Family, Marriage, Counsel
Why Liking Is Better Than Loving
by Ed Vasicek
Agatha Christie, is, admittedly, my favorite fiction writer. I enjoy a good "who done it" once in a while, and few mystery writers can compete with this great author. But Agatha Christie also understood human nature. She herself had suffered a painful divorce when young, but was extremely happily married to her second husband.
During a "happy ending" scene in one of her books, the sleuth and his fiancÚ (whose heart was won while helping to solve the mystery), Bridget, makes an interesting observation: "I like you, Luke....Liking is more important than loving. It lasts. I want what is between us to last, Luke. I don't want us just to love each other and marry and get tired of each other, and then want to marry someone else..." (Christie, Agatha, Easy To Kill, G.K. Hall & Co., 1938, renewed 1967).
Indeed, some Bible scholars are now gravitating toward an emphasis on brotherly love (the Greek word phileo) because affection and attachment are implied in it, as well as the concept of likingverses agape (the common Greek word for love), which is more the love of duty. You can agape your enemies, but we are nowhere commanded to phileo them. Phileo is reserved for those with whom we cultivate a relationship.
This bit of wisdom applies to marriage (and why marriages often go awry). It is great to actually LIKE the person you are married to. And part of being a good spouse is the determination to work at becoming likable.
The same is true of a church. It is one thing to tolerate a church, another to love it. Indeed, for some people, the church they settle upon is the "least worst choice." They are not really happy there, but it's the best they can find. Sometimes, in time, they learn to like the church and enjoy its people. Other times, they just wander around in a cloud of discontent. Then they frequent another church and repeat the cycle.
Sometimes they feel a void and expect the church to fill it. Other times the problem is that they are not particularly "likable" people. They sense they are not well-liked because they aren't. Not that they are necessarily disliked, just not liked.
The Bible has much to say about liking and being likable. Jesus, it is said in Luke 2:52, grew in "favor with God and men." Put simply, the Father and people liked Him. Late in life, as Christ proclaimed truth, truth-haters became His enemy. But it was truth, not His character, that created the antagonism. He was a likable man.
The Bible commands us to love our enemies, but we do not have to like them. In that instance, loving them means to treat them in a loving way (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). But to those we wish to be close to, it is great to not only love them, but to also like them. This simple dynamic is being lost in all the "love talk" common in our churches today.
Indeed, friendship, especially close friendship, best occurs when individuals like one another. You can love an acquaintance and have a ministry with that person, but being a friend requires liking. In addition, the most satisfying friendships are between people roughly equal in intelligence, ability, etc., though gifted perhaps in differing ways. But they must like one another. We are commanded to love others, but we are not commanded to like others. Liking cannot be willed, loving can.
David and Jonathan liked one another. Their special brotherly love was intensified by their enjoyment, their liking of one another. Jesus and John the Apostle had a special friendship as well because there was a certain chemistry present. Ruth and Naomi had a special love for one another, but one senses they also liked each other.
If "liking and being likable" is key to satisfying marriage, close friendship, and church life, how can we develop this "like-ability?" The answer to this question can be involved if we answer it with specifics. But there is a general answer to keep in mind, found for us in Proverbs 3:3-4, namely, "Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name with God and men."
There are basically two element to becoming likable, or "finding favor in the sight of God and men." These elements are: kindness (love, consideration, gentleness) and truth (honesty, faithfulness, dependability). If we are only kind but not truthful, we are nothing more than people pleasers. If we are truthful but not kind, we are harsh moralists or perfectionist snobs.
People pleasers end up with many acquaintances and are well-liked superficially, but have few deep friendships. They make great politicians but are often taken with a grain of salt. Honest people without kindness may be respected, but few wish to be close to such individuals. It takes a mixture of both qualities, or, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, "...speaking the truth in love."
When mixing kindness and truth, a person may choose to say nothing. Because something is true does not mean she must state it. And how it is said, how it is perceived will be taken into account.
Are you known for being considerate? Do you stretch and manipulate the truth, or are you merely tactful in kindness? Are you concerned about how you are perceived? You ought to be. Kindness demands it. Out of love and concern, we may need to force ourselves to be initiators. If you want to have friends, you must yourself be friendly.
Love is important. But so is likability. Do you like your spouse? Does your spouse like you? Do you like your children? Do they like you? What about your church family? Your neighbor? If you care, you'll be considerate. It's not enough just to do your duty. You must be concerned about how you come across. Find that balance of kindness and truth!
Here's the challenge. Think about what it must be like to be married to you. Or what it is like to work alongside you. Or how you are perceived by others. What behaviors and attitudes do you have that make you unattractive to those who are close to you? Are they matters of truth, or self-centeredness? Are you kind? Are you sincere and honest, even when uncomfortable. Then seek to correct those faults. Bring them into conformity with the dual concepts of kindness and truth. Begin at home.
Reprinted from the February 1999 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church