By John O’Keefe
Many Christians believe that the highest calling God has placed on us is to be nice. These Christians are wrong.
God has not called us to be nice. Rather, he has called us to be good. Here’s the difference: nice people never confront evil. Good people do. Nice people are weak. Good people are strong.
Jesus wasn’t nice. He was kind, he was compassionate, he was caring, but he was unbending and unflinching when it came to standing for the truth. And it cost him his life.
Jo Swinney, in a column posted on Christian Today, says this: “Somewhere along the way, Christianity has got itself entangled with a soapy, soft, non-offensive concept: ‘niceness.’” We are nice to everyone we meet “in the hope that our niceness will get them to church where more nice people will be there to welcome them.”
Now don’t misunderstand me. This is not a call to be rude or offensive or obnoxious or unkind. Jesus himself said persecution only carries a reward when people “utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” (Matthew 5:11). In other words, it doesn’t count if it’s true.
But let’s not forget the way in which the author and perfecter of our faith died. Nice people don’t get crucified. Nice people buckle, nice people give way, nice people always accommodate, nice people never offend. Nice people allow themselves to get pushed around and taken advantage of and treated like saps. As Ms. Swinney points out, niceness is not one of the fruits of the Spirit.
Paul wasn’t “nice” to the politicians in Philippi when he was unjustly arrested and imprisoned. His rights as a Roman citizen had been grossly violated, and when the city leaders realized what they had done, they were in a full-fledged panic. They pleaded with Paul to leave quietly and not make a fuss.
A nice person would have said, “No problem, fellas. You made an honest mistake, could have happened to anyone, we’ll leave without a peep.” Paul didn’t say that. He insisted, for the sake of the work and the people he was leaving behind, that city officials make their apology public and personally accompany his team to the outskirts of town. He had absolutely no hesitation in pressing his legal rights as a Roman citizen and insisting they be respected.
Now we certainly should always be courteous, kind, loving, patient and friendly. But there must be times when we stiffen our spines and say I am not going to bend on this issue. There is a moral standard at stake here on which I cannot compromise, and I must plant my feet and refuse to budge. Nice people don’t do that, but good people do. In fact, good people must.
It’s what Aaron and Melissa Klein did when they politely refused to use their artistic craft to honor a form of marriage which is offensive in the eyes of God. It’s what Kim Davis did when she refused to sign her name to a legal document which did the same thing. The Kleins and Ms. Davis were unfailingly courteous and civil in every interaction. They behaved in every instance with Christ-like restraint. But the Kleins got fined $135,000 and Ms. Davis got thrown in jail – for being good rather than nice.
Nice people don’t change history. Good people do. Good people confront others with their sin when it is appropriate. As Ms. Swinney points out, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a virtual stream of rebuke from one end to the other, for misdeeds ranging from jealousy and quarrelling to incest, immorality, idolatry, judgmentalism, drunkenness and mishandling spiritual gifts.
We here at AFA have confronted Target for its dangerous policy of allowing men into dressing rooms and bathrooms with little girls. It’s what good people and good organizations do.
Nice people don’t change the world but good people do. Jesus warned us that accepting his invitation to follow him would lead us eventually into resistance, rejection, and mistreatment.
But through people who were willing to endure unjust suffering in his name, he would bring the kingdom of God to earth. As Swinney says, “There is nothing nice about being a Christ-follower. It is dangerous, exhilarating, polarising stuff.”
Niceness masquerades as love, but it is exposed as a fraud if it conceals the truth in the process. Here is how Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross put it: “Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.”
Paul captured the balance perfectly when he said our calling is to imitate Christ by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We must always strive to have a Christ-like blend of love and truth about us. Mean people speak when they shouldn’t, but nice people don’t speak the truth when they should. Good people do.