How to have a Backbone as a Christian

Don’t be Nice: be Kind.

Being nice is often very dishonest, if you think about how we use the word “nice” compared to how we use the word kind. Nice guys are often secretly manipulative and exploitative with a strong sense of entitlement. “Oh, how nice of you” is often used very sarcastically because it refers to hypocrisy and selfishness. Nice is often about your own comfort and conflict avoidance rather than doing what is right by another person. Nice people want to be liked at all times and never criticised. They’re spineless people-pleasers who are prepared to allow others to stumble without pointing out the stumbling block because they know it would make them unpopular.

Popularity is their gospel. It’s a fake gospel because they are fake people.

Kindness, by contrast, is always honest, which sometimes means that it can make people uncomfortable. Kindness will risk discomfort in the pursuit of something more important.

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.2 Corinthians 7:8-12 (NKJV)

The Christian walk is all about treading that fine line between saying what is necessary in order to save someone from a path of destruction… and saying something out of anger and resentment. Kindness understands that people need to be rebuked at times, but niceness won’t say anything when you need to and instead stores up resentment towards others until you lash out when you can’t take it anymore.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent.Proverbs 15:1-5 (NKJV)

As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, godly sorry produces repentance but worldly sorry leads to death. Cultural Christianity loves to cite “judge not” and insist that Christians must never speak up about another person’s behaviour, but that is the opposite of what the bible instructs us to do. We’re supposed to exhort and rebuke in order to save their souls.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV)

Ultimately, if we’re called to love people, then we need to remember the definition of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:6, which says that love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

The great commission is to go out and make disciples of men, leading them to repentance and reconciliation with God. Do people enjoy being told that they’re on the wrong path, or their deeds are not acceptable to God? Of course they don’t. You’ll always have push-back from people who are comfortable with their sin and refuse to change their ways, but it has to be done anyway or else you condemn people to destruction.

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.James 5:19-20 (NKJV)

Being kind and loving requires having a spine and telling people things they don’t want to hear. Being a true follower of Christ does not lead to popularity. Jesus guaranteed that the world would hate you if you are steadfast to the truth of who Jesus Christ is and what He calls the world to do.

If you truly care about people, you don’t want to see them perish. You won’t lie to someone and affirm bad behaviour. Kindness is prepared to withstand another person’s ire.

Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.Proverbs 27:5-6 (NKJV)

Over the last six months I’ve been mentoring a school kid through the church’s outreach ministry, building a rapport with her to try and help her through a difficult phase of life and various behavioural issues her teachers have identified. My task wasn’t to go in like a sledgehammer and demolish her as a person out of some misguided sense of benevolence, but it wasn’t to affirm her tendencies towards aggression, rage, lying and cheating either. She’s a human being, made in the image of God, and worthy of care and respect in that capacity.

In the first months of interaction the aim was to understand more about who she is and to show her aspects of who I am in return. I noticed things, but I didn’t necessarily address them directly every time. I gave her the space to express herself and show me more about where she’s coming from and how she got to this point in life. No doubt I don’t have a complete picture, but over time some puzzle pieces have fallen into place.

However, there comes a point where something has to be called out and confronted with honesty and love. Saying that she lied, cheated and broke her promises did not go down well at all. That’s one of the biggest issues with sin: people don’t see anything wrong with their own behaviour, instead they claim that you’re the jerk for pointing it out. I wasn’t having that. When it came to the clash of wills, I refused to back down, even if she became angry and vengeful.

I’ve met plenty of adults who behaved exactly the same way because the adults during their childhood caved in when faced with their tantrums. Those people cannot change, or won’t change, and are now doomed. Nobody did them favours by giving in. That’s not love, that’s weakness.

Agapē Love v’s Counterfeit Love

As I said before, being nice is more about maintaining your own comfort and never rocking the boat, it’s not about doing what is best for someone else. It’s a counterfeit form of love instead of the real thing which challenges people. Agapē love is a gift, but it’s a gift which ultimately seeks the wellbeing of another person over your own comfort levels and ego.

Being “nice” is usually a gift with strings attached to it, and that “niceness” leads to resentment if you don’t get something back which you expected to get from being nice, usually in the form of someone stroking your ego and recognising what a nice person you are. That’s not genuine love, that’s manipulation. Genuine love is generous without the expectation of recognition or gratitude.

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NKJV)

When you’re “nice” to people because you feel like you have to be, that sense of obligation also leads to feeling resentful towards the people who are benefitting from or exploiting your compulsion to people-please. Some people will unwittingly accept your begrudging generosity (isn’t that an oxymoron…) and you might secretly resent not getting something back which you feel like they now owe you because they accepted your gift without knowing it had strings attached to it.

Other people might also sense your lack of backbone and attempt to exploit it for their own benefit with no conscience about reciprocating or taking pity on you and limiting how much they take.

Either way you end up bitter and depleted.

Niceness tends to overextend itself because there is an unspoken expectation of something in return. Rather than a gift, it is perceived as an investment. Kindness, on the other hand, knows its own limits but operates freely within them without expectation. You’re not investing in other people, you’re deciding what sort of person you want to be.

Agapē love is free from expectations of reciprocation. Genuine kindness means that whatever you give, it is freely given and free of strings. You understand that other person is also free to reject your gift and free to reject you, or they may just have boundaries which you cannot cross. All of that is ok. Whether they are rejecting you or not, you are still ready to be kind and do no harm.

Why? Because it’s not about what they choose to do with your kindness, it’s about who you choose to be.

We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly. Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, but rebelled by the sea—the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power known.Psalm 106:6-8 (NKJV)

God did not save us because we deserved it. We don’t deserve it. God did not save us because of who we are. We are nothing. God saved us because of who He is. He is love, he is good, he is mercy, he is faithful, he is steadfast, he is righteous, he is just. We are none of those things. If salvation hinged on what we actually deserve, nobody would be saved.

“For My name’s sake I will defer My anger, and for My praise I will restrain it from you, so that I do not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; for how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.”Isaiah 48:9-11 (NKJV)

We are saved only because of who God is, not because of who we are. God cannot be less than His own attributes. He will not sully His own name or share glory with something lesser than Himself. It would be a lie if He did so and God cannot be dishonest.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV)

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.1 John 4:17-19 (NKJV)

That’s the example we’re supposed to follow as Christians; to rise above this world, not to be conformed to its pattern of wretchedness and pettiness and resentment and bitterness and payback. We’re not here to gain recognition from other people, but to do the will of the Father in secret so that He can reward us in secret.

“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”Matthew 6:3-6 (NKJV)

If you’re following the will of the Father, this world will not reward you. They will not appreciate this version of love, nor will they give it recognition or validation.

Do it anyway.

*Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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