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Jesus’ one command to us, his followers, is to love our enemies.
Thank God he didn’t command us to like them.
That Jesus commanded us to love rather than to like is a very important distinction.
You can love someone without liking them. In other words, you don’t have to like someone to keep Jesus’ command to love them.
The world today is premised on likes. We see that now especially in social media, but it pervades every aspect of the world. Likes are in fact the realm of the world and are based on conformism to a specific ideal. They are also heavily weighted and guided by fleeting and superficial “feels”.
Love, on the other hand, can be surprisingly devoid of feelings. You don’t need to feel love in order to do love. Jesus taught us that loving is less a feeling and more a doing – you love your enemies not by liking them, but by praying for them and doing good to them, even as they curse you.
I have found it helpful, over the years, to remind myself of the distinction between liking and loving. It’s been particularly helpful over the last two years, when I’ve been stigmatized and exiled from society not for something I did, but for something I wouldn’t do (cover my face and inject drugs). I despise many of the values that now prevail in Western society. I despise and reject those values, but I don’t despise and reject the people who hold them. I don’t particularly like those people and I wouldn’t want to spend time with them (unless they, on their own volition, wanted to spend time with me), but I don’t despise them. The command is to love them, regardless of my personal feelings towards them.
Even so, I would never tell them that I love them according to Jesus’ command and that I’m praying for them. My words would be unwelcome. If they outright asked for my prayers, I would unhesitatingly tell them that they have them. But otherwise, I pray for them in secret, like Jesus taught us to do.
Knowing the difference between liking and loving and using that knowledge as the basis for how we interact with the world is crucial to living in the Kingdom. We cannot survive as born-again believers – or even call ourselves Christian – unless we love our enemies. But at the same time, we cannot in most cases love our enemies unless we also understand that we don’t have to like them.
Jesus’ command was not to like but to love. Again, it’s a COMMAND, not a suggestion. And like the other Ten Commandments, it has no asterisks after it, meaning there are no exceptions to the rule. No matter what people say, no matter what they believe or how they live their lives, no matter what side of the military or political or social battle they fight on, and no matter how they treat you or those you actually do like – you are commanded to love them, which means you are commanded to pray for them and do good to them. And because they will likely reject whatever good you would do to them, you need to do your loving of them in secret, without their knowledge and without fanfare.
As I mentioned at the outset, I thank God that I only have to love my enemies rather than to like them. But I find that the more I pray for and bless them, the softer my feelings grow towards them (although I would never show those feelings to them, because they would be unwelcome). The softening of my feelings is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit working through my obedience to God. The Spirit doesn’t work through fake like or love, only through genuine submission of the will.
Like Jesus, I submit to no-one but to God. God alone has my heart, and I willingly give him my will as well. And also like Jesus, I don’t have to give God my heart or my will – I’m not forced to do it; no-one’s forcing me: it’s something I choose to do. I have the capacity to do it and I choose to do it. There is no forcing going on.
When we do that, when we willingly put everything we have and everything we are into God’s hands, he can work through us. He can’t (that is to say, he won’t) work through us if we fake it; he’ll only work through us if we’re genuine in our submission to him.
Submitting to God means keeping his Commandments.
Loving our enemies is a choice we make; coming to like them is a gift from God.