileo and agape. Phileo is a deep, friendship type of love. So this would be what we feel towards the people we really connect with - the folks we call our "besties". The other type of love is agape, and it's a willful love - an intentional love that comes more from the mind than the heart. It’s a love that chooses to show kindness and patience and forgiveness in spite of whether or not we like someone.
It was agape love that drove Jesus. I don’t think His actions just flowed out of liking people or what they did. Actually, Jesus only had a few close friends. But He willfully chose to show kindness and mercy and grace and forgiveness to everyone - even to His enemies, and to those who ridiculed Him. And it was agape love that kept Jesus on the cross so that His enemies could become sons and daughters of the Most High God.
Ephesians 4:32 explains how we are to think of others, as Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” That is agape love. It’s willfully showing kindness, even when we don’t “like” someone. It’s intentionally forgiving, even when we don’t feel like it - and especially when it’s our enemies.
So how do we get there? How can we become people who show agape love to everyone? Simple - through the power of the Holy Spirit. It's through the Holy Spirit’s mighty power that we can live as Christ did. What we need to do is ask the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, and then submit to His power when faced with the challenge of extending agape love.
So today, let’s do this. Let’s not worry so much about liking people, but instead, let’s focus on loving them. Let’s bring before the Lord all of the folks we struggle with - whether it’s family or friends or co-workers or neighbors - and let’s ask God to help us choose to be kind and gracious and forgiving towards them. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, helping us love others the way Christ has loved us.