A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
Recently a friend of mine shared her new year’s resolution with me - to be a better Christian. “Awesome,” I said, “how are you going to do that?” She looked somewhat confused and said, “Well, by being nicer...” as if I should have known that all along.
This conversation stuck in my head the rest of the day and I began to ask myself - Does being nicer really make you a better Christian? Are we, as followers of Jesus, called to be nice?
So I did some research. Did you know that the word “nice” never appears in the Bible? Granted, most of us read a translation of the original Greek and Hebrew, but notably in all those years of translating, not one translator thought it appropriate to include the word “nice.” It isn’t there.
Merriam-Webster defines nice as “pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable.”
Interestingly, however, many of the heroes of our faith do not fit that description.
There’s nothing in scripture that implies that Paul was anything but provocative and controversial, and Peter was known for his impulsive, and sometimes violent, outbursts.
James and John were called “the sons of thunder.” I can’t imagine that was due to their “pleasant” dispositions.
And Jesus? Oh Jesus flipped tables, and chased people from the temple using a whip (John 2:13-16). He called the religious leaders of the time “snakes,” “vipers,” and “hypocrites” (Matt. 23:33). In fact, He was so disruptive to the accepted religious and socio-political landscape that He was executed as a political criminal.
These aren’t people or qualities that most would describe as nice.
But do you know what they were instead?
Loving. As Christians, Jesus commands us to be loving; to love one another as He loves us. Maybe that’s the problem. Our society has conflated the meanings of the words “loving” and “nice.” We have come to believe that anyone we find disagreeable, anyone who offends or hurts our feelings, anyone who disrupts the status-quo must not be a very loving person, and so must not be a very good Christian.
Thus, we strive for nicety.
But “nice” is a facade. It’s a mask we put on to make people like us. It’s superficial. It’s easy. Love is hard.
True love has very little to do with being nice. True love is to love as God does. It is to selflessly seek the highest good of the other. Many times our desire to be nice hinders us from acting in true love toward our neighbors.
We don’t share our beliefs with our friends and co-workers for fear of offending them or being rejected. We ignore our children’s bad behavior for the sake of being popular, rather than disciplining them in love. Under the guise of “minding our own business,” we keep our conversations at a superficial level in order to safeguard ourselves against the responsibility that comes with true intimacy.
Hard conversations, uncomfortable situations, self-denial, vulnerability - these are characteristics of love.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be polite, or that being nice is a bad thing. It just means that in order to be more loving, to best obey Christ’s greatest commandment, nicety cannot be our greatest concern.
To follow Christ is to take up our cross, to go to the hard places, to be willing to risk our own comfort and security to seek the highest good for those around us. To be a good Christian we must be willing to risk losing our nice reputations in order to be honest, courageous, generous, just, merciful, and humble.
No, Jesus wasn’t always nice. But He is love.
Jesus, teach to love as You did… as You do. Give us the wisdom to know what is right, and the courage to do it. Teach us to sacrifice the idol of “nice” on the altar of love. May our desire to love our neighbors far outweigh our desire to please them. In Your name, Amen.