“I understand some people may see things differently than my husband does. And I understand there may be disagreements and problems to work through. But what hurts me most is when I hear that some people ‘just don’t like’ my husband…their pastor!”
Even though I could not see the young woman on the other end of the telephone conversation, I knew tears were welling up in her eyes and a lump was swelling in her throat. She sniffled a little and I took a deep breath. Her pain was too familiar to me.
“What do they mean by ‘they don’t like‘ him?” she asked in frustration. “My husband’s not perfect. He’s just human. But he’s a wise, godly and loving man. He loves this church so much! How can they not like him?”
Unfortunately, I’ve heard similar laments too often. And while I’ve heard people share their dislike of someone in other settings, I find it most confusing and disheartening in the body of Christ.
What do we mean when we say we dislike someone?
When we announce, silently or boldly, that we don’t like someone, it’s no casual comment. We’re going beyond taking offense at one action. We’re not just saying we disagree with them on a few topics. And we’re not taking issue with how they comb their hair, what restaurants they favor or even who they voted for. We’re casting judgment on their character, their personality and their essence.
We’re x-ing them off our list. We’re labeling them too different, too unappealing to be a friend, a sister, a companion. And we’re drawing a line.
We’re also showing disrespect to the One who uniquely created, loves, died for, pursued and treasures the object of our disdain. We’re calling God’s work insufficient, His creativity flawed, His possession of little value. And, while we’re grateful for the grace He gives us, we assert that the object of our dislike requires too much.
What does the Bible say?
Paul, a guy who knew what it felt like to have brethren dislike him, wrote to the church in Ephesus,
Lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
According to God’s Word there is no room in the church for disliking people. Instead of drawing lines of separation, we’re supposed to be binding ourselves together with peace. I don’t have permission to just “not like” someone. And yet, here are some of the words I’ve heard tossed around in the church:
- “We don’t send Johnny to youth group. He doesn’t really like the youth minister.”
- “I’m not working in the childcare area anymore. I just don’t like the woman in charge.”
- “We don’t really like the teacher of the two-year-old class. We just take Johnny to our class instead.”
- “Can I be in that discussion group instead? I don’t like the leader at my table.”
- “We’re visiting different churches. We just didn’t really like the new pastor at our old one.”
I looked up the word “like” in the Bible. It’s not in there. Sure, the word synonymous with “as” is used numerous times. But not once does the Bible tell us to “like” someone. I find that interesting, since there are over 30 directives about what we are supposed to do toward one another. (Love one another, submit to one another, be kind to one another, pray for one another, etc.) But the absence of the verb “like” doesn’t lead me to believe it’s okay to dislike one another. Instead, it indicates that to like or not to like, that is never the question.
Paul’s instruction in Ephesians demands that we take “liking” someone off the table. But we also don’t get to dislike them. On the contrary, we are told to be patient with one another…allowing for differences in opinion and personality quirks and unique dispositions and little mannerisms and missteps and differences in backgrounds.
Quit trying to like, and love instead.
Look back at the words I italicized in Ephesians 4:1-3. Because of your love.
- Love refuses to keep a list of wrongs or mistakes.
- Love asks questions instead of making assumptions.
- Love listens instead of formulating arguments.
- Love celebrates differences and unique vantage points instead of insisting on sameness.
- Love doesn’t keep at arm’s length in disdain, but leans in with honest curiosity.
- Love pursues unity instead of picking a fight.
- Love forgives and chooses not to remember a slight.
- Love seeks common ground instead of highlighting differences.
- Love tries to get to know instead of pasting on labels.
- Love laughs off instead of taking offense.
- Love allows for bad days and preoccupied minds and personal struggles.
- Love resists looking for perfection and simply appreciates growth.
- Love demonstrates godliness.
Abraham Lincoln is said to have commented, “I don’t like that man very much; I’ll have to get to know him better.” President Lincoln knew that disliking someone wasn’t a harmless option. It was a condition of the heart to be rectified through leaning in, listening, learning…and loving.
And Lincoln’s quote causes me to stop and ask myself, “Have I written someone off as unlikable? Am I in the habit of liking some and disliking others?”
Look, we’re all going to favor some relationships over others. There’s a reason birds of a feather flock together. But if my desire is to be like Christ, I must approach all of my relationships the way He does. I must allow true and godly love to trump my feelings of affinity or discord.The way I see it, when I don't like someone much I need to rectify that by loving them fiercely. Click To Tweet
I need to press through, invite over, lean in, ask questions, listen earnestly and assume the best. And I need to give a lot of grace. After all, I’ve been given more than my fair share.
What about you? When you catch yourself thinking that you don’t like your child’s coach, the new teacher on your team, the senior adult minister, the coworker in charge of the new project or your friend’s friend…what do you do? What do you think you should do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.