When we connect with someone we often click or say that we like them. This connection is typically because of a shared interest or value, and because we “connect” we prefer the company of that kind of person. We do the same with food and clothes. We like particular foods more than others, so include them in our weekly diet. We are drawn to particular fashion, so we buy certain clothes that express who we are. We tend to like people who resonate with our self-expression, but biblical community is based on love, not likes.
Community is based on love not likes.
Love pushes us beyond the boundaries of like. Love melts social boundaries. It compels me to spend time with people who are different, to see the world from their viewpoint. Love puts a face on those we don’t agree with and says I care about you. Love does not equal liking, though it may include it.
Love is commitment, service, sacrifice, putting others first, whether we like a person or not. Love is hard, deep, true. And it’s easy to mistake the people we like for the height of love in our lives. But Jesus said love is expressed in our attitude toward our enemies, toward those who have different ideologies, ethnicities, incomes, and personalities. Jesus could have easily said, “Love your neighbor ask you like your friend.”
Because love can be demanding, we often daydream of seasons in our lives when “everyone got me.” College friendships become the standard by which we judge other relationships. Or we compare our community in one church against another, concluding that our present church is deficient and “not meeting our needs.” But this is mistaking loving for liking.
When nostalgia creeps in, what we often want is to wind back the clock to a time before we had to love people who were hard to love, who rubbed us wrong, who required very little effort to love, which is to say we love an idea of them, a fragment of them but not the whole them, not the true them, not all of them. In other words, liking has limits, restrictions, and boundaries. Liking is not love, though it certainly can be part of it. Liking accepts based on preference; love welcomes even difference.
It is possible to like someone so much that you don’t actually love them.
In fact, it is possible to like someone so much that you don’t actually love them. If we mainly like someone, we may not be willing to be honest with them, to tell them the truth about the ugly parts of their character. Why? Because it risks the relational comfort we feel when we are around them. But love risks the loss of being liked for the gain of being true. Love is truthful, not just tolerant. My wife likes me and she loves me. How do I know? She loved me enough to tell me once, “You are great at serving our family, except when it is inconvenient.” Gut punch. When we mainly like someone, we are unwilling to say hard things to them.
St. Paul took it a step further to say, “Love rejoices in the truth.” Sometimes we chicken out from saying what’s true about someone’s character, faulty beliefs, or poor decisions. And we will say to ourselves, I love them too much. It would crush them. I don’t want to hurt them. But often the truth is, we don’t want to be hurt. We don’t want to risk being un-liked. We love ourselves but only like others. Others have become a means to the end of my self-love.
When my wife dediced to tell the truth about my love of convenience and how it was impacting her, she had to push through just liking. She had to confront the very real possibility that her honesty would jeopardize my liking her, a least for a moment. She braced herself for temporary rejection in order to love me sincerely, to tell me the truth.
Love that Never Fails
If we like someone, we will find it much easier to love them, but it will also be harder to increase our ability to love. People who rub us wrong, have opposing personalities, or are entirely different require love. They increase our reliance on an outside source of love. They drive us to find a strength of love that can’t be found elsewhere.
That love, of course, is found in God himself: Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and Love (Spirit). Apart from immersing ourselves in intimate communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we will opt for liking and grow weary and cynical about those he’s called us to love.
Liking has limits, but love is limitless. If flows from the intra-trinitarian fountain of divine love, where different persons of the Godhead love and serve one another continually, spilling out to love the other (you and me) in limitless love. As I depend on that source of love, I keep discovering people I love become people I like, and those friendships tend to be stronger, deeper, and more sacrificial than people I have merely liked.