The Bible tells us that God’s will is for us to love other people with a godly love. We are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) and even to “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). Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). In each of these examples, the Greek word for love is agapao which has self-sacrifice as its primary characteristic. This is not a love of brotherly affection or emotional connection, as is often thought. Rather, agapao or agape love seeks the best for its object. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own. Clearly, this type of love is impossible in our own strength. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to obey God’s commands, including the commandment to love.
Jesus said we are to love as He loved us, so how did He love? “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Certainly we will not like everyone, nor are we called to. Even so, when we begin to love someone with God’s love, our attitude toward that person changes. Psychologically, we are incapable of having attitudes and actions that are inconsistent. When we begin to show love by our actions, our attitudes will follow. Love will still be a choice, but it will gradually become one the heart is more willing and ready to make. When we look at Jesus’ interactions with others, we see that He willingly related with all kinds—sinners, tax collectors, Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, Samaritans, fisherman, women, children—with no regard for society’s view of the respectable. Jesus loved these people and treated them out of that love, but it did not always look pleasant. He spoke harsh words to those who opposed Him, but He did so because it was best for them. He sacrificed His time, His emotional energy, and His wisdom for those who hated Him because He knew it would either bring them to a saving knowledge of Him or turn them away forever. Either way, they benefitted from His input. This is the essence of loving our enemies—speaking the truth in love to them (Ephesians 4:15), no matter how much it costs us to do so.
Once again, this does not mean that you will like every person or even respect them beyond the point of recognizing that they are made in God’s image. God has given us minds to discern, to some extent, the hearts of others. We also are made in God’s image and should not unnecessarily put ourselves in harm’s way by trusting someone who is not worthy of that trust. Jesus slipped away from crowds because He knew their hearts and needed to protect Himself (John 5:13; 6:15). However, when we place our trust fully in Christ and pursue wisdom and holiness through prayer and the Scriptures, we will naturally develop a love for others—a godly love which sacrifices self by seeking the best for them—whether or not it is accompanied by affection.