Jesus Was Not Nice
Scripture: Matthew 23:25–28
God did not call you to be nice.
Niceness is such a prized quality in our culture that it’s easy to forget how dangerous it is. Dangerous? Yes. As Sharon Hodde Miller reminds us, Jesus was kind,but he wasn’t nice. In other words, he didn’t let fear of offending people keep him from speaking the truth in love. And yet he sacrificed everything for people who disagreed with him. This week we’ll look at ways we can follow Jesus’s example and be abundantly kind with everyone—without giving up what we believe.
It’s true that Christians are called to kindness, gentleness, and love. But I have learned that I cannot follow Jesus and be nice. Following Jesus means following a man who spoke hard and confusing truths, who was honest with his disciples—even when it hurt—who condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and turned over tables in the temple. Jesus was a man who went face-to-face with the devil himself and died on a cross rather than succumb to the status quo. Jesus was loving. He was gracious. He was forgiving. He was kind. But he was not nice. He was a man who would leave the ninety-nine sheep to rescue the one, but he was also totally unafraid of offending people.
In our culture, niceness is not just a socially acceptable behavior but an openly encouraged one. The world gushes over nice Christians, and for obvious reasons. The rewards are many for being nice. For many years, the highest priority in my heart, just a step above following Jesus, was my reputation as a girl who followed Jesus. I identify “niceness” as an idol in my life because I have served it tirelessly, and it has served me well in return.
I’ve learned, though, that my motives for being nice became extremely muddled. I was a nice person, not simply for Jesus’s sake but also for my own. My devotion to niceness has won me a lot of acceptance and praise, but it has also inhibited my courage, fed my self-righteousness, encouraged my inauthenticity, and produced in me a flimsy goodness that easily gives way to disdain.
Jesus understood the difference between graciousness and personal compromise, between speaking truth and needlessly alienating people. This, not niceness, is what we are called to. When our civility isn’t rooted in something deep, when our good behavior isn’t springing from the core of who we are, it is only a matter of time before the façade crumbles away and our true state is revealed: a generation of people who are really good at looking good. The false virtue of niceness only makes us into “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), pristine on the outside but empty within.
In what ways does our Christian culture encourage niceness over authenticity?