Being nice is something I think us Brits are very good at. We form orderly queues, we don’t like to offend, and we say “sorry” a lot. And sometimes we transfer that into what it means to be a Christian, so that our external expression of being a follower of Jesus is just simply that we are “nice”.
(image source http://goo.gl/l5jkHW)
Strange, really, because anyone who’s ever looked seriously at the Jesus in the bible would not simply describe him as “nice”. And as we’re called to imitate Him I wonder why we’ve ended up with all this nice-ness.
Was Jesus encouraging? Yes.
Was He kind? Yes.
Was He Compassionate? Yes.
But He wasn’t just those things. He spoke with authority. He operated supernaturally. He loved radically. He challenged his disciples, the Pharisees and the crowds. He spoke to the heart of people. His words were divisive.
We often assume that to love someone is simply to be “nice” to them. But Jesus gives us a much bigger picture of what it really means to love. It’s easy to imagine the Pharisees squirming at some of the challenge that He brought to them – I’m guessing it didn’t feel that “nice”. And yet we know He wholeheartedly loved the Pharisees, just as He loves us.
And then there’s the Rich Young Man in Mark 10. The text says that Jesus looked at him “and felt genuine love for him”. This was a sincere conversation of love. But Jesus loved the man too much to leave him unchallenged. The Rich Young Man genuinely wanted to know what he needed to inherit eternal life. And Jesus gave it to him straight. He didn’t skirt around the issue, trying to be “nice”. Jesus challenged the young man to sell all he had and then follow Him.
And I’m guessing Zacchaeus nearly fell out of the tree when Jesus asked if he could visit his house. Nobody “nice” or respectable would want to spend time with a man like Zacchaeus, as the crowds around at the time inferred. But as Zacchaeus was confronted with the love and holiness of Jesus he saw himself for who he really was, and it led him straight to repentance.
And He doesn’t skirt around the issue with us either. Jesus wants His followers to be more than just “nice”. He wants spirit-filled sons & daughters, friends, servants who will respond to both the challenge and invitation that he brings. And He wants us to overflow with that kind of double-edged love that He has poured into us. As followers of Jesus we have the same spirit of God living in us that raised Jesus from the dead. (Romans 8:11). It’s more than just nice.
And the extravagant, overwhelming, death-defeating love that Christ demonstrated when, for all of us – “nice” or not – he went to the cross and bled and died is so much more than nice. It’s astonishing, breathtaking, outrageous, life-changing, challenging, full-of-grace-and-power love.
Sometimes we have to unpick how our culture affects our faith, so that we’re able to stand back and see with fresh eyes who our Jesus really is, and how He really calls us to live.
Let’s let this love change us – we’re called to be so much more than “nice”.