Christians know better than to pass off certain things as love… but we often overlook this thing.
We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind. More like a reputation for being easily outraged, quick to judge, holier than thou, shunning, condemning, impatient, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word, you just proved my point: Our bad reputation is totally deserved.
What’s with all the Christian jerks? Largely it’s our lack of love. Love is kind,
And that’s a huge problem. Hristótis, the Greek word we translate “kindness,”
When we’re unkind, we’re still fuming over my unexpectedly dropping the B-word, and plan to write an angry email… and then never, ever read this blog again. And feel totally justified in such behavior. Grace and kindness is for people who don’t deliberately use TV-safe profanities. Fr’instance people who accidentally use ’em… ’cause they don’t know any better, or they were stressed out or something. But they need to clean up their act, and stop doing it. Three strikes and they’re out. (Which is less than half of Simon Peter’s seven strikes, and way less than Jesus’s 490.
When we’re kind, we’re gonna be gracious, friendly, generous, humble, courteous—and nice. Yeah, I know plenty of Christians who are quick to point out kind and nice aren’t the same thing: Niceness is entirely about getting along with other people. And frequently people will lie, deceive, stifle their opinions, compromise their standards, or choose other evils, just to get along with others. They’ll be nice hypocrites.
I say we don’t have to deceive people to be nice to them: Why can’t we just be good for a change? Be better, more agreeable, more forgiving, more patient?
Besides, pagans are looking for niceness. They may not have any organized religious belief system, but most of ’em firmly do believe nice people are closer to God than mean people. So when they finally do start looking at religion, they try the nice ones first. The nice cults. The nice heretics. The nice con artists, who’ll lead them away, fleece the very clothes off ’em, and abandon them to hell.
Seems to me, if all it takes to win people over is to be nice to them, why are we objecting to niceness? Why is being a thorn in everyone’s side, so fundamental to our integrity?
Pointing to an unkind Jesus.
Many Christians actually defend our unkind behavior by pointing to Jesus’s behavior. ’Cause he said many things others didn’t wanna hear. He spoke in ways we interpret as harsh, abrupt, offensive, and unkind. Deliberately. Bluntly. Sometimes he really didn’t care who he offended: He was just keeping it real, proclaiming God’s kingdom. And since Jesus got away with it, why can’t we?
The reason we can’t is simple: That’s a total mischaracterization of our Lord.
When unkind people read the gospels, they project their own lousy attitudes and behaviors upon Jesus. If they were preaching the gospel, the reason they’d say the things Jesus does, is out of harshness or bitterness or self-righteousness or “tough love.” They’d be rude, so they read him as rude. They’d be jerks, so they reimagine Jesus as a jerk. Rotten Christians preach a rotten Christ.
I encounter this phenomenon all the time. I write stuff which is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and humorless people immediately reinterpret it as sincere (and nuts), and take offense. Conversely I write stuff which is meant to be sincere, and flighty people blow it off. Ironic people treat it as ironic. The easily offended get angry, and wanna fight or wanna leave. Loads of people misinterpret me, so it’s no surprise they misinterpret Christ. They take his parables and turn ’em mean; they take his hyperboles—meant to provoke thought, not anger—and turn ’em into “the harsh sayings of Jesus.” They make him angry and bitter like them.
But the only valid lens to look at Jesus is the Spirit’s fruit. That’s his character. Kindness included. His gospel isn’t harsh; it’s kind. He didn’t present it harshly, but kindly. Proof-text time!
John 1.14-18 KWL
- 14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
- We got a good look at his significance—
- the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
- 15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
- ‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
- 16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
- 17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
- 18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
- The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.
When Jesus’s students got a good look at him, they saw how gracious he was, and John wrote of it here.
Christians tend to reinterpret it to only mean God’s saving grace, and in so doing they miss a significant fact. There are plenty of Christians who imagine God as an angry deity who so couldn’t wait to smite sin, he gleefully beat the tar out of Jesus when our Lord took our sins to the cross. But that’s our own negativity speaking, not the scriptures. That’s our scuffed-up lenses, not the fruit of the Spirit. If that’s how we imagine God, we have him so wrong. And the only Son, in demonstrating God’s grace with his infinite kindness, explains correctly and exactly who God is.
He didn’t preach an angry gospel! He preached a kind one.
Luke 4.22 KWL
- Everyone witnessed him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming from his mouth.
- They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
Yet our negativity skips any reference to his graciousness. I’ll give you one of the more common examples of reading our bad attitude into Jesus’s teachings: His list of woes in
But the Son of Man didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but save it.
Matthew 23.37-38 KWL
- 37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, slayer of prophets, stoner of those I sent you.
- So many times I’ve wanted to gather your children together,
- like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
- You didn’t. 38 Look, your nest is left empty.”
God doesn’t want anyone to be destroyed, but for all to repent.
No wonder pagans often love Jesus, but not so much us.
What Christians try to pass off as kindness.
There’s real fruit, and there’s fake fruit. There are plenty of bad behaviors Christians and pagans alike try to disguise as kindness. Our tipoff they’re fake: No grace. No generosity without strings attached. No forgiveness. No love.
Hypocrisy. It’s the most common form of fake anything: People are nice on the outside, but privately or secretly they’re evil, backstabbing, gossipy, bitter, sarcastic, manipulative, and doling out passive-aggressive punishment. They’re the people who say “God bless ’em” when they really mean “God damn ’em.”
This sort of behavior is widely tolerated. Mainly because people figure, “Well, they are actually helping. If we didn’t accept their charity, the needy would go without.” It’s an ends-justify-means attitude: “Sure, it’s only about looking good for others, or salving their consciences, or court-ordered community service, or a tax break. But since they gotta help somebody, why not us?” And honestly, I don’t fault charities and ministries for accepting their aid. A million-dollar donation from a self-promoting blowhard will help just as many needy people as a million-dollar donation from a saint.
Hiding our evil is not the same as getting rid of it. We gotta be rid of it! And when hypocrites try to pass themselves off as the real thing, call them on it. They need to be rebuked. Kindly—“I don’t see how sharing this ‘news’ with us is really for her benefit”—but vocally. Don’t let ’em do evil, nor let them get away with it. Forgive them, but stop their evil.
Which naturally leads us to…
Permissiveness. Jesus expects us to forgive everyone and everything. But forgiveness doesn’t mean we tolerate sin. We challenge and rebuke it.
Yet lots of people don’t wanna be rebuked. They want to continue doing as they do, and they don’t wanna feel guilty for it. They’ll resent us for telling them they’re sinning. They’re hoping they can manipulate us into keeping our mouths shut. And largely, they have. Lots of Christians rebuke nobody, for fear of appearing unkind. Or impolite.
Part of the problem is when Christians rebuke, we are unkind. It’s not a gentle correction, a nudge to the right path, a suggestion, a redirection. There’s no waiting for an opportune time, no weighing whether our relationship is such that they’ll listen to us. We simply get out the warhammer and start bludgeoning.
Pay attention to the Holy Spirit. How does he get you to correct your behavior? Look at Jesus in the gospels: He definitely spoke out against sin. Yet he refused to condemn sinners, and always offered them compassion and forgiveness. He’s our model. Follow him.
Politeness. Yeah, I mentioned Christians keeping our mouths shut for fear of appearing impolite.
But there’s politeness and there’s politeness. Fr’instance, among many people in the United States it’s “polite” to pretend nothing’s happening, nothing’s amiss, when someone commits minor acts of rudeness. You can speak up when the rudeness escalates to a certain point—namely when you see it’s offended everyone in the room—but until they cross that line, it’s more important to be patient and courteous. Problem is, certain rude people love to take advantage of this social custom, stay just below the line, and be as boorish as they can get away with.
But evil is evil, and we need to speak up. Never to harm, never to wound; solely to get ’em to change their behavior.
Equipping. By “equip” I mean make people able to do for themselves. Say you’re struggling to make the rent every month. Ideally you need to pay your own way, of course. And maybe our fellow Christians can help you out by equipping you to do just that: Show you how to budget properly, or hook you up with a better job, or find you a cheaper place to live, or find some government program you’re eligible for. If we can help people do for themselves, by all means we should.
Okay, now say you’re in a bind. It’s not about your job, your rent, your budget: You had a one-time disaster and you simply need help. You need donations, or you need a place to stay. And in my experience, here’s where Christian aid totally dries up. They’ll equip people to do for themselves, but they absolutely won’t give. ’Cause they don’t want anyone dependent on them. Or, more often (and bluntly), they just don’t wanna give. Finding people help is much cheaper than paying people’s rent. Advice doesn’t cost ’em anything. They’ll give that away easily. Money’s a whole other thing.
See, selfish people are really bothered by kindness. They run their lives by karma, not love; reciprocity, not grace. They will help people as an investment, ’cause they expect to profit by their efforts. They want these people to return the favor someday, somehow. It’s not friendship. It’s business. It’s Mammonism, really.
Be kind to one another.
We Christians need to put our impulses aside, and choose to be kind to other people. We gotta replace what we are, with who Jesus wants us to be. And if we don’t feel it: Big deal. You have more self-control than that. Get control of those emotions. Change ’em to something positive.
For if we don’t take control of those emotions, others certainly will. They’ll manipulate us into feeling whatever way suits them best. The devil can trick us into feeling unkind all day long, and in so doing get us to be unkind all day long.
So be kind. Practice on your fellow Christians. Like so.
Ephesians 4.25-32 KWL
- 25 So now that you’ve rid yourselves of fakery, each of you speak truth to your neighbors.
- We’re parts of Christ’s body with one another.
- 26 Risk people getting you angry. Don’t sin.
- Don’t let the sun set on your outrage. 27 Don’t give the devil territory.
- 28 Thieves: Don’t steal. Work instead; keep your hands busy doing good,
- so you’ll have something to give the needy.
- 29 Don’t let stale clichés come out of your mouths; say something actually good:
- Encourage the needy, so they can appreciate what they hear.
- 30 Don’t annoy God’s Holy Spirit, to whom you were sealed the day you were redeemed.
- 31 Get rid of everything bitter, moody, angry, shouty, slanderous—anything evil.
- 32 Become kind and compassionate to one another,
- forgiving yourselves like God, through Christ, forgave you.
Look at Paul’s instructions: Don’t be fake to each other. Be truthful—but kind.
It’s okay when people make us angry. This bit is often translated “be angry,” but more accurately orgídzesthe/“be made angry,” means they’re gonna provoke us. Sometimes deliberately, but in the case of Christians, often not: They don’t mean it. Give ’em the benefit of the doubt. Don’t carry round the anger, and use it as an excuse to be an angry Christian. Forgive.
Don’t steal. Even if you feel entirely justified in getting a little bit of your own back. Even when “it belongs to the church, and I’m part of the church, so it’s okay if I take it”—don’t. Just don’t. Give instead.
Don’t say all the usual platitudes which don’t really mean anything. Say something useful.
Don’t take the Holy Spirit for granted. Follow him as he directs us how to love our neighbors better. And fix your attitude: We don’t get to become all the stereotypes we find in the Christian community of the curmudgeonly Christian, the emo Christian, the angry Christian, the loud Christian, or the profane Christian. God expects us to be the gracious Christian. The nice Christian. The forgiving Christian. The courteous Christian. The kind Christian.