Because of the gospel, which displays God’s love for us, Christians are to love others in the same way (1 Jn. 3.16). However, we often struggle with understanding and applying this verse. One helpful clarification is the distinction between “loving” and “liking” people.
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones is extremely helpful in drawing this distinction for us. What follows is a quote Life in Christ a collection of his sermons on First John.
So let me put it like this: we are not called to like the bretheren, but we are called and commanded to love them. Furthermore, I would assert that loving and liking are not degrees of the same thing but are essentially different.
What is liking? What is it to like a person? Well, I would say that liking is something natural something instinctive ore elemental, something that is not the result of effort; you find yourself liking or not liking. In other words, liking is something physical and unintelligible.
Now do not misunderstand that. When I say that something is unintelligible, I meant that it does not happen as a result of the operation and the use of the intelligence. Liking is something that belongs to the animal part of the life and nature. You find it in the animal world itself; there is something instinctive, something that is just an expression of nature…Or, to put it further, the state of liking is one in which we are naturally interested in the person as such. It is certain qualities of that person, certain things about them which we like or dislike. In other words, liking does not penetrate to the central height of personality; it is an interest in superficial things, appearance, colour, temperament, behaviour or certain mannerisms….
But when we think in terms of love, we must think along a different plane. We should not think in terms of a worldly understanding or basis of love (infatuation, solely emotional, or even intensified liking) but instead think of God, who is love (1 Jn. 4.8).
Love is always highly intelligent; nature is not the greatest thing in love; the intellectual and intelligent aspects are indeed the most prominent. Love is never elemental or instinctive, because love is something that penetrates to the person; it goes beyond the superficial and the visible, the carnal and physical attraction, to something bigger and deeper. Indeed it is an essential part of love that it goes out of its way to do that. Love overcomes obstacles and excuses; it sees beyond what it does not like and minimises it, in order to the see the person who is at the back of it.
Now all this inevitably becomes a part of our definition of love, otherwise it would be impossible for God to love the sinner. We draw a distinction often, and we say God loves the sinner in spite of his sin. Love penetrates beyond the ugliness and the unattractiveness; it seeks out something. It is highly intelligent, it is thoughtful, and it is understanding. It is discriminating, and that is why I thus emphasised and stressed the intelligent aspect of love.(Life in Christ p. 358-359)
Surely you can see that loving and liking are entirely different. Too often we don’t love people because we think that we have to like them. This is actually falling far short of what it means to love. Loving is defined by and modeled by God. It is the response of one who has been loved by God and is seeking to love God in the other person (if they are a Christian) and love the image of God in that person (if they are an unbeliever). It penetrates beyond any outward unattractiveness and fastens itself upon the new nature in the individual. It is highly intelligent and not merely instinctive. It thinks, reasons, and works to reflect Jesus in willful and joyful sacrifice and service of others for their good.
If you are a Christian you may not like ‘em (that’s ok) but you must love them.