Love · Nice · Speak · Truth

Being Nice is Not the 11th Commandment

A pervasive idea today is that being nice equals being Christian. It is used as a bludgeoning stick in today’s area of debate to attempt to control people in their thoughts, actions, and words. In some circles, even religious ones, being nice has become the 11th commandment. But if we look to Scripture, is it really? Or have we been misled?

To define our terms, let’s look at what it means to be nice. Nice, by dictionary definition, means to be pleasant, agreeable, or satisfactory. Although, in our use of words, it’s hard to understand what nice really means. Disney’s 1942 animated drama Bambi is often where most of us get our definition of nice.

In the famous scene, Thumper, the child rabbit, is chastised by his mother for picking on Bambi for not being able to walk very well. Thumper’s mother asks him what his father said to him that morning. Thumper replies, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” So to Thumper, nice means do not be cruel.

The problem is that the dictionary and Disney definitions often get interchanged. However, they are not even close to the same: not picking on people for things which they cannot help.

If by saying, “be nice,” we mean, “do not speak evil” of someone, as Scripture says in James 4:11, or demean them as a person, we would agree that this is part of the Christian ethic. We are to speak kindness, love, and be gracious to people.

The current problem is that often, when people say, “be nice,” they do not have the definition of Thumper’s dad. Their idea of niceness hinges on the dictionary definition, specifically meaning to be agreeable.

Speaking kindly to someone and being agreeable with someone are two totally different ideas. To be agreeable with others means that you cannot tell them they are wrong, always agreeing with what they are saying, or how they are acting. This ultimately means if they are lying or misrepresenting some truth in word or action, you cannot correct them. To do so is “not nice.”

This twist on words has been developed in order to win arguments by cheating with words. It is used as a trump card in conversation in an endeavor to make someone feel like they are being evil, when someone is speaking the truth, which is the opposite of evil. If I don’t like that you don’t agree with my lifestyle or my ideas, I will accuse you of not being nice, and I come out victorious in the debate.

Scripture has a lot to say about that. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” If someone is acting evil, or saying something evil, we are not to agree with them; for in doing so, we would be calling evil good, and ultimately sinning ourselves. Therefore, if someone is asking me to agree about something that is sinful, I cannot “be nice.” We are not to agree with sin. In fact, we are called to be the opposite of nice in this sense. We are called to speak the truth, even when it hurts.

This does not mean that when we disagree with those who stand against the truth of God’s Word we have a license to be jerks. We are called to agree with Scripture, Jesus, God, but we are called to be people “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). 

What is your definition of nice? Are you agreeable with people’s words and actions when you are called to speak the truth of God’s Word to them? Do you attempt to manipulate people with words by saying they are not nice, so that you can believe and act how you want? When you speak the truth to others, do you speak in love? We are not always called to be nice, but we are always called to speak the truth, and do so in love. May we continue in this endeavor. 

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