My friend asked this question at our women’s Bible study, and some shook heads of no, others sat unsure and thinking.
Is it a sin to not like someone?
We had just read how the first word preached by John the Baptist was “repent” (Matt 5:22). How the first word of Jesus’ gospel was “repent” (Matt 4:17), and how the message of the first preaching ministry of the disciples was “repent” (Mark 6:12). Clearly, it’s an important and repeated message–something we not so much feel as do–a change of direction in the heart.
As we talked about a clear heart, the question arose. Is it wrong to not like someone?
Let’s face it, we all have someone…
A nasty neighbor or coworker. A bully at school or contentious family member. Disagreements, misunderstandings and insults abound. Anger. And maybe more… maybe someone took something from us that can’t be replaced, tarnished our reputation or abused us. Maybe we struggle with forgiveness.
And so I sat there pondering these things in my heart, wondering if Jesus disliked anyone. Thinking how his own people requested his crucifixion; how Roman soldiers whipped and mocked him, crowned him with thorns and nailed him to a cross to die. How His response to all of this was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:35).
But He called the pharisees “hypocrites” and “snakes” in Matthew 23, and I wondered how that translated in his heart. He hated legalism and rebuked them openly for practicing it (and harming others with it), clearly. But did he dislike them?
He died to save them. And us.
But what if our dislike is justified?
When a man asked Jesus which of all the commandments was the greatest, He said:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matt 22:37-39)
I don’t understand that to mean we should seek to surround ourselves with harmful people or allow them to abuse us. I don’t translate that to have no emotions or to bury our true feelings. We all feel and need time to process emotions.
We all have our private battles of faith.
But I understand this as a desire for a pure heart that pleases God and wants to love like He loves. A desire to ask Him for help over time and repeatedly; to pursue a love that is bigger than ourselves and can only come from Him. A love that leads us to repentance when we find dark spots in our hearts that we can’t cure on our own.
Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.“
And I love this version of Luke 6:32-35 from the Message:
If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never – I promise – regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst.”
Because loving like that is stepping out onto a whole different plane. It’s a clearing of the heart, making a way for what’s good. And maybe that’s why Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
So I’m left with a stirring in my heart and a gratefulness for this question. Jesus told us to love one another. And so I take that, and I ask God to let me live it.