Christianity isn’t always easy. Growing up as a preacher’s kid in the heart of the Bible Belt, this was a lesson I learned quickly. I was taught that following Jesus came with an extensive list of do’s and don’ts that weed out the devout from the deadbeats.
Do go to church. Don’t fall asleep in church.
Do evangelize non-Christians. Don’t socialize with non-Christians.
Do value God’s gift of sex. Don’t value God’s gift of sex too much.
These are just a few examples from our long, complicated and often contradictory self-regulated code of conduct. And though I have my doubts, I’m told the code serves a purpose, so I’ve spent most of my life abiding by the do’s and don’ts.
But it should be noted that the list Jesus gives is quite different—His list is shorter and exponentially more difficult.
When asked by the religious experts of the day for His sanctimonious Top 10, He responded with a subversive top two. Jesus offered up a list short enough to fit on a Post-it note: “Love God and love others.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
That’s it. That’s the list.
According to Jesus, in the hierarchy of spiritual acts and activities, love tops them all. Move over virginity, church attendance, group dating, morning devotions and crucifixion jewelry. Love is the new king of the mountain.
That means we don’t get to ignore the co-worker who drives us crazy, despise the neighbor who parties too loudly, condemn the relative who votes differently than we do or hate the boss who makes life miserable. Whether we like a person or not, we are commanded to love.
In the language of grace, love is both the exception and the rule.
If anyone knew how to love people who weren’t very likable, it was Jesus. After all, He spent three years in the company of Judas, who was stealing, manipulating and scheming to betray Him.
Now, for the sake of proper doctrine, I can’t say matter-of-factly that Jesus did not like Judas, but maybe He didn’t. Loving somebody and liking them are two different things, after all.
If Jesus could love Judas, the fickle crowds and you and me, we can love Bill from work, Cindy from the PTA and Matt who lives in a van down by the river.
Let me suggest 5 ways to love people you don’t really like:
Get Over Yourself
At its core, hatred is condescension. Hatred says, “I don’t like you because you’re not as funny as I am, as informed as I am, as attractive as I am or as interesting as I am.”
A condescending attitude unfairly requires people to maneuver their way up the treacherous mountain of our own approval.
But the truth is, you and I aren’t nearly as impressive as we pretend to be. We have faults, flaws and failures just like everyone else. If we took a minute to pump the brakes on our runaway egos, crazy Catherine, weird William and annoying Alice might not seem so crazy, weird or annoying.
The Bible says it this way: “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Not easy to do, but a great place to start.
It’s easy to reject people based on assumptions, stereotypes and their own false bravado. But the person we see at first glance is often a poor representation of who that person really is. Perhaps you’ve “never liked that guy” because you’ve never had a chance to see who he really is.
Relationships require questions. They can’t be built or maintained on the surface; we have to dig deeper. Instead of arguing to prove your point, why not ask, “Really? Why do you feel that way?” Instead of ignoring the person you don’t understand, why not ask them to tell you their story? Maybe there is a reason they act the way they do.
Jesus used questions in His conversations with the woman at the well (John 4), the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18) and His own disciples (Matthew 16).
If Jesus could dig deeper, can’t we?
Survive and Advance
Everyone has bad days. That’s true for both you and for your self-appointed nemesis. On days like these, you have a choice to make—you can be a diva or you can be disciplined.
A diva takes the easy road: quitting, storming out, proving their point, recruiting people to their side. But the disciplined person realizes that on some days the only way to win is to survive. Some days you have to just bite your tongue and give people some space.
Perseverance is the unsung hero of every relationship. Don’t give up today, because tomorrow things will look clearer. Tomorrow, tempers will cool down. Tomorrow you can try again.
Focus on Common Ground
Any time two parties choose to focus on where they differ rather than where they agree, trouble is brewing. This is true of marriages, friendships, working relationships and dealing with your frienemy down the hall.
Rather than exaggerating your differences of opinion, upbringing or personality, find out what you have in common. You vote differently, but you both like politics. Common Ground. You belong to different denominations, but you both love God. Common Ground. He gets on your nerves, but you get on his nerves, too. Common ground!
Philippians 4:8 says, “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If there is even one thing excellent or praiseworthy you have in common, find it and celebrate it.
Become a Servant
Let’s not forget: Jesus washed Judas’s feet.
Loving difficult people is more than a good idea. It’s God’s example.