Harshness has its place. But it should not characterize our total life. The world should be able to recognize our love for one another as the sign of our being in Christ. It keeps us in the vine. If we eschew niceness (however we exactly define it) and embrace harshness, we will not be recognized as Christians in the way Christ would have it. The world will see us as harsh and think that of Christ and his body.
Every now and again, I see a Christian make the argument that we do not need to be nice if we are Christians. Jesus turned over tables. Paul told his opponents to mutilate themselves. And therefore, boldness without the need for niceness must lead the way.
In isolation, the argument seems to make sense. But once we start to think about what that means and compare it to the total message of Scripture, we soon realize that the argument falls to pieces. And further, the argument (when acted upon) makes Christians unidentifiable to the world. And in a very real sense, harshness (an opposite of niceness) takes the Lord’s name in vain.
Why do I make such a strong and perhaps-unnice-statement? Am I a living contradiction? Well, I admit that I used strong language to make a rhetorical point, which I hope becomes clear later on. For now, let’s talk about being nice.
The Bible uses words like meekness, kindness, gentleness, and other similar terms to communicate an idea like “nice.” For example, Jesus says that The meek will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). That is, the meek will win it all. Meekness, since it is something of an unfamiliar word to us, requires definition. The word means acting gentle, humbly, considerately, and thus meekly (BDAG, s.v. πραΰς). Jesus is meek (Matt 11:29). So whatever meekness means, it means what Jesus is.
And I would like to draw attention to one surprising passage in the Gospel according to John in which Jesus washes the feet of all the disciples. He washed, Judas’ feet even though he knew what was in Judas’ heart (John 13:11). He loved him to the end. And this provides a vital lesson for the disciples whom Jesus will shortly tell that they will receive another comforter and do greater works than he (John 14:12, 16).
What does this mean? Well, Jesus in the flesh can only affect a few hundred people at a time. But the Holy Spirit by creating a cosmic body of believers can affect many billions of people across time and geography. This is the greater work because the Spirit of Jesus lives and acts within us in a very concrete way.