Monday, October 8, 2007

Nice is Not Enough

Dominic Aquila, president of New Geneva Seminary, sent me this excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

“Niceness—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even it we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content with their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”

Lewis, as ever, is spot on; and I want build on his excellent insight.

From what I’ve been told, generations ago the term nice would have conjured up images of a person with the cognitive ability of a lobotomized shrew. Apparently, if one was said to be nice, he was being labeled as stupid. But that is the nature of language. Perhaps the evolution of the meaning of nice-stupid to nice-sweet came about because certain mentally deficient people in those good ol’ days were also gentle and sweet? In any case, the word now conjures up images of sweet, passive, and harmless people.

However, does God turn creatures into his children to be nice? Many think so. Maybe this is one reason why some find Christians repulsive – Christians aren’t always nice. Indeed, some self-declared Christians I've known have been among the most vicious, vitriolic and venomous people to stalk this planet. I would suggest that God does not redeem and transform people into sweet and squishy gummy drops, or even halo-laden marshmallows. Rather he redeems and transforms people to be like Christ. Christ was gentle, but not really sweet. Christ was kind, but not really nice. And as Lewis alludes to in his Narnia series, he's not even safe.

True believers who have trusted in Jesus Christ and follow him in word and work are called to be gentle and kind. The difference, mind you, between nice and kind is that niceness conveys passivity whereas kindness is active. Most of the time when I’ve heard someone label another as nice, what she means is that the nice person is a sweet thing, quite receptive to all the garbage thrown at him or her. Never upset, never vengeful, never …well, anything. If that were true, then I’ve got niceness tucked under my kitchen sink that needs emptying every couple days.

I used to be nice; back in the day when I was more stupid. I inherited the nice gene from my mother, so it was second nature to be that way. Of course I could have a mean streak, especially as a nice kid. Just ask my sister. As a pastor, niceness nearly killed me. The idea that pastors are supposed to be willing, and even happy about, being flexible, stretchable receptacles for other people’s garbage is both stupid and unbiblical. It took years for me to understand that. Like Robert Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy! I’m no longer nice; but I am learning more and more how to be kind like Christ.

Christians are called to be gentle and kind. Kindness is active. Kindness is a proactive demonstration of true love. St. Paul says that love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:7). The original Greek word comes from a term that means “being well adapted to fulfill a purpose” (BibleWorks 2002). When the term is adapted to people it can mean better or more pleasant (Lk 5:39), or someone who is obliging and benevolent (Eph. 4:32). God is kind, which is to say he is gracious and good (1 Pet. 2:3).

We read about Jesus in the Gospels and we see his kindness all over the place. He was definitely kind to those he helped and healed. He was kind to those whose sins he had forgiven. He was kind to his followers, even when he rebuked them. He was even doing his enemies a kindness by confronting them with the truth about their bad theology and irascible behavior. So we see many vivid examples of kindness in the King of the universe.

As Christians, we are also supposed to see vivid examples of Christ’s gentility and kindness displayed through pastors and elders (and other leaders of the church). They are to be godly models for God’s people (Psa. 101:2; 1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:12; Ti. 2:7; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:11-25; 5:3; Heb. 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:6; etc.). They are to be examples of gentleness and kindness. A gentle Christian leader (2 Sam. 22:36; Psalm 18:35, 1 Tim. 3:2,3) is not:
*Pugnacious (1 Tim. 3:3; Ti. 1:7)
*Quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:2, 3; 2 Tim. 2:14)
*An overbearing bully who lords it over God’s people (Matt. 20:25; Mk 10:42; Lk. 22:25f; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3)

Instead, the Christian leader (pastor, elder, etc.) is:
*Kind and gracious like Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29; Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2:7)
*Firm, but diplomatic even when correcting opponents (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:23-25)
*Wise, exercised in gentleness (James 3:17)

Just as Jesus and his godly leaders are kind, so too are all believers to be kind. Now, I don’t need to go through identifying the thousands (millions?) of ways Christ’s disciples are to be kind. Scripture is quite clear on those ways. Believers are called to be kind, even to their enemies (Matt. 5:43ff; Rom. 12:20). No less is it true that we are commanded to be proactive in kindness toward fellow believers. As we have seen, Christian leaders are to be kind to church members. So too are church members to be kind toward their pastor(s) and elders. Therefore, I’ll close by suggesting ten out of the thousand (million?) ways Christians can show kindness to their pastors (and other church leaders):

1. Live with him in the love of Christ, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might.
2. Love him in the Lord.
3. Pray for him all the time.
4. Let him rest.
5. Honor and esteem him (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10, 2 Cor. 7:15).
6. Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.
7. Be loyal to him in Christ.
8. Give to him as he gives to you.
9. Speak the truth in love.
10. Follow him as he leads with his fellow undershepherds.

Ten suggestions are excerpted from D. Thomas Owsley. The Perfect Pastor? Longwood, FL: Xulon Press; pp. 323 -326.

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