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Be More Than Just Nice

By SHAYNE PHILANDER
PUBLISHED 27 MARCH 2020

An imperative question that ought to be asked today. Especially during a time of uncertainty and fear is: should Christians be “Nice” to others? And if so, how nice? Meaning, should Christians now, more than ever, show their ‘niceness’ to one another and to whomever is in need? The answer is probably a screaming YES. However, the above question assumes that niceness is a responsibility the Christian ought to take. And if so, the question also assumes that to be nice to others is good enough. Basically, the point is that, the notion “to be nice” may sound honorable, but the very word ought to be examined. Whether it is robustly Christian (or even biblical).

For instance, what is the difference between a Christian who is nice and a non-Christian who is nice? The answer is nothing. Unless one person is nicer than another by degree, the difference is not clear. Even after spending a day with the cruelest person alive, one would be able to say that they possess a measure of niceness. This means that niceness is not an exclusive Christian trait. Most people can be nice and probably are.

Ironically, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “Nice” as a Latin then French word, when first used in English meant “foolish” or “stupid”. It’s only later that the term developed into meaning “pleasant” or “agreeable”. Therefore, niceness is more a matter of semantics than sanctification. Which in turn means that, the Christian should not only relook the notion of niceness. They must also aim for Christian practices that is more than culturally defined words.

Unfortunately, Christians often live their lives with a basic level of niceness towards other people. For instance, the niceness of saying “I will pray for you” is quite common among believers. Apart from the fact that, such a promise qualifies as a lie if one does not pray as one committed to do. This sentence has become the norm among the people of God; a way to be ‘nice’.

Be that as it may, Christians are never called to be just nice. The Bible never seems to command or even hint niceness as obedience. Of course, to be nice could be in-build into being loving, caring, hospitable and compassionate. Yet, niceness by itself is not explicitly stated as a Christian virtue. On the contrary, every follower of Christ is called to a far deeper, sincere and authentic level of relationship. Hence, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

As the only perfect human being who ever walked the earth Jesus is never depicted as merely a nice person. In Scripture his emotions range between mercy and compassion (Mark 1:41, Matt 9:36), all the way to righteous anger (Mark 3:1-6). Yet never is he portrayed as just nice. Not to say that, if Jesus lived on earth in the twenty-first century, niceness would not be said of him. The distinction is more that the Bible recognized and describes Jesus’ emotions in other unique ways. Ways that then become the standard for Christian living.
John 13:34, points out the standard of Christian living in Jesus. “…Just as I loved you, you also are to love one another”. The apostle Paul took Christ’s standard serious when he says. “I yearn for you all with the Affections of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8). Here the word “Affection” literally means, feeling with emotions that involves one’s entire being. This is to say that, Jesus Christ and Paul, who followed his example, felt real intense affections towards others. Thus, in comparison to Jesus and his followers, niceness is not a Christ-like concept. To put it another way, if the affection of Christ (i.e. his love), is the standard of behavior towards others. Then for the Christian to be nothing but nice is not good enough. As Mark Jones in his book Knowing Christ says, “One of the problems in the church today is not that we are too emotionally driven, but that we are not sufficiently such after the pattern of Christ”. In other words, the Christian is called to proper Christ-like emotions. Not superficial niceness.

The proposal is not for Christians to do away with the idea of niceness or to be nice? The intention is to be more than just nice. Rather to live a life of Christ-like emotions – displaying to others his love, mercy and compassion, even his righteous anger. This is to say that, rather than doing what is expected of any decent human being – to be nice. Let’s be Christian.

Right now, there are people all over the world being nice to others. Whether it is the nurse treating the Corona-virus patients or local communities looking after the elderly during this pandemic. And praise God for them. The fact is, there is no shortage of nice people in the world. Unfortunately, what is rare in the world are Christians interested in biblical Christ-like affections for others. As Peter says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart”.

An imperative question that ought to be asked today. Especially during a time of uncertainty and fear is: should Christians be “Nice” to others? And if so, how nice? Meaning, should Christians now, more than ever, show their ‘niceness’ to one another and to whomever is in need? The answer is probably a screaming YES. However, the above question assumes that niceness is a responsibility the Christian ought to take. And if so, the question also assumes that to be nice to others is good enough. Basically, the point is that, the notion “to be nice” may sound honorable, but the very word ought to be examined. Whether it is robustly Christian (or even biblical).

For instance, what is the difference between a Christian who is nice and a non-Christian who is nice? The answer is nothing. Unless one person is nicer than another by degree, the difference is not clear. Even after spending a day with the cruelest person alive, one would be able to say that they possess a measure of niceness. This means that niceness is not an exclusive Christian trait. Most people can be nice and probably are.

Ironically, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “Nice” as a Latin then French word, when first used in English meant “foolish” or “stupid”. It’s only later that the term developed into meaning “pleasant” or “agreeable”. Therefore, niceness is more a matter of semantics than sanctification. Which in turn means that, the Christian should not only relook the notion of niceness. They must also aim for Christian practices that is more than culturally defined words.

Unfortunately, Christians often live their lives with a basic level of niceness towards other people. For instance, the niceness of saying “I will pray for you” is quite common among believers. Apart from the fact that, such a promise qualifies as a lie if one does not pray as one committed to do. This sentence has become the norm among the people of God; a way to be ‘nice’.

Be that as it may, Christians are never called to be just nice. The Bible never seems to command or even hint niceness as obedience. Of course, to be nice could be in-build into being loving, caring, hospitable and compassionate. Yet, niceness by itself is not explicitly stated as a Christian virtue. On the contrary, every follower of Christ is called to a far deeper, sincere and authentic level of relationship. Hence, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

As the only perfect human being who ever walked the earth Jesus is never depicted as merely a nice person. In Scripture his emotions range between mercy and compassion (Mark 1:41, Matt 9:36), all the way to righteous anger (Mark 3:1-6). Yet never is he portrayed as just nice. Not to say that, if Jesus lived on earth in the twenty-first century, niceness would not be said of him. The distinction is more that the Bible recognized and describes Jesus’ emotions in other unique ways. Ways that then become the standard for Christian living.
John 13:34, points out the standard of Christian living in Jesus. “…Just as I loved you, you also are to love one another”. The apostle Paul took Christ’s standard serious when he says. “I yearn for you all with the Affections of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8). Here the word “Affection” literally means, feeling with emotions that involves one’s entire being. This is to say that, Jesus Christ and Paul, who followed his example, felt real intense affections towards others. Thus, in comparison to Jesus and his followers, niceness is not a Christ-like concept. To put it another way, if the affection of Christ (i.e. his love), is the standard of behavior towards others. Then for the Christian to be nothing but nice is not good enough. As Mark Jones in his book Knowing Christ says, “One of the problems in the church today is not that we are too emotionally driven, but that we are not sufficiently such after the pattern of Christ”. In other words, the Christian is called to proper Christ-like emotions. Not superficial niceness.

The proposal is not for Christians to do away with the idea of niceness or to be nice? The intention is to be more than just nice. Rather to live a life of Christ-like emotions – displaying to others his love, mercy and compassion, even his righteous anger. This is to say that, rather than doing what is expected of any decent human being – to be nice. Let’s be Christian.

Right now, there are people all over the world being nice to others. Whether it is the nurse treating the Corona-virus patients or local communities looking after the elderly during this pandemic. And praise God for them. The fact is, there is no shortage of nice people in the world. Unfortunately, what is rare in the world are Christians interested in biblical Christ-like affections for others. As Peter says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart”.

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