Linus told his sister, Lucy, he wanted to be a doctor. That wrought a big laugh from her because she knew the one reason why it would never happen. “Because you don’t love mankind,” she said. With double exclamation marks, Linus replied, “I love mankind…it’s people I can’t stand!!”
Remember when Jesus told a man to love God and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:28)? Luke says that man wanted to justify himself. So, he asked in response, “And who is my neighbor?” Over the years, people have asked me that question, too. As far as I can tell, they haven’t wanted to justify themselves. Rather, they wanted to see if they could get out of loving certain people.
Because some people make “loving your neighbor” hard. We love loving people, but it’s some of these neighbors we can’t stand.
People have always been difficult. Before the apostle Paul’s conversion to faith in Jesus, he was difficult. After his conversion, people made things difficult for him. By the time he writes 2 Timothy, he’s been in jail, beaten and ridiculed. Now, when he feels like this is the end of his life, he warns Timothy about the last days. Distressing times will come.
Last days make me think of natural disasters. Not Paul. He’s thinking of people. He rattled off twenty things about people that will be a sign to Timothy. It’s the people that distress the times!
Instead of rejecting all these people at every turn or exposing them for what they do, just “avoid them” (2 Timothy 3:5). You don’t want to spend the last days arguing, do you?
But what if it isn’t the last days? Surely Paul didn’t expect us to be reading his mail thousands of years later. What if your everyday neighbors are just all those things Paul listed or more?
Be careful how you let Paul’s advice to a young pastor in a particular congregation and certain time be the advice you follow into eternity. It’s hard to love your neighbor if you avoid them forever. But Paul does also offer another encouragement to Timothy. It’s a word we need to hear, too, about our witness.
It can be hard to love some people. But, as you let your witness to God’s glory, sacrifice and love do the talking, you may find you don’t want to avoid as many people.