Today I have to deal with someone who I frankly do not like. This is unusual. There are very few people in the world who I simply dislike. But for some reason, I’ve had an allergic reaction to Person-I-Don’t-Like ever since we first met. It’s a visceral averse response: I get physically anxious, my heart rate jumps, my head starts to hurt. When I consider the fact that Person-I-Don’t-Like has a history of not being honest with me, I become disproportionately angry at Person-I-Don’t-Like. I generally do not have enemies, but Person-I-Don’t-Like feels like my enemy.
This morning at Upper Room’s staff meeting, I even used the word “hate” to describe how I feel about Person-I-Don’t-Like. Josh, our seminary intern, wisely responded by pointing to the passage of Scripture we’d just read together, and on which I’m preaching this Sunday: “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14-15 ESV). Ouch. I’m as good as a murderer. Thanks be to God for seminarians who preach Truth to pastors. My irrational hatred of Person-I-Don’t-Like was a testimony to the sinfulness of my own heart. Lacking love, I abide in death. And, in Paul’s words, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Obviously, the answer to Paul’s question is Jesus. But how will Jesus deliver me from the hatred of my brother? A few verses later in 1 John, we read a line that I think answers that question. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (3:18-19). Notice the repetition of truth in those verses. Jesus is Truth. Those who are “of the truth” in 1 John are those who are “of Jesus.” And those who follow Jesus display that they are “of the truth” by loving in truth. To love my enemy, I have to love him in truth. And I can only do that if I stop and ask, What really is true in this situation?
When considered in that light, this situation provides a beautiful example of the healing power of dedication to the truth. By stopping to ask what is really true, I calmed the anxiety in my heart and body, increased my concern for my enemy, and articulated a way to move forward. Let me demonstrate:
First of all, what’s really true about Person-I-Don’t-Like? He’s never been deliberately malicious toward me. He has not always been honest with me, but that’s no excuse for me to respond with hatred or dishonesty in return. I also know from past conversations with Person-I-Don’t-Like that his life is not easy. The stress of his own life adds a dimension to our relationship of which I’m normally unaware. As the adage goes, “Hurting people hurt people.” Of all people, I as a minister should know enough to look beneath the surface and ask why Person-I-Don’t-Like behaves the way he does.
Second, what’s really true about me in this situation? I don’t know what causes my averse response to Person-I-Don’t-Like. It’s not entirely rational, happens with no one else, and that alone should give me pause. On top of that, my reaction toward the prospect of dealing with Person-I-Don’t-Like is always overblown. When it comes down to the real facts of our situation, there’s no good reason for me to respond the way I do to this person. The truth here is that I’ve let my anxiety get the best of me. There’s nothing to fear.
Third, what’s true about the current situation of conflict? It was caused by miscommunications for which we’re both responsible. It’s also caused by neglect of certain duties, for which we’re also both responsible. Person-I-Don’t-Like may have been dishonest with me in the past, but I have no right to hold that against him, given my inability to love him in truth. If miscommunication, irresponsibility, and dishonest were the roots of this conflict, then I should seek restored communication, fulfillment of responsibility, and honesty as a way of resolving this conflict.
And finally, who is my true “enemy” in this situation? My own irrational anger, the anxiety I feel, and the negative consequences of destroying this relationship are all greater enemies than Person-I-Don’t-Like. If 1 John is right, my sin of hatred itself is an enemy of eternal proportion, while Person-I-Don’t-Like should be relatively innocuous. Maybe this encounter with Person-I-Don’t-Like is actually an opportunity to learn to love? It’s already becoming an opportunity to learn to practice living in the truth, and for that I should be grateful.
In John 3:21, Jesus says his followers “practice the truth”. Practicing the truth means going deeper than the surface-level debates about who’s right and wrong. It means living with an entire orientation toward truthfulness in life. And I believe a deeper practice of the truth can lead to genuine reconciliation and love between those who have been enemies. By calling us to practice the truth, the One who is Truth delivers us from this body of death into life and love. Thus John can say, “we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love . . .” (1 John 3:14).