I’m sure each one of us can think of someone, either past or present, that has been seen as unlikeable for one reason or another. And if not by us, then by others. Maybe it’s their personality, habits, demeanor … or maybe they are downright rude and inconsiderate of those around them. It’s generally taken for granted in society that there will be people we just don’t like or get along with. It’s normal — and we shouldn’t worry too much about making an effort to befriend them. “If they get on my nerves, isn’t it just better to let them be than to risk more annoyance and possibly even greater friction?” Hmm…
As Christians, is this the kind of mindset we should have toward those who are deemed “unlikeable”? Should we just go with the flow, so to speak, and allow the world to shape our thinking about who we love or don’t have to love? Or is our first turn the Word of God to truly know what God’s heart is on the matter?
In Luke 10, Jesus is having a conversation with a lawyer and to test Jesus he asks what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus then asks the lawyer what he thinks the answer is, to which he replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10:27). Jesus confirms this as the right answer, and then to justify himself the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). In response, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. (Read Luke 10:30-37.) The Jews and Samaritans hated one another, yet Jesus was telling them to love, serve, and give to those whom they counted their enemies.
In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt, 5:43-44, 46-48).
When Jesus came into this world, He was the perfect example of not only loving the unlikeable; He sought out those who were considered the worst of sinners and outcasts of society: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers … And not only that, but He died for the sins of the whole world — every single one of us. We had not done one single thing to deserve this love. In fact, each person who has ever lived has blatantly disobeyed and chosen to rebel against Him. Yet He laid down His life anyway that those who believed in Him might be saved. And this is the kind of love He commands His followers to have for everyone, whether they “deserve” it or not.
Practically, how should this kind of love play itself out in our lives? In each situation it might look different. It could be choosing to team up with someone for a school project that you know no one else will ask. Or it may be forgiving someone who has hurt you over and over again, even if they show no signs of being sorry for what they have done. Whatever the circumstance may be, it will be marked by the patience, forgiveness, mercy, gentleness, and compassion of Jesus Christ.
I was blessed with a dad who took this very seriously and also instilled this mindset into his children as we grew up. I can think of numerous times when I was faced with the decision of reaching out to someone I hadn’t “clicked” with or who had even been unkind to me in the past. Sometimes the decision was really difficult, because it meant being put considerably outside my comfort zone in various ways. But the reward of displaying love to them and watching the way the Lord blessed it far outweighed any uncomfortableness on my part. I even had someone come back years later with tears in their eyes telling me how much it meant to them that I would choose to include them in something I was a part of. Never once have I regretted the decision to show love to someone when it wasn’t necessarily easy to do so at the time.
This kind of love is not one we can conjure up by our own will-power. This kind of love only comes from the life of Jesus within us. Without Him we can do nothing. (See John 15:5.) But by the power of His indwelling Spirit, we can live lives that are brimful with His love!
Usually this kind of love comes with sacrifice of some kind. It could be simply expending significant time and energy, or it could mean giving up our reputation or being rejected by others. But as we follow Jesus, looking to Him alone for our worth and purpose, there will be an unquenchable joy knowing that we are living in a manner that is pleasing and glorifying to our King!