by Al Maxey

Issue #427 ------- January 15, 2010
We are obliged to love one another. We
are not strictly bound to like one another.

Thomas Merton {1915-1968}
No Man Is An Island

The Love/Like Conundrum
Can One Command An Emotion?

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), in his grand masterpiece "Mere Christianity," astutely noted, "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you're behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less." In the holy Scriptures we are commanded to show love, even to those who may be unlovely and unloving. It is a call to act or behave in such a way as to seek the ultimate good of another, even if that person is one's sworn enemy. What is being divinely prescribed are the parameters of one's outward behavior, not the particulars of one's inward emotions. One may quite easily command an action; commanding a feeling is another matter. Newly commissioned officers within the armed forces are instructed, "It is one thing to get a man to salute you; it is quite another to have him respect you!" The former may be ordered; the latter must be earned. A person can be forced to display respectful actions, but to force a man to actually feel respect for another is an impossibility.

The point Lewis is making in his above quote is that feelings of affection have been known on occasion to grow from out of repeated acts of love toward another with whom we may lack any deep emotional bond of friendship or fellowship, or with whom there may actually exist a state of animosity. Paul wrote, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink" [Romans 12:20]. Do these acts of Christian charity denote feelings of affection for such a person? Of course not. But such actions do denote a willingness to love such a person. Love emanates from grace; affection evolves from personal growth; the latter often facilitated by the former. While we were all dead in our trespasses, God, "because of His great love for us" [Eph. 2:4], lifted us up from the depths of our degradation "in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us" [vs. 7]. Loving acts of kindness come from grace, with the hopeful expectation being that in time a warm, affectionate relationship may develop. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said if we want to truly be like the Father, we must not limit our love to those who love us, but rather "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" [Matt. 5:43-48]. Jesus did not say we had to feel affection for them, He said we had to manifest love for them. There is a difference. One is action, the other emotion.

Many disciples of Christ, rather understandably, are somewhat confused by these two concepts, which pose for them quite a significant conundrum (any puzzling, intricate, difficult problem or question). When the Lord commands us to LOVE one another, does this necessitate that we must LIKE one another?! If I don't feel the latter, have I in some way failed in my demonstration of the former? A reader in California wrote last month, "Dear Bro. Maxey, I have a question for you that I've wrestled with for quite some time. I realize this is a shortcoming on my part, but I would greatly appreciate your opinion. I know that Jesus Christ commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves (I have often said this was the hardest of His teachings). It is so easy to say, 'I love you with the love of the Lord.' But my question is: What if you just don't like someone?! Simple human emotion, right? There are some people I simply don't care for one whit on a personal level. There are some people -- especially some Church of Christ Christians, sadly -- whom I've known all of my life, that I simply don't like! I don't bear them any malice, nor do I condemn them or want them to be condemned; I just don't care for them much, and so I don't have much to do with them. Does any of this make any sense?! I would truly appreciate it if you would address this when you have the time."

The ideal, of course, is that we'll truly feel, from our innermost being, that which we are doing. Peter, as he spoke of the love we are to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ, said that we are to "love one another deeply, from the heart" [1 Peter 1:22]. In that very same passage Peter declared such love was to be sincere (not feigned/hypocritical). And yet, the reality is that one can indeed do something sincerely, without hypocrisy, and still not feel a deep affection for the one being shown acts of love, mercy, compassion and kindness. To love sincerely is to love without pretense; to genuinely seek the ultimate good of another, and to seek to bring that good about by one's own actions. I can do this even for an enemy -- "deeply, from the heart" and in complete sincerity -- and still not like the person, or his/her actions and attitudes. A false pretense, for example, might be performing these acts of love for another in the hope of making oneself appear more righteous in the eyes of those observing one's actions. If our motivation is to elevate self, our love is not what we make it appear to be. However, if our motivation is truly to elevate another by these acts of love, even one with whom we may not be personally close -- if it is his/her ultimate good we seek, not our own -- then our love is genuine; from the heart.

Such a godly, gracious approach to those whom we may not especially like, CAN, given time and effort, evolve into a more affectionate relationship. This principle is expressed in Proverbs 16:7 -- "When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." In the Law of Moses we read, "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it" [Exodus 23:4-5]. Christ summed it up this way: "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]. Does this mean we are obligated to feel all warm and gushy inside while performing these acts of love? When I pull an enemy's ox out of a ditch, do I just melt inside with feelings of deep affection for the owner of that beast? Of course not. However, that act of love and kindness may very well begin to warm the frigid expanse between us, and the more such acts I perform on his or her behalf, the more likely that one day I may be able to call my enemy, "my friend." Love is the command; affection is the goal. Someone has to take that first step toward that goal. The Lord says: let it be YOU. In so doing, "you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" [Luke 6:35; cf. Matt. 5:45].

Rick Warren, author of such well-known and well-received works as "The Purpose Driven Church" and "The Purpose Driven Life," wrote an article for one of his blog sites on December 10, 2009 titled Love is an Action. In it he posed much the same question as the reader from California. "Is love dead when the emotion is gone?" In other words, can I genuinely love another person if I don't necessarily like that other person? Rick's response is a resounding YES. Why? "Because love is an action; love is a behavior." As Rick correctly points out, "You can't command an emotion. If I told you, 'Be sad!' right now, you couldn't be sad on cue. Just like an actor, you can fake it, but you are not wired for your emotions to change on command. ... Love is something you do. It can produce emotion, but love is an action." Yes, acts of love can indeed, given time, produce feelings of affection. Not always, of course, but it can, and often does, occur. This is at least one of the reasons we are commanded to love those persons whom we may not like -- the action may produce the emotion within our hearts, thus leading to a more peaceful, harmonious relationship.

"Let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions" [1 John 3:18, NLT]. If you tell someone that you love them, but do not follow those words with a demonstration of that professed love, then one may legitimately question the genuineness of that love. James said that anyone can say they have faith, but the proof is in showing it. This is equally true of love!! "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" [James 2:15-16]. Love is an action verb, and without action it is dead (just as faith without evidentiary works is dead). When love is shown, however, the hearts and lives of others are positively impacted ... as are our own. People are drawn closer together, relationships are made stronger, perceived faults and flaws in others no longer seem quite as significant [1 Peter 4:8]. And imagine when this occurs among those who previously were not overly fond of one another?! Love, quite literally, is the sacred key to the healing of all that afflicts us, whether that be among individuals or groups or societies.

Love involves a personal sacrifice, because it may not always be convenient to promote another's good over our own, and it may not always be something we feel like doing. But, we must place action before emotion; others before self. In so doing, we follow the example of our God, who certainly did the same for each of us! The sought after goal of such loving, sacrificial action is a warm relationship that we pray will endure throughout the ages, growing ever stronger and closer with the passage of time. May God help us to LOVE one another, even when we may not LIKE one another. The result of such behavior just may pleasantly surprise you, not to mention it will glorify our Father and bring His children closer together in a united, harmonious Family.

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Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, I just finished your book Down, But Not Out and wanted to send you a BIG THANKS. You have the ability to take the whole Truth of the Bible and present it in an easily understood form!! In a recent gospel meeting at the church I attend, the visiting preacher stressed how his elders counseled couples in second marriages to END their "adulterous relationships," and then he actually laughed at the fact that one of the couples called these elders "home wreckers." It made me very sad for the lives of those within that congregation that these men were destroying!! I hope I get to meet you at The Tulsa Workshop.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Brother Al, I appreciate your candor and passion for Truth in a time when many Christians who have been through a divorce have been relegated to "second rate" status within so many congregations. Many of these persons have a great deal to offer their local congregations and their communities, and yet they have been intentionally left out when it came to using their talents in the assembly and enjoying the fellowship of their brethren. I'm really looking forward to reading your book on this topic (Down, But Not Out). Kindest regards to you, Al.

From a Reader in Australia:

Brother Al, Good news! We're going to be able to be at The Tulsa Workshop this year. I have just booked a flight to Tulsa from Sydney. We will arrive there on the 19th of March and leave again for Sydney on the 28th. Hence, my wife and I will be at all of your presentations, as well as have some time to catch up with you and Shelly for a chat and perhaps a bite to eat. Take care my brother and friend.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Bro. Al, We are studying Revelation at our congregation, and I found Rev. 5:8 to be fascinating: "The four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp." These elders who surrounded Jesus were using harps to accompany a song of worship. I have never heard anyone mention this verse when discussing the "sin" of using musical instruments in worship. Can you give me your thoughts on this passage? I am tempted to ask, "Do the legalists think these elders are in trouble with God for bringing a musical instrument to the worship service?"

From a Ministry Leader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, I just wanted to say Thank You for your excellent study: The Acceptable Fast of the Lord: The Religious and Spiritual Fasts Perceived in Isaiah 58 (Reflections #219). I am a Women's Ministry Speaker and have recently written a three part message (for Ladies' Retreats, devotional studies, and the like) that leads up to the spiritual significance of this very passage. After I had reviewed your notes, I then went and looked around the rest of your web site. I had to laugh out loud when I noticed the debate that you had with a Baptist pastor from Tennessee (The Maxey-Martin Dialogue). I am also Baptist, and also from Tennessee. Oh my goodness!! ... after reading that exchange I feel like I need to apologize to you for being both! Al, it sounds like you have a wonderful ministry. Thank you for your commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Someone asked me how long I had been a subscriber to your Reflections. I can't remember exactly, but I tell everyone that it was when I began reading your writings that I first began to "see the light," and also began making some significant changes in my thinking!! Al, your Reflections have had a profound impact on my life in Christ! Thank You.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Bro. Maxey, I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for your efforts in sharing God's Word. I have been a believer for over 25 years, and I now find myself rethinking a few of the doctrines that I had been taught. It had previously been easy for me to simply sit and listen to someone else's teaching, never giving what they said a second thought. However, the Lord has been moving and prompting me to search the Scriptures for myself, and to allow the Holy Spirit to teach me. I have to say -- it has not been without difficulty, and I am embarrassed by the fact that some of what I had believed was nothing more than "traditions of men" or outright error. One such area in particular deals with the nature of man and the final destiny of the unrepentant. I am just now realizing how much of a barrier the traditional teaching on this has been to my love for the Savior. I've now come to realize that the simple teaching of Scripture, unadulterated by man, is that God is a righteous Judge, NOT a sadistic torturer. As a result of this understanding, my interest in prayer and study of the Word is more now than it has ever been! It's like I'm falling in love with Jesus all over again. You, Bro. Maxey, as well as a few others, have been used by God to help me in this. I just wanted to say Thanks!!

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Keep up the good work, Brother Al. God is obviously blessing many people through your writings! I hope to see you at The Tulsa Workshop.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I haven't sent you any note for some time, not because I have stopped reading your Reflections, or because I have begun to disagree with you, but rather because time constraints called my attention elsewhere. I continue to read, learn from, profit by, and deeply appreciate the way the Lord is using you through these weekly writings. Keep it up!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, I am moved to send you my personal expression of appreciation for the blessing of being in your circle of fellowship. Through your teaching I am learning more and more of what is truly the biblical way to worship and follow Jesus Christ, and I'm convinced that if Jesus were here on earth today, as He was in the first century, He would have for sure chosen you, just as He did the apostles, to walk with Him and serve Him. May God continue to bless you as you so capably bring others to a true understanding of His Word. Multiplied thousands love you and the words you pen each week. Brother, ----- and I love you and Shelly so much!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, Happy New Year! May the Lord grant you an extra measure of grace in 2010. I just wanted to thank you (once again) for your shepherding in my life. I feel great peace knowing that I have you as someone with whom I can share my thoughts and receive feedback. You are a true blessing!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Brother Al, Amen and Amen to your article "The Holy Kiss of Love." We should be happy to see and greet one another with genuine love and affection because of our bond in Christ. However, I can recall being counseled by an aggressive elder once because I hugged an 87-year-old sister instead of just shaking her hand. His concern: it could "start something!" How sad that we have let our minds deteriorate to the point that one would automatically perceive "impropriety" when we simply greet a fellow brother or sister with love. We've become culturally poisoned. I'll never forget the feeling of warmth and love I experienced when a fellow Christian at an old Orthodox church in Serbia embraced me and kissed me on the cheek. It was real, and it came from the heart.

From a Leader at Herald of Truth:

Brother Al, I was blessed to live for 15 years in Argentina where the holy kiss is alive and well. It is kind of sad that U.S. culture has moved away from this lovely form of greeting. One of my friends from the States asked me, "What's it like to have a father-in-law who always greets you with a kiss?" I told him: It's a beautiful thing!! Thanks for this study, brother!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Brother Maxey, When I was seventeen I lived in Venezuela. It was customary there to greet one another with a kiss, which was hard for a 17-year-old North American boy to get used to ... that is, until one day a beautiful 20-year-old girl, whom I liked a lot, was greeting me!! My brother-in-law stopped me, saying to me in English, "Let it be a holy kiss, my brother!!"

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