A few weeks ago, I went to see the new Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. I went with my husband, who had already seen it once...less than 24 hours prior. Clearly, he was a fan. And it didn’t take long for me to understand why.  

Confession: I actually have no memory of ever watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority. From what I can tell, most people who grew up in America any time between the late 60s to the early 2000s remember this show with fondness.

After watching the documentary, it’s obvious to me why so many people have been impacted by this man’s work. It’s because he genuinely loved his neighbors—and he did it with courage, compassion and kindness.

“You know, I think everybody longs to be loved,” he said, “and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And, consequently, the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”

As an ordained minister working in television, Rogers was constantly interacting with people who thought and acted different than he did. Many of his Christian values were likely challenged on a regular basis. But instead of insulating himself from opposing viewpoints and hiding in a Christian bubble, he held tightly to Truth and brought love into the messy middle.

Here’s today’s question...

Is it possible to love someone like Jesus loved while still disagreeing with something that's a huge part of who that person is? If so, what does that look like?

Mr. Rogers would say yes, and so would I. I absolutely believe that it’s both possible and crucial for us to love in this way… but that doesn’t make it easy. As fond as I’ve grown towards Mr. Rogers over these past few weeks, I know a guy who sets an even better example of Christ-like love. A perfect example, if you will. Enter Jesus.

Our perfect example of loving people we disagree with

The only way that we’re going to get a good pulse on how to love like Jesus loved is by looking to His example. Literally every person who Jesus crossed paths with during His time on this earth had something in their life that He disagreed with. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our sin is offensive to Him and it’s the reason why He suffered so intensely on the cross. But despite all of that—despite the anguish and sorrow that only He knew that He would suffer—He still chose to love unconditionally.  

In one of the most widely quoted Bible passages of all time—second only to John 3:16—Paul tells us what love is and what it isn’t. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Jesus’ greatest commandment tells us to follow His example of love in our own lives: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Let’s take a look at how Jesus lived this out in His ministry on earth, despite disagreeing with the choices and lifestyles of the people around Him.

He broke bread with them

Some times, I think about why God created us to need food. Our bodies literally can’t survive without it. We have this regular cycle of hunger and satiation that repeats itself from the day we’re born until the day we die. But why? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I believe that one of them is because our hunger for food is a need that creates fellowship. It gives us one more reason, one more opportunity, to step outside of ourselves and interact with the communities around us.  

Jesus was notorious for eating meals with people who were thought of as unclean. Lepers. Adulterers. Liars. Cheaters. Tax collectors. The Pharisees were pretty confused by the company He kept. “They asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:11-12).

Jesus’ fellowship with sinners—aka all of us—is an act of love. By gathering and conversing with people whose lifestyles He disagreed with, He broke down the barriers and excuses pushing sinners away from His unconditional love. This is what His mission was all about. Eliminating the barriers that keep us away from God.

He spoke the truth in love

In thinking about this question, one story that immediately came to mind was that of the Samaritan woman in John 4. She comes to the well to get water during the hottest time of day because she is ashamed of her many sins, and Jesus meets here there to begin a conversation with her. He reminds her of all she’s done and tells her exactly who He is: the Messiah who can redeem her from it all. Through their brief, honest and raw exchange, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (4.39).

This type of grace-filled truth speaking gives us an example to aspire to. Often, we let our own judgments get in the way of loving others the way Christ does. In a previous post, I wrote that when we speak the truth without love, it reads as judgment—and none of us are in any position to judge anybody. That same idea is relevant to this conversation. It’s not our job to punish people for disobeying God. Our job is to love Him, to love our neighbors like ourselves, and to proclaim His Gospel {of love} with our words and deeds.

Following His example of unconditional love today

So now that we’ve taken a glimpse at how Jesus showed love to people He disagreed with, let’s think through how we can apply His example in our own lives. This quote by Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian theologian {and friend of Mr. Rogers}, takes us to a good starting point.  

He writes: “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

It might seem like a no-brainer but it’s worth saying: To love somebody, you need to see them. Take the time to learn how they became who they are. Listen before opening your mouth. Replace judgment with empathy. And speak the Truth in love by remaining humble in the knowledge that the Gospel covers your sins just as much as it covers theirs.  

When Jesus prayed for His disciples the night before His crucifixion, he said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). With this simple prayer, Jesus made it clear that His followers are not called to insulate themselves from a world of people who think and act differently than they do. On the contrary, His entire earthly ministry was a living example of standing firm in Truth in the midst of opposition.

We’ve all heard it said before: good communication plays a significant role in healthy relationships. And I believe that it’s particularly critical in relationships with people who think differently than you. Love finds its strength in understanding, and you can’t understand somebody without first seeing and hearing them.

In my own efforts to understand people who lead lifestyles that don’t align with God’s Word, I often ask myself this question: Why would that person care that they aren’t living by God’s standards if they don’t believe in God? I definitely wouldn’t. This goes back to the motivation for obeying God’s law that we talked about a few weeks ago. Instead of approaching these conversations with judgment and condemnation, consider the heart of the matter. Introduce them to the living God of hope, redemption, love and new life. Once a person truly knows Him, the Holy Spirit begins the work of sanctification.

There are a lot of ways to show love to somebody. Some times, it means speaking a hard truth. Other times, it means offering a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. But if the love you give to somebody leaves them feeling hopeless, there's something missing. Let your love be hope-filled, Truth-filled and grace-filled, just like the love of our Savior.