Confession time: I have spent more time on this topic than most others I have written about. Not because it is the most important, but because I was (and still am) unsure of the right answers. And yet I see this as such a universal struggle that I felt compelled to address it anyway. My hope is that this blog will start an online discussion and we can all learn from each other.
My question - is it okay for a believer in Jesus Christ to "dislike" someone? "Dislike" is not a word you can plug into Biblegateway.com or look up in your Strong's exhaustive concordance and find a list of direct scripture references. God's word has, however, a lot to say about the more extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. Although it varies slightly depending on the version of the Bible you are partial to, the word "hate" can be found approximately 100 times. When we read 1 John 4:20, "If someone says, 'I love God', and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."(NASB); it's pretty clear that we are not to hate others. 1 John 3:15 even likens someone who hates another to someone who kills another. In God's economy, we can't afford to dabble in the sin of hate.
"Love" clocks in at between 350 and 550 references - depending on the translation. Hebrews 13:1 commands that we "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters." And who is this "one another"? According to Matthew 5:43-44, it is everyone you come in contact with. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."(NIV) Loving those who have wronged you is no short order, so I don't want to minimize the difficulty of it, but this scenario is not what I have questions about. As hard as it might be, Jesus clearly states that we are not permitted to hate others. In fact, most references to hate in the Bible are not even directed at a person, but towards a sin or situation.
If "hate" is black and white, then (for me) "dislike" is shades of gray. I've been particularly conflicted with how I should feel about someone who has never wronged me (when a hurt is involved, I'm commanded to forgive), but yet is still distasteful to me. I don't hate them. I'm not mad at them. Our personalities just don't mesh, and I'd prefer not to be around them. Christian or not, I'm sure you either have or have had this person in your life. If no one has ever gotten on your nerves, please contact me immediately. You are as rare as a rainbow unicorn.
Since I can't find a clear scriptural directive, I focused my research on gleaning what I can from related scripture and asking my friends. Although that might not be a very scientific approach, I find that seeking wise counsel drives me back to the Word with new ideas to study.
First, I decided to look up the account of Paul parting ways with fellow missionaries. Acts 15:36-40, "Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.' Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord." Scholars site this as an example of separation because of personality or practicality, not doctrine. It seemed to be the only solution to the problem, and good came out of these two missionary teams being sent out. Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." In my experience, sometimes the best way to remain at peace is to remove myself from intimacy with someone, as Paul and Barnabas obviously did. There is a difference between friends and confidants. Someone you could sit next to in church or someone you could go into business with. We aren't meant to be completely enmeshed with everyone in all seasons. Even Jesus, who IS love, only chose 12 friends to really pour into and invest in.
As believers, we must also be careful not to discount the work of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:5 warns us of those "having a form of godliness but denying its power". The very next part of the passage is "Have nothing to do with them." Although we may not see a spiritual reason to keep our distance from someone, a feeling of uneasiness could be a nudge from God's Spirit in us for our own protection and/or the advancement of the gospel.
At this point, you may be thinking that this entire exercise is an attempt by me to justify my own dislike for someone. I assure you that is not the case. Instead, I am asking, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB) So I will attempt to wrap up with what I believe I am hearing at this time.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us that love is patient, kind, not jealous, braggadocios or arrogant. That it does not act unbecomingly, seek its own, get provoked, or take into account a wrong suffered. It doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and never fails. What it doesn't tell us is that love is a feeling. Satan would like us to believe it is, and our culture has run with that. Society tells us to divorce when we don't feel the butterflies anymore and that we only extend the hand of friendship to people we feel an attraction to. Attraction is a feeling, but love is a choice that transcends the like/ dislike scenario. I believe there will be people in our lives who don't give us the warm fuzzies - heck, even our spouses and our children don't always do that. And that's okay. But it's possible, actually it's commanded, that we love them in word and deed. Ephesians 4:32 instructs us to "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (NASB) The way we love each other is an important part of our witness to an unbelieving world. John 13:32 says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NASB)
I feel I must add one word of caution. Examine unpleasant feelings for another believer. Ask God for clarification. If there is hurt or sin between you, the Bible is clear that such things must be dealt with. Spend time in prayer and seek answers. 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, "Let all that you do be done in love." Make sure there is nothing in the way of fulfilling that command sincerely.
Friends, I am begging for some feedback on this one. Agree? Disagree? Scripture I haven't mentioned on the topic? Let's learn from each other. Go...