“We have to love all people because Jesus commands us to do so, but that doesn’t mean we have to like them.”
We hear this too much and too often by Christians who pretend to be friends of Jesus.
Who are we fooling? When has it ever been possible to love something, or someone, without liking them? Will our dislike not inhibit our ability to love?
This faulty logic has increased the divide between us and others. This attitude does nothing to create community; in fact, it solidifies the hyper-privatization of our culture.
When Christians believe we can love people without liking them, and therein avoid a more intimate relationship with others, we undermine the gospel message.
There is no such thing as a Christ that loves people without liking them, especially since not liking someone generally means avoiding them.
And this is a problem in church. We think we can love God without really liking others and therefore loving others.
This mindset doesn’t bring us together. It doesn’t teach us to be friends and love neighbors. It simply satiates our guilt and allows us to feel Christian. At least non-Christians are honest when they don’t love people.
The first step toward recovery is admitting we have a problem liking all people, and therefore, a problem loving all people.
I am thankful Jesus wasn’t simply a friend of the disciples when they all got along. I am thankful that even though some of his disciples were liars, betrayers, money launderers, gossipers, poor fisherman, theologians too big for their britches and women with questionable occupations, Jesus still befriended them.
Jesus understood that in order to make disciples, he first had to make friends.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus very literally calls his disciples friends. He says to them: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends … I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”
I struggle to understand how we can lay down our lives for those we don’t like. I struggle to understand how we can share everything with someone we don’t like. I struggle to understand how we can say, “I have to love all people but I don’t have to like them,” and still think we’re building the kingdom.
Jesus is not asking us if we profess him as Lord. He does not come to us after the resurrection and ask, “Who do people say I am now that I’ve conquered the grave?” He is not interested in the latest Jesus-gossip circulating in Jerusalem.
Instead, Jesus asks us as he does Peter, “Are you my friends? Do you love me?”
If “yes,” he responds, “Feed my sheep.”
Nathan Napier is pastor of Christian education at Cleveland First Church of the Nazarene in Cleveland, Tenn., and a graduate of the McAfee School of Theology.
A bi-vocational minister for over 20 years, Napier currently serves as a lay minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, and his current research focuses on faith, culture and ethnography as pastoral practice.