We live in a time of cultural crisis. The freedoms I took for granted forty years ago are now in jeopardy. Big government looms menacingly. Many self-defined victims or “have-nots”, who think the Kool-Aid offered by the new tyranny is the promise of a good life, make so much noise in the media that I can hardly hear myself think. I don’t like those guys.
Now, more than ever, we need a moderating influence from the Church. Americans in general (not just church-going Christians) need a principled influence for hope and calm and clarification. But the mainstream Christian church has largely back-peddled on convictions that could be viewed as controversial. Rather than putting out a strong message such as, “We don’t like what’s happening and we don’t like the people who are making it happen,” the tacit PR message of the Church today is closer to, “We’re nice people. We like everyone.” That’s just plain wrong.
When I was a youngster I heard a quote from the great Will Rogers: “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Being impressionable, I wanted to be just like him. So I made an effort to like everyone I met. I soon learned that liking others is only half the equation. Since social interaction is reciprocal, I also had to be likable to everyone I met. I suppose that likable quality is what enabled Will Rogers to make his famous statement. He was incredibly likable. And his natural response to being liked was to like others in return.
According to Homer Croy (http://www.willrogerstoday.com/Articles_About_Will_Rogers/philosopher.cfm), “Now Will did dislike certain persons, let the world believe what it will. But he never said anything against them. His way of handling the situation was simple: he had nothing to do with them. If it couldn’t be avoided, he’d speak as cordially as he could – then scoot.” So, the accuracy of Will Rogers’ credo is moot. He may have liked everyone he met, or that could just have been his persona. In either case, for myself, after growing up, living life and meeting persons of every possible description, I decided that not everyone I meet is worth liking — Will Rogers’ magnanimity notwithstanding.
My attitude of liking or disliking others as I chose went unchallenged until, during a series of Sunday School lessons on love, the pastor repeated a statement that the Bible doesn’t give us permission to dislike others. Rather than speak up in class, I approached him afterwards and told him I disagreed with his statement. Liking and loving are two, separate things, like apples and oranges. But the pastor was not moved from his premise, even after I wrote him a more developed defense of my position. Sadly, that pastor and many Christians today hold beliefs that lack Biblical foundation, and in the process, project an inaccurate (therefore false) impression of what Christianity is.
There is a prevailing impression that authentic Christians must always be friendly, pleasant and “nice”. If you don’t like someone, you aren’t being nice. You aren’t being Christian. What it comes down to in many slick, post modern churches, is that the “new creation” we become as believers (2 Corinthians 5:17) is a new, denominationally approved personality type. Will Rogers would have done quite nicely in this regard, but it has nothing to do with sanctification, regeneration or the gospel of salvation through Christ.
There is more to the golden rule than liking others. In terms of how we are to interact with fellow believers, consider the difficult honesty (tough love) required in Matthew 18:15-17 or 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. (Critical readers will have to examine their Bibles themselves.) The qualities listed in Colossians 3:12 (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience) all require a regeneration of character that goes way beyond not disliking anyone. In fact the very next verse (Colossians 3:13) instructs us to bear with one another and forgive grievances we may have against one another.
The reality is that even among believers, there are individuals we like and those we don’t like. But some Christians get so caught up in being nice that they pretend to like people they don’t, not wanting to be seen committing the “sin” of not liking them. This produces a religious lack of sincerity and honesty in dealing with others, which frankly goes against everything the Bible teaches. If nothing else, our faith should be genuine, not a religious face we wear, which I might add, can be spotted immediately by unbelievers.
If we allow the idea of loving others to be confused with the idea of liking others, we open ourselves to a potential theological dilemma. Liking and loving are separated by definition. They do not blend into one another, as a matter of degree. If that were the case, love and hate would be on a sliding scale, connected also to like and dislike. Such a continuum is impossible because hate is the product of sin and love is the product of righteousness. John 1:5 describes a total separation of light from the darkness. You can’t reach love by increasing how much you like. There are no shades of gray between the two.
Isaiah 64:6 tells us that human righteousness is no more than filthy rags. Our righteousness comes from the LORD. Everyone likes on the human level. But Christian love is a gift from God. Looking at how my old American Heritage dictionary defines like and dislike underscores the significance of emotional feelings in their meanings:
Like “v. … — tr. 1. To find pleasant; enjoy. 2. To want, wish, or prefer. 3. To feel toward or respond to; To view; To regard… 4. To feel an attraction, tenderness or affection for; be fond of; — intr. 1. To have an inclination or preference; to desire; choose; to wish…”
Dislike “tr. v. … To regard with distaste or aversion. — n. An attitude or feeling of distaste or aversion; antipathy.”
Because our feelings play such an important role in our likes and dislikes, we need to ask: Is disliking someone a sin? More fundamentally, are negative emotions sin? And is becoming Christlike a matter of changing our unlikable feelings? What do we do with those emotions?
Ephesians 4:26 (“In your anger, do not sin.”) differentiates what one feels (anger) from what one does (sin), which tells me that our unlikable feelings are not, in and of themselves, sin. It’s what one does with those feelings that determines the question of sin. The pastor with whom I discussed this issue, said man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20), which misses the point. Quoting Timothy and Chuck Baldwin from page 48 of “Romans 13, The True Meaning Of Submission”, “This is not to mean that all wrath exercised is unrighteous. Only the “wrath of man” is unrighteous. This requires Christians to know what wrath is bad and good…” In short, anger, per se, is not sin.
The point the pastor missed is that liking others also fails to bring about the righteousness of God. Only loving others can do that. Romans 14:23 tells us that everything that doesn’t come from faith is sin. That may be painting with a broad brush, but the fact is you don’t need to be saved to like people. On the other hand, loving the unlovable (or the unlikable, or even our enemies) is something we can do as the Spirit of God enables us. Liking others is an act of our flesh, while loving others is an act of our faith.
Although in Christ we are already new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), we do need to grow in grace (Philippians 3:12-14). We need to purposefully walk in the light. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). One of the byproducts of this process of perfection is that we become more likable — sort of like Will Rogers, but not really. If we’re being Christlike, it’s Christ that others see — not ourselves (Galatians 2:20).
And lest we forget, Jesus didn’t like everyone he met. Concluding a diatribe against Pharisees and teachers of the Torah (Matthew 23:13), he said, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” No, Jesus did not like these men. They were his enemies and he spoke to them as such. But did he love them? Absolutely! You can be sure he prayed for them. However, because they stood opposed to God’s will, it would have been inappropriate and nonsensical for Jesus to be “nice” and like them.
To repeat the truth of John 1:5, the Light completely separates us from the darkness. 2 Corinthians 6:14 (KJV) further underscores this: “…what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” No Christian will ever convince me the Lord wants me to be nice to the Devil or to like his minions. Yet the Church is coming close to doing just that.
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! (Lamentations 3:40 ESV)
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NASB)