Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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The Love/Like Conundrum

by Al Maxey

Issue #427 ------- January 15, 2010
We are obliged to love one another. We
are not strictly bound to like one another.
Thomas Merton {1915-1968}
No Man Is An Island

The Love/Like Conundrum
Can One Command An Emotion?

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), in his grand masterpiece "Mere Christianity," astutely noted, "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you're behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less." In the holy Scriptures we are commanded to show love, even to those who may be unlovely and unloving. It is a call to act or behave in such a way as to seek the ultimate good of another, even if that person is one's sworn enemy. What is being divinely prescribed are the parameters of one's outward behavior, not the particulars of one's inward emotions. One may quite easily command an action; commanding a feeling is another matter. Newly commissioned officers within the armed forces are instructed, "It is one thing to get a man to salute you; it is quite another to have him respect you!" The former may be ordered; the latter must be earned. A person can be forced to display respectful actions, but to force a man to actually feel respect for another is an impossibility.

The point Lewis is making in his above quote is that feelings of affection have been known on occasion to grow from out of repeated acts of love toward another with whom we may lack any deep emotional bond of friendship or fellowship, or with whom there may actually exist a state of animosity. Paul wrote, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink" [Romans 12:20]. Do these acts of Christian charity denote feelings of affection for such a person? Of course not. But such actions do denote a willingness to love such a person. Love emanates from grace; affection evolves from personal growth; the latter often facilitated by the former. While we were all dead in our trespasses, God, "because of His great love for us" [Eph. 2:4], lifted us up from the depths of our degradation "in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us" [vs. 7]. Loving acts of kindness come from grace, with the hopeful expectation being that in time a warm, affectionate relationship may develop. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said if we want to truly be like the Father, we must not limit our love to those who love us, but rather "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" [Matt. 5:43-48]. Jesus did not say we had to feel affection for them, He said we had to manifest love for them. There is a difference. One is action, the other emotion.

Many disciples of Christ, rather understandably, are somewhat confused by these two concepts, which pose for them quite a significant conundrum (any puzzling, intricate, difficult problem or question). When the Lord commands us to LOVE one another, does this necessitate that we must LIKE one another?! If I don't feel the latter, have I in some way failed in my demonstration of the former? A reader in California wrote last month, "Dear Bro. Maxey, I have a question for you that I've wrestled with for quite some time. I realize this is a shortcoming on my part, but I would greatly appreciate your opinion. I know that Jesus Christ commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves (I have often said this was the hardest of His teachings). It is so easy to say, 'I love you with the love of the Lord.' But my question is: What if you just don't like someone?! Simple human emotion, right? There are some people I simply don't care for one whit on a personal level. There are some people -- especially some Church of Christ Christians, sadly -- whom I've known all of my life, that I simply don't like! I don't bear them any malice, nor do I condemn them or want them to be condemned; I just don't care for them much, and so I don't have much to do with them. Does any of this make any sense?! I would truly appreciate it if you would address this when you have the time."

The ideal, of course, is that we'll truly feel, from our innermost being, that which we are doing. Peter, as he spoke of the love we are to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ, said that we are to "love one another deeply, from the heart" [1 Peter 1:22]. In that very same passage Peter declared such love was to be sincere (not feigned/hypocritical). And yet, the reality is that one can indeed do something sincerely, without hypocrisy, and still not feel a deep affection for the one being shown acts of love, mercy, compassion and kindness. To love sincerely is to love without pretense; to genuinely seek the ultimate good of another, and to seek to bring that good about by one's own actions. I can do this even for an enemy -- "deeply, from the heart" and in complete sincerity -- and still not like the person, or his/her actions and attitudes. A false pretense, for example, might be performing these acts of love for another in the hope of making oneself appear more righteous in the eyes of those observing one's actions. If our motivation is to elevate self, our love is not what we make it appear to be. However, if our motivation is truly to elevate another by these acts of love, even one with whom we may not be personally close -- if it is his/her ultimate good we seek, not our own -- then our love is genuine; from the heart.

Such a godly, gracious approach to those whom we may not especially like, CAN, given time and effort, evolve into a more affectionate relationship. This principle is expressed in Proverbs 16:7 -- "When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." In the Law of Moses we read, "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it" [Exodus 23:4-5]. Christ summed it up this way: "Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you" [Luke 6:27-28]. Does this mean we are obligated to feel all warm and gushy inside while performing these acts of love? When I pull an enemy's ox out of a ditch, do I just melt inside with feelings of deep affection for the owner of that beast? Of course not. However, that act of love and kindness may very well begin to warm the frigid expanse between us, and the more such acts I perform on his or her behalf, the more likely that one day I may be able to call my enemy, "my friend." Love is the command; affection is the goal. Someone has to take that first step toward that goal. The Lord says: let it be YOU. In so doing, "you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" [Luke 6:35; cf. Matt. 5:45].

Rick Warren, author of such well-known and well-received works as "The Purpose Driven Church" and "The Purpose Driven Life," wrote an article for one of his blog sites on December 10, 2009 titled Love is an Action. In it he posed much the same question as the reader from California. "Is love dead when the emotion is gone?" In other words, can I genuinely love another person if I don't necessarily like that other person? Rick's response is a resounding YES. Why? "Because love is an action; love is a behavior." As Rick correctly points out, "You can't command an emotion. If I told you, 'Be sad!' right now, you couldn't be sad on cue. Just like an actor, you can fake it, but you are not wired for your emotions to change on command. ... Love is something you do. It can produce emotion, but love is an action." Yes, acts of love can indeed, given time, produce feelings of affection. Not always, of course, but it can, and often does, occur. This is at least one of the reasons we are commanded to love those persons whom we may not like -- the action may produce the emotion within our hearts, thus leading to a more peaceful, harmonious relationship.

"Let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions" [1 John 3:18, NLT]. If you tell someone that you love them, but do not follow those words with a demonstration of that professed love, then one may legitimately question the genuineness of that love. James said that anyone can say they have faith, but the proof is in showing it. This is equally true of love!! "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" [James 2:15-16]. Love is an action verb, and without action it is dead (just as faith without evidentiary works is dead). When love is shown, however, the hearts and lives of others are positively impacted ... as are our own. People are drawn closer together, relationships are made stronger, perceived faults and flaws in others no longer seem quite as significant [1 Peter 4:8]. And imagine when this occurs among those who previously were not overly fond of one another?! Love, quite literally, is the sacred key to the healing of all that afflicts us, whether that be among individuals or groups or societies.

Love involves a personal sacrifice, because it may not always be convenient to promote another's good over our own, and it may not always be something we feel like doing. But, we must place action before emotion; others before self. In so doing, we follow the example of our God, who certainly did the same for each of us! The sought after goal of such loving, sacrificial action is a warm relationship that we pray will endure throughout the ages, growing ever stronger and closer with the passage of time. May God help us to LOVE one another, even when we may not LIKE one another. The result of such behavior just may pleasantly surprise you, not to mention it will glorify our Father and bring His children closer together in a united, harmonious Family.

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