Why I Can Be Unfriendly

If someone tells me I am morally obligated to be friendly toward them, then for that very reason I will choose not to be friendly toward them.

I’m not saying I will be unkind. But “unfriendly.”

“Friendliness” is an attitude of warmth. It means acting in a way that is inviting toward friendship — that conveys I want to spend more time with them.

A friend of mine, Boltoph Osb, points out: “I don’t even have a moral duty to be civil, let alone friendly.”

Men who are not effeminate will understand this.

Osb writes:

I agree. In fact, the Christians who act as if I am obligated to be their friend tend to be socialists.

I am not friendly toward those who deny my moral right to be unfriendly — especially Christians.

But what about the verse — “love one another”?

“Love one another” essentially means “value and cherish one another.”

I value people who I know personally. I don’t let every person I happen to meet abuse “love one another” and turn it into a claim against my life.

Is this a biblical understanding of love? Yes. Think about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:3:

Whatever the love is that Paul is describing, it has to mean valuing and cherishing, not merely acting in a self-sacrificial way. The outer actions, according to Paul, do not necessarily show that love was there at all. The motive could have been something other than love.

Love of the kind Paul describes involves an attitude, and, I infer, an appraisal of the person being loved. The kind of love that Christians have for one another is a result of our actually perceiving one another’s great value as image-bearers of God. We see it for ourselves, not merely as something we read from the Bible, but as something we experience in the presence of others. We actually cherish each other. And for there to be that kind of effect, there has to be a cause.

The cause of such love is the perceived value of the other person and the context of the relationship — shared experiences and values.

But aren’t we *commanded* to have love for all people?

We are surely commanded to have some kind of love for all people. Even our enemies.

Matthew 5:44–45 reads:

We should seek to be like God — showing some degree of basic kindness toward all people, because every person is “worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).

All people have value. But be clear: “Friendliness” is not the exact equivalent of showing kindness or consideration or even of valuing another person. If someone believes I ought to do something for them, I am happy to let Jesus be my example. He sometimes says yes, and sometimes says no. He is willing to tell people that he cannot help them:

Jesus did not think he owed what the man demanded, and he said so. Likewise, even when Jesus’ own family demanded his attention, he was willing to dismiss their demand (Matthew 12:46–50). No one pushes him around.

Try to be rational toward all people. But rationality doesn’t always have to look like “friendliness,” by standards set by others. Some people are not my friends. If they try to impose on me, they may find that I am a brick wall.

But what about the direct command to “love one another”?

Doesn’t that command imply some level of obligation? Especially toward fellow believers?

Sure. Jesus commanded his followers:

In this instance, Jesus commands his disciples, who know each other personally, to love each other in such a way that outsiders will see it and know that they belong to Jesus. This is a different level of love than that which we show our enemies. But both levels of love are strategic — both for convicting the hearts of unbelievers and for turning our own hearts in a healthy direction.

That said, denying someone my “friendliness” can also be an act of love. Why would it be loving to make someone think they are entitled some level of warmth they have no claim to? Why would it be loving to make my enemy think I believe he is a friend? Or to make an annoying person think he is pleasant? Or to make a person I know nothing about think I am inviting him to become my friend?

In fact, it can be loving to tell people when they are wrong. It can even be loving to tell someone that they are your enemy. We go wrong when we infer from the command to love our enemies that we ought to pretend such people are not in fact our enemies. There is no sense in faking reality.

I have not said we are free from the obligation to love other people. But nowhere in the Bible are we told that we have an obligation to be “friendly” toward other people. Remember: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). There is much to be said for selectivity in friendship. Also remember: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). There are many ways to love other people.

Before trying to hold another man to your own standard of “friendliness,” it would be good to ask, would John the Baptist have met your standard? Sometimes the greatest kindness you can do a person is to tell them they are your enemy:

The man who said those needful words was a man worthy of being called the greatest among those born of women.

From such a quality of man, friendship is earned.

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