Remember when it seemed like all of a sudden everyone was concluding all kinds of personal exchanges with, “Have a nice day”? I never knew who first decided it was the thing to say–probably some motivational speaker trying to promote positivity. Regardless, it quickly became the most repeated admonition in the country. Sometimes cashiers and sales clerks would just blurt it out as you walked away, but then there were others who would make a real production out of it. They might lean forward with an exaggerated effort to secure eye contact, then with the kind of slow purposeful enunciation associated with the utterance of something profound you’d hear, “Now you have yourself a n-i-c-e day, okay?”
Not a Sidestep for Everyone ~
The word, “nice,” had a pragmatic function in my early years, too. If I happened to be fortunate enough to talk a girl into going to a drive-in movie with me, the one thing my folks always wanted to know was whether or not she was a “nice” girl. It was one of those broad generalizations that covered a lot of territory and enabled the avoidance of questions that might lead into awkward specifics. Referring to my potential date as “nice” satisfied parental curiosity and ended the interrogation.
Unfortunately, though, not everyone in my family was so diplomatic, especially one cantankerous uncle. He’d ask more direct questions like, “Has this girl actually seen you in the daylight?” Then he’d offer helpful advice like, “If you’re gonna take that poor girl out, at least be considerate enough to take her to see one of those scary Alfred Hitchcock movies. If she’s scared enough during the movie,, being stuck in the dark with you in that piece of junk you call a car might not seem so bad.” I don’t recall ever hearing anybody accuse my uncle of being nice.
Nice Was Good ~
In any case, as the culture evolved a mental connection began to be formed. If certain practices, behaviors, or the people who employed them were thought of as “nice”, it meant that they were considered to be safe and socially acceptable. Nice things were pleasing. Nice things were attractive. Traits that reinforced niceness were desirable, and much more likely to be seen as “good”. It isn’t surprising that the term infiltrated the general characterization of Christians, and/or “church-going folks”, and it was a welcome adjustment. Being identified as “nice people” who were all about love and goodness was so much more appealing than all that hellfire and brimstone stuff. Who could resist wanting to be identified in such a positive way? It was easy to miss seeing the subtle trap that it would lay in their path.
Without saying so directly, the practice of being nice to everyone became almost synonymous with expressing the unconditional love of Jesus. The unstated notion was that the more consistently one could project “niceness”, especially when confronted with difficult people and circumstances, the more successful one was in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among the many problems in that approach was the underlying fear that came with it. If a self-identified Christian failed to be nice, it could invite accusations of being inconsiderate, oppositional, bigoted, insensitive, rude, or downright mean. At the very least, not being nice would certainly be seen as not Christlike.
A Time to Re-think the Term ~
Unfortunately, that approach severely undermined the mission of Christianity and served to disarm those that Jesus sent to represent Him and to deliver His message of redemption. All too often, some of the most effective tools God ever gave to combat the destructive influence of sin at every level began to be sacrificed on the altar of niceness. It’s time that we admit some things regarding this issue and take a second look at our desire to be seen as nice.
It doesn’t take a major research project to discover that things that appear “nice” are not always “good”, and conversely, things that are inherently “good” do not always seem nice. There was a cruel and ruthless serial killer a couple of decades ago who preyed on unsuspecting young women. His name was Jeffrey Dahmer, and I was struck with one person’s assessment who had repeated contacts with him. She described him as seeming to be a “nice young man”. Sometimes overt “niceness” only disguises the bait on a lethal hook.
Another Underlying Problem ~
In the same way, things that appear nice are not always true, and things that are undeniably true don’t always come across as nice. For example, an uncomfortable truth about niceness is that it can obscure a self-centered quest for acceptance and approval. The desire to be considered “nice”, i.e., considerate, agreeable, sensitive, and pleasing, often serves as an altar upon which we sacrifice things like honesty, spiritual integrity, and worst of all, truth itself. So, given its potential for variant applications, should such an easily manipulated concept serve as a basis for what it means to be Christlike? As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself didn’t always sound winsome and congenial in His reactions, especially with those who were disingenuous. Here are just a few examples:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Matthew 23:13 (NKJV)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Matthew 23:14 (NKJV)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15 (NKJV)
Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Matthew 23:33 (NKJV)
Wow!! … Statements like that certainly don’t convey the attitude and tone of niceness that has come to be required of Christians these days. What these exchanges do convey is Jesus’ unshakeable passion for truth and honesty regarding spiritual matters and His determination not to allow the desire for public approval to rob that truth of its impact and its power. Putting shackles on a potentially transformational message and confining it within the boundaries of some vague and fluctuating concept of niceness in an effort to avoid personal criticism is nothing short of cowardice.
A Different Calling ~
We’re at a point in this land where the most acrimonious kinds of accusations and the most personally demeaning comments are published in every media platform every day. We’re certainly not suggesting that we have a spiritual mandate to be just as crude and abrasive as those who confront us, but neither are we called to overcome rudeness, vulgarity, and the wickedness associated with it by applying excessive niceness. We are called to overcome lies with truth, evil with genuine goodness, moral and ethical darkness with righteousness and genuine integrity, but in the process of doing that, many will condemn our approach no matter how much niceness we try to wrap around it.
The “gospel of nice” calls for embracing anything lest we be guilty of offending anyone, and the anti-Christian sentiment so prevalent in the culture today is a glaring exhibition of its abject failure to address the root cause of the unrest and violence surrounding us. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, confronts everyone with the truth about sin, whether they find it offensive or not. The One who accepted the consequences of every repulsive act we could ever commit will redeem and embrace anyone who will reject their sin and receive Him. Unfortunately, there are those who will be offended by His message and may accuse the messenger of being mean-spirited, or worse. But may we not sacrifice truth and spiritual integrity in an effort to avoid criticism. The “gospel of nice” may not be offensive, but it’s totally powerless . . . and there’s no “good news” in it at all.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly to this article through Twitter.
“The desire to be considered “nice”, i.e., considerate, agreeable, sensitive, and pleasing, often serves as an altar upon which we sacrifice things like honesty, spiritual integrity, and worst of all, truth itself.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “These exchanges convey Jesus’ unshakeable passion for truth and honesty regarding spiritual matters and His determination not to allow the desire for public approval to rob that truth of its impact and its power.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Putting shackles on a potentially transformational message and confining it within the boundaries of some vague and fluctuating concept of niceness in an effort to avoid personal criticism is nothing short of cowardice.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“We are called to overcome lies with truth, evil with genuine goodness, moral and ethical darkness with righteousness and genuine integrity, but in the process of doing that, many will condemn our approach no matter how we apply niceness.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“The “gospel of nice” calls for embracing anything lest we be guilty of offending anyone, and the anti-Christian sentiment so prevalent in the culture today is a glaring exhibition of its abject failure to address the root cause of the unrest & violence surrounding us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“May we not sacrifice truth and spiritual integrity in an effort to avoid criticism. The “gospel of nice” may not be offensive, but it’s totally powerless . . . and there’s no good news in it at all.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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What a wonderful and enlightening viewpoint Mr. Ron. Your words made me stop and realize that being “nice” is not synonymous with kindness, love, joy, peace, patient, faithful, etc. “Nice” is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit. Instead, it is a man-made world that attempts to masquerade as one. What an eye-opening discovery. Yes, being a nice person, saying nice things, etc. are all good things when they are done using the fruits of the Spirit that God has endowed us with. An example in my life is loving a family member who has chosen a transvestite lifestyle. As a Christian, I know this is morally wrong and against God’s law. I love them because God directs me to love them. Yet, am I “nice” to just let them wallow in their sin and say nothing; or it is better to be kind to them and show them that God loves them and yearns for them to return home to Him. Is it better to remain silent or to pray they find their way to salvation? Being “Nice” isn’t always the best thing a Christian can endeavor to be. Well said author!
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I love your transparent and enlightening reactions, J.D. It’s part of what makes you a treasured friend and one of my favorite writers who consistently opens windows in the walls we’ve allowed a pagan culture to build around us. Thanks again for the reminder that we’re in this together, and the encouragement in that piece of truth is priceless. Our prayers continue for you and the ministry you conduct as God walks with you “Around the Cross-Dubya.”
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Amen, Ron! We can’t sacrifice Truth on the altar of “Nice.” It simply doesn’t work that way. Sure, some people might find us offensive, but if we are willing to speak the truth in love, as Jesus loved us, we will prevail.
Totally agree, Martha. So often the attempts to be nice are not based on what’s most effective and most pleasing to the Lord, but what is most socially protective for us. It’s a typical and predictable human reaction, but we aren’t sent to be typical, are we. It takes the interactive work of the Holy Spirit to overcome that tendency, but it can be done. Thanks again for your encouraging support, my friend, and may God bless all the avenues your personal ministry takes.
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