The Naivety of Niceness

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tnonthumbA friend and colleague recently faced a very difficult disciplinary challenge in the church where he serves as pastor-teacher. Having searched the Scriptures, and wisely confirming his conclusions with the counsel of others, he led his church to do the right—and the very hard—thing. They implemented church discipline in accordance with 1 Corinthians 5:1–8. The result was that the Lord was honoured, the church was protected, and the offender got really angry! Vitriol spewed from this professing Christian towards my friend. He was, of course, wounded by such treatment. Yet, thankfully, he was not swayed from holding his ground. Neither he nor the church would compromise. Thankfully, neither my brother nor the church caved into the all too prevalent naivety of “niceness” that seems to pervade so much of Christendom.

The naivety of niceness is the idea that Christians should never cause another person any discomfort, but rather we should just be “nice” and never make anyone feel bad. It seems as if many Christians have adopted an eleventh commandment: “You shall be nice and never make anyone feel uneasy.” Such a mentality displays both a scriptural and practical naivety.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christians are not called to be “nice.” (Neither, of course, are we called to be nasty!) Rather, we are called to be holy. And such a calling will sometimes put us in a position where we won’t appear to be “nice.” In fact, there are times when our choice to be “nice” may in fact make us naughty before the Lord.

Our culturally conditioned idea of “niceness” is that of never causing anyone to feel sad, and especially to feel bad about themselves. Self-esteem is to be guarded at all costs and is prevalent worldview of many, including many in the church. The fallout of such an erroneous outlook is that we fail to be true friends because we fail to tell the truth (Proverbs 27:6).

I am sure that you would agree that it is better to have a doctor who tells the patient about their poor state of health and how they must change their diet and exercise rather than to simply smile and tell them that their clothes fit well on their 300kg body! The threat to their physical wellbeing needs to be confronted more than their ego needs to be stroked. After all, what good is a “healthy ego” in a dead body? The same holds true when we see a professing brother or sister who is in sin. If we choose the path of being “nice” rather than being confrontational, then we merely add to the person’s sinful misery. The saying that “sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind,” rightfully applied, has a lot of merit. If we refuse to do the hard thing then we are actually being deviously nasty, albeit with a smile on our face.

The dangers of this naivety of niceness also applies to matters of false teaching. We must not be naively silent. Rather there are times when we are to speak out against it; even sometimes identifying the purveyors of such lies. Paul named names (1 Timothy 1:18–20; 2 Timothy 1:15; etc.). Jude had lots of not-so-nice words to describe false teachers (Jude 8–13). And Peter pronounced a not very nice word of condemnation on apostates (2 Peter 2:4–22). In other words, there are times when we must be willing to be accused of not being nice if we will remain faithful to the Lord, and helpful to others. There is plenty of biblical precedent for this. Consider for example the following.

How “nice” was it when God exiled Adam and Eve from paradise (Genesis 3:24)? How “nice” was it when the sons of Levi took a sword and killed three thousand people who did not repent of worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:26–29ff)? How “nice” was it when God killed Uzzah for touching the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6)? How “nice” was it when God killed scores of people for looking into the ark of the covenant many years earlier (1 Samuel 6:19)? How “nice” was it Jesus identified Peter as Satan and commanded him to get away from Him (Matthew 16:21–23)—especially so soon after speaking such “nice” words of blessing to him (vv. 17-19)? How “nice” was it when Paul withstood Peter to his face and rebuked him in the presence of the church (Galatians 2:11ff)? How “nice” was it when the Corinthians put a man out of their church, letting him know that he was not welcomed until he repented (1 Corinthians 5)? How “nice” was it when Paul called those who sought to pervert the gospel of God dogs (Philippians 3:2)? How “nice” was it when Paul said that perhaps the preachers who said that circumcision was necessary for salvation should be castrated themselves (Galatians 5:12)? How “nice” was it of Paul to say of the Cretans that they are “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12)? How “nice” was it when Jesus confronted churches, such as the one in Sardis and in Laodicea, and told them essentially that they were useless (Revelation 3)?

By the world’s standard, such examples are not “nice” at all. But when you realise that God is holy and that sinners need the Saviour, then such examples point us to the need to speak the truth. We, of course, are never to speak the truth in a nasty way; we are command to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). But this important caveat aside, we must not minimise that, if we fall for the naivety of niceness and fail to speak the truth, then we are actually being naughty and not nice. Delivering souls from destruction by telling people the truth is, in fact, one of the nicest things we can ever do!

The examples above illustrate this well. In each case, we have an example of God, and His servants, being truly nice. After all, in each case, God is reminding His people that He is holy and that He is true and that safety is found in submission to His revealed will. Such confrontations may not be viewed as “nice,” but they are necessary.

I remember, many years ago, a minister on Radio Pulpit making the comment that “the church is not a benevolent blob.” Well said. The church is not a group of people who merely affirm one another. Rather, at times, we are also to admonish one another. And sometimes we are called to administer discipline—sometimes what appears to be severe discipline. But we are motivated by the nicest thing of all: concern for one’s spiritual welfare.

I was recently asked to explain to some children why, when parents spank their children, it is not the same as abuse. I used the example of a surgeon and a scalpel.

If the doctor cuts me with a scalpel in order to get to some underlying cause of my sickness, he is hurting me as a consequence of helping me. There is a world of difference between that and the same doctor attacking me with the scalpel in order to simply hurt me. So it is when it comes to biblically applying the rod to the child’s bottom. The pain may not be “nice,” but it is a necessary and important consequence for a higher cause (Proverbs 23:13–14). The parent lovingly takes the risk of being seen as not being “nice” because he or she is committed to the welfare of the beloved child. This same principle applies to Christians saying the hard thing to their fellow church member. So it is when we as a church are called upon to withdraw fellowship from those who unrepentantly carry on in their sin. So it is when we must speak out against damning error that is being promulgated as gospel truth. Yes, we might be called nasty, and nasty things may be said about us, but it beats being unhelpfully enslaved to the naivety of niceness—for, in the end, that helps no one.

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