I recently ran across the phrase, “terminally nice.” The coiner of the phrase was making the point that we are not commanded to be nice to a fault. Unfortunately, because we are called to be loving, nice is the idea we often settle upon. Christians are supposed to be nice people—period.
Just to be sure, I looked up the definition of nice. The dictionary listed such synonyms as pleasant, agreeable, and delightful. You know…nice… We all like nice. We like people who are agreeable. Most of us, I’m sure, would like to be known as nice individuals. Christians, in general, are wildly guilty of that. I say, guilty because nice is not the goal. Yet, many of us have made it the objective of our existence.
Mr. Nice Guy
I am certainly no whopping exception to this. I want to be known as Mr. Nice Guy as much as the next person. There is, however, a line that we cross along the way. That line is the demarcation between nice and terminally nice. There’s a point at which we become a little too agreeable or a tad too delicate in our dealings with those around us. When we cross that line, we’ve become terminally nice.
Please allow me to stop here to remind us of something. Jesus wasn’t always nice. In fact, there were distinct moments and events during which Jesus was anything but nice. You may recall many of his dealings with the Pharisees ended in name-calling. My mother always taught me that wasn’t very nice and should be avoided at all costs.
So, if Jesus is our greatest example, how is it that he could stoop to such demeaning behavior? Why would he take the chance of hurting someone else’s feelings or bruising their egos? Why would he go so far as to mess up someone else’s property (John 2:15)? What kind of Savior is that?
The short answer is he is the kind of Savior whose ultimate end wasn’t simply to be nice. I’m sure you’ve heard of tough love. Jesus was the master of tough love. If we can go by what he preached, he loved (and continues to love) everyone. And yet, he doesn’t continue to be nice ad nauseam. There’s a limit to nice. Nice ends when it clashes with the truth.
If there’s anything we Christians place a higher claim upon than nice, it’s truth. One of our basic tenets is found in the claim stated by none other than Jesus himself. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). You may notice it doesn’t contain the phrase, “and the nicest guy on the planet.” If we are bearers of the truth, sharing that truth is the ultimate goal. If we can be nice along the way, that’s great—even preferable.
It would behoove us to pass along the truth of Christ without wrecking someone’s life. But if we have to upend a few tables in the process, so be it.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]