Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rebelling against a culture of niceness

Do Christians have to be nice?

This is a hard question for me to answer. For several years I would have said yes. Yes, it is mandatory that Christians, at least good Christians, are to be nice. But.... is that biblical?

Really the heart of the question is what "nice" means to you. For me, "nice" meant being pleasant, it meant saying "yes" to someone in need unless you really really REALLY can't do it. It meant giving money to everyone who asked, spending time with everyone who wanted to. It essentially meant bending over backwards for other people.

I have lied in the name of niceness. I have cheated for the sake of niceness. I have done good deeds with a bitter and frustrated spirit in order to achieve my vision of "Christian niceness". I was afraid of what people would think of me if I wasn't nice.

And I never knew I was biblically off-center. Even in Bible school I didn't accept the idea that Christianity and niceness (my idea of it, anyway) did not always go hand-in-hand. But then, how are Christians supposed to behave?

Over and over again, writers in the New Testament emphasize love. Love God. Love your brother. Love your neighbor. Paul sums "love" up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:

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.

Love is patient, kind, humble, forgiving, honest, truthful, and persistent. It is not always nice. 
Maybe you ask, as I did, what's the difference between "kindness" and "niceness"? 

My best answer, through my experiences with God and with people, is this: kindness is ALWAYS obedient to the will of God. In action, it sees a person through God's eyes, sees the underlying need, and asks God to be used by Him to take part in bringing healing, hope, and satisfaction of that need. Niceness, takes the person or situation into your own hands and attempts to generate a result of happiness or satisfaction. The underlying difference is in motive... are you working without reward, in obedience to God? Or do you expect to see some result of your efforts (however selfless you think those results look like)?

In Matthew 15:21-28, a Caananite woman approaches Jesus asking for healing for her daughter. Jesus' response is not very nice. First, he ignores her. His disciples, annoyed by this woman, prompt Jesus to send her away. Even when the woman gains audience with him he says,  "It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs". That's not a very nice thing to say. Bearing in mind that Jesus is Emmanuel (GOD with us), the son of God, the Messiah.... what does that say about this woman? What does it say about God and being Christ-like?

The heart of the matter in this passage is that Jesus came to earth to fulfill Jewish prophecy (and eventually save the world through his sacrifice). God's will for his life and ministry was completely for the Israelites. It was in his death and resurrection that allowed Gentiles like me to approach the throne of God apart from Jewish law. Jesus may have not been nice to this woman, but in his kindness He first submitted himself to God's will (ministering only to Israel) then secondly, seeing that God was in this situation ("Woman, you have great faith!"), allowed God to work in Him to serve her. 

I just recently read the Johns (1 John, 2 John, 3 John). The author repeatedly states that anyone who does good is of God. Anyone who walks in light is in the light of God. Anyone who does otherwise.... is apart from God. The source of a Christian's salvation, transformation, and growth is in God. Which means.... unless God is telling you directly to be "nice".... you don't have to be "nice". But you ARE required to love.

So, what's the point of making a distinction?

In short, it's to drive out any fear in our lives. Even passive fears.

It's not to give us license to be jerks, or to hurt people's feelings through "blunt" honesty (a.k.a. rudeness). But personally, as a "nice" Christian, I have struggled with confronting friends with the truth. I have "bit my tongue" about the Bible. I have listened to people insult my beliefs and said nothing in return.  I live with just a twinge of fear that people won't like me otherwise. A big enough twinge that it affect my actions on a regular basis. None of these things are Biblical. But they are nice.

Instead of trying to so hard to be nice, what if we let love shine? Which may mean confronting some things or people, being less well-liked, being more humbly aware of the impact of our actions and words on an eternal level. It's quite a few notches harder than just being nice, but I bet it's also a lot more rewarding.

For all you nice introvert Christians out there.... let's quietly rebel against the culture of "Christian niceness"; and rather embrace love and the fearless trust in Jesus that goes with it.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  ~ 1 John 4:18

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