Frank Burns from the TV series, “M.A.S.H.,”
said a lot of funny and stupid things. But one of his
more memorable lines was, “It’s nice to be nice to
the nice” (for those of you who have no idea who
Frank Burns is or what the show “M.A.S.H.” was all
about, please catch some reruns—it’s one of the best
TV series ever!). I think most of us would agree
with Frank’s words. We have been taught from the
earliest age to be nice. When we describe someone
we will often say, “He’s a nice guy.” We want to be
seen as nice people, and we want to be nice to other
people. And it is easy to be nice to those who are
nice. In this world where tolerance is a top priority,
niceness would probably run a close second.
But the word “nice” is not really so nice when
you look at it. It comes from a French root that
means stupid or foolish, and its Latin root means ignorant.
How did the word evolve to mean agreeable
and pleasant? Could it be that in our ignorance and
foolishness we simply put on an act of being pleasant?
My friend and colleague, Rev. Phil Brockett, had
this to say about niceness:
Herein is perhaps why niceness is a word that is
strangely absent from the Bible. From the Bible’s
point of view niceness is an undisciplined agreeableness
that is born of ignorance. And if there is one
thing that the God of the Bible is not, it is ignorant.
The God of the Bible does not claim to be a “nice”
God. The God of the Bible claims to be a dangerous
God, powerful enough to create all that is, so set
upon loving us that He is jealous for our affection,
so determined to redeem us that He is willing to go
to the ends of life itself to redeem us. Call God wonderful,
call God powerful, call God fierce, awesome,
loving, gracious, patient or even kind but don’t call
Niceness has very little, if anything, to do with
the Christian faith. God is not nice, and we therefore
are not called to be nice. Now please don’t misunderstand
me. I’m not saying we should be rude to
other people, but we do have a higher calling than
simply being pleasant and agreeable. We are called
to be the presence of God in this world. Our God
may call upon us to speak the truth in love; to stand
against evil wherever we find it; to confront or rebuke
a friend or loved one who is doing something
wrong or harmful; or perhaps to say or do things that
might make others dislike us or turn against us. The
Christian life is not about being popular—it is about
being faithful and obedient to our Lord.
One of the most painful things for me in ministry
was the realization that not everyone would like me.
I always thought I was a pretty likeable person—a
nice guy. Then I made my first enemy, someone
who made it perfectly clear that he disliked me immensely
and wanted me to go serve another church.
I tried to reconcile with this man but to no avail. He
seemed intent on simply making my life miserable.
I have since had several enemies and have come to
realize that it is impossible to please everyone and
you shouldn’t try to. Our highest priority is to please
We are sinners and try as hard as we might. We
can’t truly be nice people. We can look nice and act
nice, but scratch the surface and what you see is sin.
We hurt the ones we love. We mess up as parents.
We fail to be the friends we want to be. We try to
do good but fail over and over and over again.
Jesus died on a cross not to make us nice people
but new people. New people whom God uses to
bring His kingdom into this world. Our calling is
not to be praised by others but to be found faithful
by our Lord. So let’s not worry so much about being
nice. Let’s allow the spirit of God to enter our hearts
and make us new.
Grace and Peace,