You Are Going to be Confused
You are going to be confused here for a little bit. In a day and age where the greatest of all Christian virtues is “Being Nice” I am going to push back a little against that. Furthermore, I am going to compel us away from being nice and turn us instead toward being kind. From there, I am going to define kind biblically.
This topic has been on my mind quite a bit as of late. Apparently, it has been on the mind of others because it has been popping up in numerous podcasts lately. So, I want to ask, does the bible compel us to be nice? Is there a command that says, “Go ye therefore and be nice to all people?” And this is where you are going to get confused; my argument is that the bible never compels us toward niceness. In fact, the loving acts of kindness that we are compelled toward are going to seem incredibly not nice in the eye of the world and Western Christian Culture.
So, strap in and bear with me. I think you are going to enjoy this ride.
The Historicity of Nice
Nice isn’t simply a city in France, but the historical root of the word nice sure does have a lot to do with how we view France today. Here is what I mean.
While we are not entitled to completely detach a word from its current usage, we can certainly learn quite a bit about the current word from its evolution. Nice comes from the Latin word nescius. Nescius means to be “unaware, ignorant”. Apparently, the French eventually “loaned” the word to the English where it was used to characterize a person that was seen as stupid, or ignorant or foolish.
The word morphed over time somewhere in the late 1300s. It was being used to describe someone or something that was considered excessively luxurious or lascivious. Both the original meaning and the first mutation of it lean heavily on the idea of uselessness. However, over time it mutated again to mean someone that was scrupulous or precise and fussy.
Eventually, we arrived at the current permutation of the word. Now to be nice is to be malleable or easy going. So, a nice person is easily formed or shaped into the image that those around them want them to have. This is the context of the word today. Therefore, when those in WCC call on us to “be nice”, they are calling us away from properly understood biblical standards.
We are not to be conformed to the image of the world but to the image of Christ. And Christ was far from nice.
You Might Argue with me Now
It would be so easy to list all the arguments you are going to attempt to use to disprove me. “But Jesus said this, and Jesus did that.” Some will even remind me that we are taught that as much as it is possible, we should be at peace with all men.
Consequently, the settled conclusion for most people is that we are to be nice. Nice at all costs. Moreover, this conclusion flows from the fallacious idea that Jesus was nice. But, and I know I am standing on culturally thin ice here, my contention is that Jesus wasn’t nice. He wasn’t pliable and easily shaped and formed.
In fact, I would assert that He was nowhere near nice. No matter which permutation of nice you use. Jesus was not ignorant or unaware. He definitely wasn’t lascivious or luxurious. And he wasn’t calling His disciples to be any of those things.
Make no mistake, I am familiar with the arguments from the other direction as well. Do you remember the old acronym WWJD? What would Jesus Do? If you are at all aware of this cultural argument you know that one of the answers that floats around is, “Well flipping tables and whipping people is an option!” While this is true, it isn’t my go-to. I am not interested in playing one-upmanship.
I am arguing for kindness, not a contemporary Christian equivalence of temple cleansing. Even if there is a place for it these days. (And there is!)
You are Going to Need to Take a Position
The Scriptures tell us that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. This is a powerful truth that cannot be avoided. And still, many in WCC seem to do their best to do that. But what we need to remember about the context of that verse is that it comes immediately after Romans 1. Romans 1 was Paul’s eloquent dissertation on sin and damnation and God’s Just Judgement of unrepentant sinners. Romans 1 sets us up for the truth bomb in chapter 2.
If we sit back and declaratively condemn someone for doing the same things we are doing; we have already condemned ourselves. It is the very epitome of pride to think that way. Worse yet, it shows that we have forgotten how powerful God truly is. It is He who has drawn us to repentance. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains kindness this way:
Benignity or kindness stemming from the word chrestos. It carries with it the idea of moral excellence of character along with gentleness and goodness.
This word is used ten times in the NT. That is ten times more than you will find the word nice.
So, why would I say you are going to need to take a position? I mean to say that you have to come down on one side or the other of this conversation. This is a debate that needs to be had. If we continue to foist that falsity of niceness onto the Church, especially the men of the church, we are going to need to abandon Gospel preaching.
The way to understand the moral goodness of God and how that gentleness leads people to repentance is through the lens of the rebuke that precedes it. Again, you are going to need to take a position.
You are Going to Hell is a Kind Warning
I know this seems counterintuitive. I get it. But bear with me if you would. The world is a fickle place that loves to coddle sinners in their sin and rebuke Christians for being truthful. The truth of Christian thought is seen as harsh and hateful in the eyes of those who are fleeing from God’s Just Judgement of sin.
However, as with any warning, there is a starkness to it because of impending danger. There is a reason that there are signs warning about dogs being on a premise. But homes with pet rabbits don’t warn you before you enter. One can kill you while the other may cute you to death.
This is the nature of the God of all Creation. He is not only loving, He is Wrathful. He hates sin and will judge those who refuse to repent of their wicked ways. Subsequent to that truth, is the truth of the kindness of God that calls the wicked to flee from the wrath to come. To accomplish that calling God has ordained His Church, the very Bride of Christ, to preach the Gospel. But the good news isn’t good without the kindness of warning others about the hell that awaits them.
Jesus told us that to love God with every fiber of our being is the greatest command and that to love neighbor as self is the second greatest. Yet few today put teeth into that truth. For the Christ-follower, loving neighbor as self penultimately means recognizing their wickedness and warning them to turn to Christ instead. Likewise, in Matthew 5, Jesus said that the peacemakers amongst us are blessed. However, make no mistake, peacemakers are not “nice”. Contrary to modern thought, being a peacemaker means ruffling feathers on overly comfortable birds…
If You Want to be a Peacemaker You will Upset People
Even now you are saying, “But Todd, that isn’t nice.” Well. Maybe you caught yourself and rephrased it to, “That isn’t kind.” But either way, we have a model to follow. Jesus was literally the kindest of all humanity. But he wasn’t nice. Nice people, dare I say men, don’t rock the boat or upset the apple cart. Nice people are the get-along-to-go-along types. They mold and shape themselves after the image of the society they find themselves in.
Yet, was that who Jesus was? I offer no as my answer. When we consider Jesus in John 6, He said some hard-hitting things that upset some people. So-much-so they turned and walked away. Many of them never walking with Him again. But wait, Scripture calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. Wonderful Counselor! How can the very Prince of Peace so willingly upset those that had been following Him? Because He is the same God that inspired Paul to write, “speak the truth in love.”
Sometimes loves says hard things. I think we have forgotten that. There is no more loving thing to do then to compassionately correct an errant brother or sister. The most self-sacrificial act that a Christian can partake in is risking the friendship of another by warning them that they are outside of God’s favor.
The first goal of a peacemaker is to proclaim the Gospel to bring peace between God and men. Afterward, the peacemaker works to be an intermediary between fellow believers. This is seen in the model of Matthew 18 and Colossians 6. The sinning party is met by love and kindness and moved to repentance. We see it profoundly worked out in Philemon when Paul compels Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
This is biblical kindness rooted in Gospel focused truth.
If You are Going to be Nice You Can’t be Christlike
I hope that this has moved you to consider how society or culture defines what it means to be nice and what it means to be kind. Biblically speaking we are called to be molded into the image of the Son. This means that we are to seek after and strive for His character and moral appearance. When this pursuit of the holiness of God is our goal, it equips us to do the hard things that Scripture compels us to.
The more we pursue sanctification the more natural it will be for us to warn people that they are going to hell apart from Christ. This doesn’t make saying, “You are going to hell…” easy or enjoyable at all. It simply means that we have submitted ourselves to our Lord and are willing to do what He has modeled for us.
If you are going to be worried about your reputation or about being labeled a “nice guy” you are going to hold back on essential truths. Instead, seek to be labeled Christlike. Strive after the high and holy calling to be labeled as being of a different world.
Soli Deo Gloria!