This is an excerpt from my sermon on 1 John 3:11-18 in 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family (Crossway: 2013), 151-60.

If we are to love everybody, does that mean we have to like everybody? How do I go about loving people I don’t like, even in the church? I’m just asking the question I know you are asking right now in your mind!

It seems to me there is a very clear, practical, distinction between liking and loving. Common sense coupled with life experience makes it evident that we simply cannot and will not like everybody we meet, even in the church. Personalities being what they are, not to mention temperament, appearance, behavior and mannerisms, make it inevitable that in life’s journey, you are going to like some people better than others. Remember, not everybody likes you either!

Liking is a matter of personal preference. Loving is a matter of obedience to Christ and the Word of God.

Love penetrates beyond the superficial and moves to the essence of the person. It overcomes obstacles and excuses. Love sees beyond what it does not like in a person, and minimizes it in order to see the person as Christ sees him. Then seeing the person in that way opens the door to acting toward that person in a Christ-like way.

Loving people you don’t like means treating them as if you did like them! You choose to act toward them in a way that is pleasing to Christ and that exhibits how Christ would act toward them. The nature of Christian love is that it acts; it gives; it expresses itself toward others.[1]

Our love should be genuinely demonstrated in action. A modern version of the parable of the Good Samaritan would have the priest and the Levite saying to the beaten-up traveler, “Man, you need help, but I don’t need you.”[2] I sometimes think fundamentally some of us really would like nothing better in this world than to purchase a life membership in the “Association of Bystanders.”[3]

We can’t just give lip service to love; we must do something about it. When it comes to putting love into action, some Christians are like the occasional lazy student I have had in my class: they want to get a passing grade, but do as little work as possible.

May we all pray this prayer by William Sloane Coffin: “We have taken advantage of Thy great and unqualified love. We have presumed upon Thy patience to do less than we might have done, to have been timid where we should have shown courage, to have been careful where w should have been reckless, not counting the cost. We pray now, O Father, to be used roughly. Stamp on our selfishness.”[4]

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones has an excellent sermon on this passage, “Love in Action,” where he develops the difference between liking and loving someone. I am indebted to his insights. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Children of God, vol. 3, Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993), pp. 107–18.

[2] MacLennan, Preaching Values in Today’s English Version, p. 183.

[3] William Sloane Coffin, “The Call” in Sermons to Intellectuals, ed. Franklin Littell (New York: Macmillan, 1963), p. 10.

[4] Coffin, “The Call,” pp. 16, 17.