The world, and the church, has totally mixed up loving and being nice, and it’s not just the words themselves. The more I watch movies, listen to music, or hear stories from young Christians, it seems like even though people say they’re looking for someone to love them, they’re really just looking for someone to be nice to them. Love isn’t always a bed of roses and sweet nothings; sometimes it can make you uncomfortable.
See, if Jesus was (and is) the epitome of God’s love made flesh, both through His sacrifice but also His actions, then we as Christians should study His actions and see how we can imitate Him to be more loving. Such is the church’s desire — that “loving people” thing — but these days it seems like when a Christian says he “loves” someone, he more often means he’s “nice” to him or her. This is something the church around the world needs to realize. Sometimes the most loving thing to do isn’t always the nicest.
However, before we get into that discussion too much, let’s define those two words, shall we?
Love: Unselfishly wanting the best for someone
Niceness: Making someone feel good/positive/better about something
So the crux of this discussion revolves around Jesus. Was He always nice to people? Well, no. That much is apparent. In John 2 and Matthew 21, He drove out money changers and merchants from the temple — with a whip. I’m fairly sure they didn’t feel that great about that. In Luke 3 and Matthew 12, He called a group of Pharisees a brood of vipers, insulting them in the hopes of shaking them out from under their hypocrisy. Throughout the gospels, He often challenges people and calls them to repent of their sins, even one of his best friends, regardless of how they might feel about it. Not always nice.
Yet Jesus was the most perfectly loving, godly man to ever walk on earth.
Sometimes loving someone isn’t always telling him what he wants to hear or treating him the way he wants to be treated or even making him feel loved. It’s actively working for his greater benefit and good. It might mean pointing out sin in a close friend’s life (in the most helpful way possible), disagreeing with someone when part of a team, or giving advice that someone doesn’t want to hear.
That reminds me of a friend of mine in my church, May. She cared more about each person than how much that person liked her. One day a close younger friend came to her, asking some advice about dating a non-Christian guy. With great gentleness, but without any compromise, May told that young lady it was a bad idea and gave several reasons why. However, that young lady got annoyed, told May she was being unloving and way too conservative; she then left the church. Eventually, through several unfortunate events, she came to realize that May had been actively trying to love her all along, and they reconciled. I think this illustration underscores the confusion Christians have between “love” and “niceness.”
Now, yes, being nice isn’t a bad thing, nor is saying nice or polite things. It often is a very loving thing to do. Also, making someone feel loved might often be the best thing for them.
However, being nice is easy. After all, we all like someone who makes us feel good. Yet being nice to someone doesn’t always mean we’re loving her, and we need to be aware of that. If we let other people’s feelings and expectations hinder us from actually caring about them, then ultimately we’re doing them and our integrity a great disservice.
What do you think? Is being nice always the loving thing to do? Do you agree with my definition of those terms? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.