Maybe you were told as a child: “Play nice.” “I know you don’t like them, but we have to be nice to them.” Or perhaps you’ve overheard a parent correcting a child who said something true a little too loudly, “Don’t say that, that’s not nice!” Your parents were wrong. Christians should never stoop so low as to settle for being “nice” with each other.
You may have bristled at these words. What’s wrong with playing nice, being nice, or making nice — aren’t we supposed to be tolerant of others? The problem is found in the motive. We put on a nice face because we don’t want to make a scene and we don’t want people to be mad at us. Our niceness is rooted in wanting to look good and wanting to be accepted by others. In other words, it’s about love for myself, not love for others. Christians are called to more.
Now, I’m not saying that you should always speak your feelings. Some people like to spout mean and hurtful things followed by, “I’m just being honest.” Everything a Christian does should be motivated by love, love for God and love for neighbor. It’s not love to hide your feelings behind a facade of niceness, but neither is it love to spew vile words at people. Christians are called to more than tolerance or niceness; we are called to a kindness that is rooted in love of neighbor. I must treat all people with dignity and respect, especially those I struggle with. We never have an excuse to not be polite.
Sometimes my love for others will mean I need to say difficult things. If a brother rubs me the wrong way, I’ll work on loving and forgiving him. If it continues, I will take him aside and share my issues in a way that is honest but still loving and respectful. I might talk to a mutual friend in confidence. Sometimes the problem is really me and I need to just get over myself. A good friend can help me see that. But sometimes I may need to end a friendship that is toxic. Or I may forgive someone for betraying my trust but no longer share secrets with them. A loving kindness is honest and respectful, but also wise and prudent. In all things we must remember that we too are recipients of God’s loving kindness.