Over the past few years I have been honored to participate in the GAMA conference hosted by Hope Bible Church in Columbia, Maryland. And it is by far my favorite conference, sure Shepherd’s conference is great, and I have been blessed every time I have been to Together for the Gospel, But for my money GAMA is my favorite, and the reason is that there is no one famous. And that is a great encouragement, because the great teaching and preaching is coming from men who pastor small churches in our part of the world; God is at work building and equipping His church, even when you don’t hear about it. And that is encouraging!
This year the conferences theme was biblical love (you can listen to conference audio here) and I was assigned the topic of loving the unlovable. Because who we find unlovable can vary as much as our taste in food (you might think baked beans are delicious, I would rather slam my hand in a car door than eat a spoonful of baked beans) I took a theological approach. Rather than giving tips (even biblical wisdom) about how to love the unloving, I thought it was more universally applicable to present a theology of loving the unlovable. This post is an adaptation of my notes for that seminar.
4 Keys to loving the unlovable
- Having a proper view of self
- Having a proper view of your brothers & sisters in Christ
- Having a proper view of the lost
- Having a proper view of love
A Proper View Of Self
You yourself are unlovable. At least you are to someone. Loving the unlovable starts the humility to admit and understand that not everyone finds you lovable. Sometimes even those who ought to love you best don’t. Common wisdom says that if people just get to know you, they will find you lovable. But the opposite is true, it is often those who know you best love you least because they know your shortcomings.
For brethren according to the flesh to dwell together is not always wise; for experience teaches that they are better a little apart. – Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 133
There is a succinct description of all men in Romans, “None is righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10).” None is lovable if they are fully known, no not one. It is when we forget that that we struggle with loving “the unlovable.”
The cure for this tendency is remembering that you were loved supremely when you were unlovable.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. – Romans 5:6-11
A proper view of your brothers & sisters in Christ
Just being a believer doesn’t automatically make someone lovable to every other believer. Not only are we all different, but we are all sinners who continue to sin.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. – 1 Timothy 1:15
“I am” is eimi ego (εἰμι ἐγώ) present tense, active voice, indicative mood. Paul is not saying that he was the chief of sinners when Christ saved him, he is saying that he is presently, currently the chief of sinners. Paul in mature self-awareness sees his own sin and says, I am the chief of sinners. Not only that he confesses that he often acts contrary to his best intentions.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. – Romans 7:15,18
If it is true of Paul, it is true of all believers. Sometimes believers are unlovable; they do the wrong thing and they sin. And when sinners (even redeemed ones) rub together, there is friction, and sometimes that friction flares and relationships are consumed. There are believers who find each other unlovable and there are believers who are in general terms unlovable.
A proper view of the lost
Unbelievers do unlovable things, they say unlovable things, and they often live in a manner that makes them unlovable.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. – Titus 3:3
What does this verse tell us about unbelievers?
- Full of Hate
According to this verse, why are they like this?
- Led astray
What does this mean? As believers we know how unbelievers act and why. We shouldn’t be surprised or angry when unbelievers act exactly the way that Scripture tells us that unbelievers act. And it is folly to expect unbelievers to act like believers or even to think that capable of not acting like unbelievers.
Everyone is unlovable. No one deserves to be loved. God did not love with His electing love based on the lovability of anyone, so how we respond to anyone should not be a reaction to their lovability quotient.
A right understanding of love
Biblical love is not just a feeling or an emotion. The most common word for love in the New Testament is agape (ἀγάπη), The New International Dictionary of Theology and Exegesis offers this definition “”to value highly, prefer…treat with affection.” It’s an action word – Prefer, treat.
There is a go to scripture when love is the subject, and with good reason, it is clear and succinct.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-6
What is love, or what characterizes love?
- Patient – Macrothumeo which is a compound word which combines the word which means long with the word for boil. It is best understood to mean to remain even tempered in difficult circumstances.
- Kind – Chrestomai To be affectionate, humane, considerate, gentle and sympathetic.
- Does not envy – Zeleo To be painfully covetous or desirous of what another has or of an advantage that another has.
- Does not boast – Perperomai To be or display self-importance.
- Is not arrogant – Physiuo To be puffed up or inflated.
- Is not rude – Aschemoneo To behave without honor.
- Does not insist on its own way – Zeteo + eautou Seek + itself i.e. self-seeking.
- Not irritable – Paraxuno To be provoked (to be touchy).
- Not Resentful – Logizomai + kakos To reason + bad i.e. to reason from a remembrance of the bad.
- Does not rejoice at wrongdoing – Adikia Unrighteousness i.e. being happy when someone acts wrongly, just like you expected.
- Rejoices at truth – Althea In conformity with reality. Being happy when someone acts rightly (in conformity with God’s law/character) contrary to your expectations.
Who are we commanded to love?
- One Another
- Our enemies
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:36-39
“Love one another.” – John 13:34, 15:12, 15:17; Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:19; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 4:7,11; 2 John 5.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48
How do you love God? By obeying Him, including the command to love others.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:3
If the greatest commandment is to love God, and if to love God is to obey His commands, and if we are commanded to love one another, our neighbors, and our enemies, then to not love them is to not love God. If you are not loving the unlovable, you are not loving God.
But it’s hard, how do you do it? You put on the mind of Christ.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8
 Charles Spurgeon The Treasury of David. Vol. 3 p. 167.
 NIDNTTE Vol 1 p103.