when God isn't nice

©2020 michael martin | ask@lifefellowship.org

“nice” is nice, but...

It’s nice to be nice, isn’t it? We like nice. We like it when people are nice to us, and we like it when other people think that we ourselves are nice. When we consider what “nice” means, it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

nice (adjective)

pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory

Those are nice words, aren’t they? Pleasant? Agreeable? Satisfying? Isn’t that what we’d all like our lives to be?

But life disappoints us. People disappoint us. And sometimes, if we’re honest, we may even feel like God disappoints us.

Of course, we know we’re not supposed to think or feel that way, but let’s be honest. Have you ever wished that God went about things differently?

The problem, of course, is not with God at all, but rather with our understanding and expectations of who God is. And so, I think it needs to be said.

God isn’t always nice.

hard to hear?

The above statement is not meant in disrespect. Rather, it is meant to challenge the way we think about God and about our relationships with Him and with others.

We live in a culture that values “nice” over truth. Even within the church, we are overly concerned with being “nice;” that is, with being pleasant and agreeable. This is most often for selfish reasons, either for our own comfort, or so that others will think nice things about us. And very often, it comes at the cost of missing important truths.

So now, let’s explore the concept of “nice” and where it belongs in our lives as followers of Christ.

God isn’t what we want Him to be...

disappointed in God?

In our finite and skewed understanding, we as sinful humans want God to always play nice. But He doesn’t. And perhaps, it leads us to question whether God really is so good after all.

Perhaps you’ve sometimes wondered how God can reconcile His holiness with some of His seemingly “unjust” actions. Maybe you’ve heard, or even asked, questions like these:

have you ever wondered...

Q. “How could a loving God send people to hell forever?”

Q. “If God is good, then why is there so much evil in the world?”

Q. “How can a loving God say that [sin of your choice] is evil?”

Q. “How can a loving God call for people to be stoned or killed?”

Q. “How could a loving God afflict people with disease or calamity?”

Questions like these are often cited by people who claim to be atheists. The issue is not a lack of evidence to support the existence of God, but rather a human disapproval of God’s character and morality. In human arrogance, some even consider themselves to be more moral than God.

These questions come when we try to measure God with a human yardstick. We try to project our own sense of morality, driven by what makes us comfortable, onto a God who is immeasurably wiser and holier than we are.

We want God to be nice, and we’re uncomfortable or unhappy when we realize He isn’t. Let’s look at some examples of this:

my notes:

God brings affliction, pain and disaster

When something awful happens, many of us like to blame Satan, or we like to imagine that God didn’t cause the trouble. Natural disasters, disease, and any number of other unpleasant occurrences have happened, and we’re not comfortable with the idea that God caused them, because that’s not nice.

But we must remember that God is absolutely sovereign over all the universe. Even Satan himself is powerless to act apart from God’s approval. This is demonstrated in the book of Job, when Satan wanted to bring trouble on Job:

job 1:9-12

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Here, Satan observes that he cannot touch Job because of God’s protection, and only after receiving God’s limited permission was Satan able to afflict Job.

So the question here is, who’s responsible for Job’s trouble? Satan may have carried it out, but only with God’s permission. Job could not have been afflicted apart from God’s say-so. Therefore, whether we like it or not, God is personally responsible for Job’s suffering.

But when calamity comes to us, it’s not necessarily because God has stepped aside to allow it. Sometimes, God personally afflicts us, as in these examples:

amos 3:6

When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?

job 42:11

All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

dueteronomy 28:27-35

The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.

30 You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. 32 Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. 33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. 34 The sights you see will drive you mad. 35 The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.

why does God afflict us?

It certainly isn’t a nice thing to do! Yet, we need to remember the purpose of pain. Pain is an indicator that something is wrong, and that something needs to be changed. Pain, though it is not nice, is necessary for spurring us on to make changes that are beneficial, both to ourselves and to others.

lamentation 3:31-33

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.

32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.

33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

2 corinthians 12:7-9

...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Here, Paul explains that God gave him a thorn–an affliction of some sort–like a messenger from Satan to torment him. Why? To keep him from becoming conceited! This is certainly not a purpose that Satan would want to serve, but God uses Satan’s willingness to cause pain for His own purposes, and for Paul’s benefit. The result, although Paul’s affliction was not nice, led Paul to allow Christ’s power to rest on him.

we want God to fit our expectations

In our human sinfulness, we want God to cater to our comfort, our pleasure, and our expectations. It’s one reason why Israel so often struggled with idolatry. They wanted a god over which they were in control, or who followed after the patterns of the false gods of the surrounding nations.

Today, nothing has changed. We want God to be nice, catering to our human comfort, our human pleasure, and our human desires. Humans still impose their expectations upon God, and are disappointed or angry when God doesn’t fit those arbitrary expectations.

my notes:

we want God to be on our side, but He isn’t

joshua 5:13-15

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

God is not obligated to help us to carry out our agenda. God is not on our side. If we want God to be “on our side,” there is only one way. We must be on God’s side.

we want God to think like us, but He doesn’t

isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

1 corinthians 1:25

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

God doesn’t think like we do. His timing isn’t our timing. His ways aren’t our ways. We often fail to understand God’s thoughts, His timing, and His ways, but we should never forget that God is God! He is the Potter! We are but lumps of clay in His hands, being formed for His purposes.

isaiah 29:16

You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

romans 9:21

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

Perhaps at this point, you haven’t found this study to be very comforting. Maybe you’re not comfortable with the idea that God isn’t primarily concerned with our comfort. Maybe you even think that this study has been disrespectful to God.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose here is not to paint God with an unflattering brush, but rather to help us to understand the immense depth of God’s love, grace and mercy upon us.

God certainly isn’t concerned with being nice, but His reasons are for our benefit!

my notes:

why isn’t God “nice?”

We’ve established that God is not what we, as sinful humans, often want or expect Him to be, because in our sinfulness, we want God to make our lives easy and pleasant. We want God to be “nice,” and perhaps we even struggle with our faith when He isn’t. That’s why we need to understand why God isn’t nice. To start, let’s consider a few examples.

some examples of God not being nice:

• Ordering the complete destruction of whole cities and their people

• Death punishments for certain sins

• Allowing slavery, suffering, and oppression

There are many specific examples in Scripture of the things listed above, and they may sometimes be hard to stomach. But in every case, God had reasons for this unpleasantness. For a glimpse of this, let’s take a look at our Savior...

when Jesus wasn’t “nice”

We all love the Biblical accounts of Jesus preaching grace and mercy, healing the sick, and living as the Gentle Shepherd. To be sure, that was Jesus being Himself. However, this very same Jesus also said and did a number of things that were not nice. Loving? Yes. Righteous? No doubt. Kind? Of course, and we’ll discuss that a bit later. But agreeable? Pleasant? Nice? Not at all. Let’s take a look...

my notes:

mark 11:12-17

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:

“ ‘My house will be called

a house of prayer for all nations’ ?

But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’’”

matthew 21:12-13

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’’”

luke 19:45-46

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be a house of prayer’ ; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’’

These few passages of Scripture show Jesus flipping over tables, cursing trees, and calling people “robbers” near the end of His earthly ministry. But it wasn’t the first time. This was a repeat performance of the actions He had taken just a few years earlier, near the beginning of His earthly ministry:

my notes:

john 2:13-16

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

Here, before Jesus had even gained His reputation among the people, He made a whip and forcefully drove their animals out of the temple area. He scattered their coins, overturned their tables, and violently made His point. He was not polite, and as far as most of the people were concerned, His actions were offensive and inappropriate.

matthew 12:34

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

matthew 23: the “not nice” chapter

matthew 23:1-3

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

First, let’s take note of the audience to whom Jesus was speaking. It was to the “crowds and His disciples.” The crowd included Pharisees, teachers of the law, other onlookers, and Jesus’ disciples. As we will see, Jesus was publicly calling the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law for their hypocrisy and sin. And the things that Jesus was about to say were not nice.

matthew 23:4

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Jesus just publicly called the Pharisees “lazy!” This simply wasn’t done! But Jesus was just getting started...

matthew 23:5-12

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Next, Jesus publicly calls out the Pharisees on their pompous, haughty efforts to exalt themselves! But He goes on...

my notes:

matthew 23:13-15

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Continuing in His rebuke, Jesus tells the church leaders that their so-called efforts for the Kingdom are doing more harm than good, and He’s not being gentle about it! But still, He isn’t finished...

matthew 23:16-22

Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

Now, Jesus exposes the self-serving materialistic hearts of the Pharisees, publicly correcting their theology. How embarrassing this must have been for the Pharisees! But Jesus has still more to say...

my notes:

matthew 23:23-32

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

As Jesus continues to publicly call out the many errors of the Pharisees, He curses them seven times with the words “woe to you!”, calling them hypocrites and blind guides.

my notes:

matthew 23:33-39

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”

Here, Jesus wraps up His rebuke by calling the Pharisees, the Teachers of the Law, and others in the crowd “snakes”; a brood of vipers. It was a term that Jesus had previously used to describe the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34. He likened them to slithering, venomous serpents!

Finally, Jesus essentially calls them into account for all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth.

Wow! Imagine being called out by Jesus in such harsh terms! But why was Jesus so stern here? Why, in all of these examples that we’ve seen, doesn’t God simply behave nicely?

What’s the common denominator?

my notes:

sin is not nice

Think about this: Whenever you see God saying or doing things that aren’t nice, pleasant, or agreeable in Scripture, there is always one common denominator. God is dealing with sin, and sin is not nice.

When God isn’t nice, He’s dealing with sin; maybe yours, maybe someone else’s. Like a cancer, sin is a spreading infestation that must be addressed. And, as with cancer, that process is painful and destructive, usually resulting in collateral damage, at least to the things that we desire as humans.

Jesus’ work on the cross makes possible the treatment and the cure for the cancer of sin. But as we praise our Lord for ridding us of our sin, let us remember that His solution was anything but nice.

Jesus suffered horribly, both physically and spiritually, as a result of our sin, and indeed He died for it.

And so, where sin is concerned, God cannot be nice; He cannot be pleasant or agreeable toward us when we are committed to our sin, because His Son had to die for it.

imagine “niceness” from God...

Think about this: What if Jesus had been “nice” when dealing with the Pharisees? What if, knowing their hearts and the mortal danger they were in, Jesus refrained from addressing their sin, being careful not to offend them, instead complimenting their robes?

What if God had looked upon Sodom and Gomorrah and nicely blessed them with rain and plentiful crops, never making an issue of their sin?

In fact, what if God had just been nice to Satan?

What would heaven look like? Would it even be heaven? How many souls would have gone to hell for their sin because God never warned them? How many people would have followed after bad examples that led them to hell?

What happens when we let “niceness” drive our morality?

“nice” is not the answer

Have you ever wondered what the Bible says about being nice? Well actually, nothing. We are never told to be nice.

The word “nice” does not even appear in the Bible. Not once (with the singular exception of the NASB).

“Nice,” as it relates to human behavior, is an artificial human construct, meant for human comfort and pleasure. Being nice has become the primary cultural expectation of our world. The idea is that if we would all just be nice, we wouldn’t have any problems. Everyone is a winner. No one loses, because that’s not nice. We largely cannot express differing opinions, because that’s not nice.

The greatest evil our culture recognizes is to call out evil, because that’s not nice. But where does that lead?

the price of “nice”

Humans have long been arrogant enough to believe that they could govern themselves. Countless times in history, we have seen the results, even as we’re seeing them today:

isaiah 5:20

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Here, it is important to remember who “those” are in this verse. It’s us.

Left to our own devices, we will do exactly as Isaiah has described here. For further proof, we need only examine the activities of God’s chosen people, the Israelites.

judges 21:25

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

This is the last verse of the book of Judges, and it summarizes the reasoning for why the people of Israel behaved as they did. And how did they behave?

Let’s put it this way: The last three chapters of the book of Judges, if it were made into a movie, would be X-rated. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more vile, disturbing chain of events anywhere in human history, with one sickening event after another. And these were God’s people.

How could they have been so wicked? How could anyone?

Because, as Judges 21:25 points out, they did as they saw fit. And when a human does as he sees fit, the result will usually be evil.

matthew 12:34-35

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

jeremiah 17:9

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Without God to guide us, we will revert to doing as we see fit. And what we see fit is what makes us feel good, or what caters to our selfish desires. Even our human attempts at generosity or kindness are tainted by our desire to be well-thought of, to feel self-righteous, or for some other personal gain. No wonder Isaiah describes our “righteous acts” as filthy rags!

isaiah 64:6

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

We humans like to think that we know what’s good and right, but our judgment is clouded by our selfish desire for everything to turn out “nice” for us.

tell me nice things?

It’s only sinfully natural for us to want to hear nice things about ourselves. But when we’re unwilling to hear the awful truth, we’re not hearing God. Consider these examples:

2 timothy 4:3-4

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

isaiah 30:9-14

For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction.

10 They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets,

Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.

11 Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!

12 Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says: “Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit,

13 this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.

14 It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.”

my notes:

Along similar lines to these passages, there is a story in First Kings chapter 22. Ahab, the king of Israel, wanted to attack Ramoth Gilead and consulted hundreds of false prophets for counsel. But he didn’t want to hear the counsel of Micaiah, because he was an actual prophet of God. In Ahab’s words:

1 kings 22:8

The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.

Micaiah, knowing that Ahab only wanted to hear nice things, initially spoke in agreement with the false prophets. After being pressed by Ahab, Micaiah spoke the truth, that Ahab would go to his death if he attacked Ramoth Gilead. Still unwilling to listen, Ahab went anyway and was killed.

The point? If our hearts are only willing to believe nice, pleasant things, we will miss the truth of God which is meant to save us!

luke 6:26

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

We are all sinners. But if no one in your life has any concern or constructive criticism for you, look out! You’re probably not hearing the truth!

If not, you should ask yourself why. Do your friends and loved ones not love you truly enough to speak the unpleasant truth to you, or is your heart unwilling to hear it?

proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Have you invited your friends and loved ones to tell you the unpleasant truth? Do they know that you’re willing to hear it?

proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

If a man’s fly is down, his truest friend is the one who tactfully tells him. If we have real friendships, our friends will be willing to wound us with Godly rebukes so that we may grow and benefit.

questions to ponder

Q. Am I too concerned with being thought of as “nice?”

Q. Am I willing to point out sin to by brothers and sisters for their benefit?

Q. Am I willing to hear the unpleasant truth about myself?

Q. Have I invited my friends and loved ones to tell me when they see me in sin?

my notes:

“niceness” vs. love

By now we’ve made the point, ad nauseam, the God is not always nice, and that we as humans should stop idolizing niceness.

Where does this leave us? You know the answer. It leaves us with love.

God is love

1 john 4:16

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Repeat this to yourself. God is love.

Think about that. In all of the things we’ve discussed, where God is not nice, God is love.

If that’s true, then all of the unpleasant things that God does must come from that love. And if we have trouble reconciling that fact, then we need to better understand what love is:

1 corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails...

Take special note here. Does it say that love is nice? Nowhere. In fact, it would seem that niceness has very little to do with love. And so, since God’s Word never commands us to be nice, it’s time for us to let go of that notion, replacing it with what God does command:

matthew 22:37-40 (mk 12:30; lk 10:27)

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

john 13:34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

1 peter 1:22

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1 peter 3:8-10

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 john 4:7-8

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

my notes:

love is far greater than niceness

Niceness is based upon human desires. Love is from God, rooted and defined by Truth, and encompassing truly beneficial qualities. Let’s break that down from First Corinthians 13:4-8...

love is patient

Or, as other translations put it, long-suffering. It is important to understand that God Himself is patient. If He weren’t, would any of us still be here?

2 peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

As God is patient with us, God’s love requires us to be patient with others.

ephesians 4:2

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

1 thessalonians 5:14

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

love is kind

Remember, love is not nice, it is kind. Think about the kindness of God, who has gone to such great lengths to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him! God’s kindness doesn’t ignore the truth; that we are sinners in need redemption. Instead, God’s kindness tackles the truth head-on and loves us anyway, working for what truly helps us rather than for what merely feels good.

romans 11:22

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

Kindness is about blessing other people and building them up according to what they need, not according to what feels nice for them. Where niceness is easy, kindness is difficult. Where niceness is a facade, kindness is genuine and heartfelt.

colossians 3:12

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

proverbs 11:16

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.

love does not envy

Envy and jealousy are expressions of discontent toward others and toward God. It is possible for us to be “nice” about our envy, but if we are envious toward someone instead of being happy for them, we are not loving them.

romans 12:15

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Instead of envying the blessings received by others, rejoice with them!

my notes

james 3:14-16

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

This kind of envy is sinful and destructive, and is not present in true love.

love does not boast

How does it benefit others when we boast about our accomplishments? It’s possible to be “nice” while also being boastful. But God’s Word tells us to be loving, which leaves no room for boastfulness.

jeremiah 9:23-24

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

1 corinthians 4:7

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

my notes:

love is not proud

Pride is the building up of one’s self. Sometimes, we may even take pride in our “niceness.” But that misses the point. Love rooted in truth acknowledges that we have nothing to be proud about.

ephesians 4:2

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

romans 12:3

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

james 4:6

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

love is not rude (does not dishonor others)

Rudeness can be defined as putting our own desires above others, to the point of being unkind, impolite, or discourteous. It is possible to be “nice” while still being rude. Rather than covering rudeness in the veneer of niceness, be loving instead.

ephesians 4:29

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

my notes:

love is not self-seeking

Again, we should seek the good of others above our own good. If our greatest concern is with being “nice” rather than being kind and truthful, then we don’t really care about the welfare of other people; we only really care about keeping things comfortable for ourselves.

romans 12:10

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

philippians 2:2-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

matthew 16:24

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

my notes:

love is not easily angered

As God Himself has modeled for us, we should be slow to anger:

psalm 86:15

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

psalm 103:8

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

As we interact with others, we will sometimes encounter words, actions, or inactions that we don’t like. But we should be careful not to take offense. It is seldom necessary to take offense at another person’s words or actions.

colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

proverbs 14:29

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

my notes:

love keeps no record of wrongs

While God certainly acknowledges and deals with our sins and our faults, He also removes them from us once we’ve repented. What a wonderful truth!

psalm 103:12

...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

psalm 51:1-2

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

isaiah 43:25

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.

In following God’s lead, we should not revisit previous offenses that have already been resolved. If a previous offense hasn’t been resolved, then we must work to resolve it Biblically, and even then, the motive should be for the benefit of others.

I peter 4:7-8

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

love does not delight in evil

“Bless your heart!” Have you ever heard or said this phrase right after tearing someone down? Attempts like this to gloss over unkind words may give the appearance of niceness, but it doesn’t fool anyone. It may seem juicy or entertaining or humorous to revel in the struggles or failures of other people, but it is not loving.

proverbs 24:17-18

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, 18 or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.

obadiah 1:12

You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.

proverbs 16:28

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

love rejoices with the truth

Our world has slapped the label of “love” onto hollow “niceness.” But it is not love to ignore the truth. It is not love to simply make people feel good. It is not loving to simply be nice.

Real love is always based upon truth, and cannot exist apart from it. And sometimes, real love calls for difficult things.

proverbs 27:5-6

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

psalms 141:5

Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; let him rebuke me–it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Yet my prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers;

proverbs 19:18

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

hebrews 12:11

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

galatians 4:16

Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

While truth must be spoken in order to love, we must be careful to ensure that the truth we speak is spoken in love.

ephesians 4:15

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

1 john 3:18

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

my notes:

ephesians 4:25

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

No matter how nice or gentle we may try to be, if our love is not based upon truth, it is not truly loving.

And if we speak truth apart from love, we still fail to be loving.

While it is true that Paul defines love as the greatest gift, we must never forget that love is defined by truth. And the truth is defined by God.

my notes:

don’t be “nice,” be like Jesus!

Stop expecting God to be "nice," and rejoice that God is love!

Love is far better than “nice.” Love is real. Love is truth. Love is kindness. Love is from God, because God is love.

Remember, friends, the Jesus did not commission us to be nice, but to make disciples:

matthew 28:19-20

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If we’re going to make disciples, followers of Jesus, then we have to demonstrate to the world who Jesus is; not a “nice guy,” but the epitome of love.

The Creator. The Righteous Judge. The Lamb of God.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Many “nice” people are headed down that road.

This is no time to be nice. It’s time to be like Jesus.