As our roots go deep into disciplines of worship, study, obedience, and hope, we begin to see that we are being held in relationship with Christ, and this is where true virtue lives.

Blessed Are Those Who Are Nice

When Jesus set the parameters for a blessed life, they must have landed with surprise on the ears of his hillside congregation. The Beatitudes are even more counter-cultural today, for the 21st-century church conveys blessings of a different sort:

  • Blessed are those who keep up appearances;
  • Blessed are you when you look good and say good things–preferably in fewer than 280 characters;
  • Blessed is she who plays it safe and offends no one with her strong words or deeply held convictions.

Sharon Hodde Miller has put her finger on our need to be liked and has then given her readers tools for smashing the idol of niceness. The truth of Nice, her latest book, is that God has called us to so much more than a life of safe answers and artificial sweetness. The power of God in us enables believing women to embody true kindness, honesty, courage, and joy. We are called and we are empowered by His Spirit to speak words of truth without veering into outrage and to cultivate true fruits of righteousness in our relationships, workplace, ministry, and community.

The Idol of Niceness

Without advocating for rudeness or a shrill voice, Miller uncovers the ugly roots of niceness:

…we make ourselves pleasant, agreeable, acceptable, or likable in order to get something. We use niceness to achieve belonging or avoid conflict, but we also use it to amass influence and power. We use niceness to succeed in the workplace or to manage the way people perceive us. (23)

Oddly, “nice” first showed up in the dictionary in a 1604-edition to describe that which was “slow and laysie.” By the early 1800’s, it had come into its present connotation for pleasing behavior. Sadly, we’re prone, particularly in the church, to value niceness over other qualities and to excuse just about any lack of virtue in those who possess the false virtue of niceness.

According to Phil Ryken, president of Wheaton College, niceness is “easy to fake,” and as we craft and curate our images on social media, we are continually challenged to check our motivation and to stay grounded in authenticity.

The False Virtue of Niceness

Notorious child-molester Dr. Larry Nassar was a “nice” guy. For decades, his upstanding reputation caused coaches and parents to doubt young female gymnasts who accused Nassar of inappropriate behavior in the examining room. When we put our faith in niceness, we become blinded to truth. In Matthew 7, Jesus calls his followers to a sharp discernment that distinguishes between the sheep and the wolves that come our way, and good listening and continual character development are our strongest tools in preventing blind spots and uncovering our biases.

Miller warns readers against false virtues that are the fruit of empty niceness:

  • Fake courage
    C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape  aimed to confuse courage with “feeling brave” in the mind of his patient.
    “Brave” has become a juicy commodity for Christian writers and speakers, so we’re continually reinforced in patting ourselves on the back for courage that is more about platform than about the uncomfortable disruption we see in the lives of Old Testament heroes like Jeremiah and his fellow prophets with their gritty messages calling for repentance and warning of judgment.
  • Fake righteousness
    Self-righteousness puts on a good show, but the “niceness” evaporates when grace for the “undeserving” walks into the room–or when a truly brave soul dares to take on the Pharisee with constructive criticism.

Our Greatest Obstacle to Spiritual Growth

Every spiritual discipline and every positive example of Christ in the New Testament, all given for our growth, cuts across our standard of what the “nice” Christian should do or be. With our addiction to success, it’s hard to make room for teaching that looks like death or loss, but (returning to Matthew 7 and the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus is all about pruning, cutting back, and burning the dead wood.

As we abandon our middle school efforts to enter the “inner ring,” as we conform to Christ and understand that we don’t need to become someone else in order to come to Christ, the masks come off. The example of the apostle Peter during Jesus’s trials and later in the early church reveals that most of us want acceptance far more than we want Christ.

As our roots go deep into disciplines of worship, study, obedience, and hope, we begin to see that we are being held in relationship with Christ the True Vine, and this is where true virtue lives.  Nice is our call to close the gap between who we are and who we are called to be; to be who we say we are; and to begin the slow work that produces the fruit of righteousness, the only fruit that lasts for eternity.

Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Grace and peace to you,

I also read, reviewed, and enjoyed Sharon’s first book, Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You, which is an invitation to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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69 thoughts on “Blessed Are Those Who Are Nice”

  1. What important reminders about who we are in a world that sometimes skews our vision. So thankful for writers who speak into these spaces to help us understand more of who God makes and calls us to be!

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  2. Adding this book to my list. I can be guilty of overvaluing “nice” in the cultural sense, especially when confrontation seems fruitless. But there are times that “nice” doesn’t work and can be contrary to “love.” Thanks for putting this book back on my radar. I’ve seen it somewhere else, but now I’ll be intentional about finding it again.

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    1. Oh… I get lazy myself when I feel as if I’m up against a “hopeless” case. So thankful God the Holy Spirit keeps after me without giving up.
      And I almost missed reading this book, because I thought it sounded a bit like a “self-help” read, but glad I reconsidered and glad I was wrong.

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  3. Looks like a much-needed book. I am so thankful for God surrounding me with truth speakers also – my husband especially- who don’t allow me to sink into sin for long 😅.

    The beautiful thing about the example of Peter is how Jesus led him to repentance (also through the blunt truth of Paul, who didn’t mince his words) and he was then a stunning example of how God can turn a “nice” guy out to please and placate into a powerful truth speaker, prepared to lose his life for His Savior. The life of Peter has been such an encouragement to me – this recovering “nice” girl, who God keeps putting into situations where I am given the option of speaking the truth or taking the “nice” route. I am slowly learning the power of truth speaking in love – and not to put stock in immediate responses of people but to wait on the LORD to bring repentance in His timing (this has been the hardest lesson – but I keep holding onto what God brought my Mum and little brother 20 + years after I spoke the truth).

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    1. Wow, Anna, it sounds as if you are on a journey yourself in which you are being called upon to smash the idol of “Nice” in your own life. You thoughts on patient waiting are especially helpful, so thank you for offering them here.

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  4. Such good distinctions. We so often confuse kindness and niceness. These days when people are so quick to take offense, when some even want to stifle voices of truth, it’s all too easy to try to be nice so we offend no one. Or some take the opposite tack and wield truth like a club. How we need to speak the truth in love like our Savior did.

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  5. I think our society of social media makes being nice too productive. Everyone wants a “like” on a post. Being liked is overrated. You lose your sense of being, and place, in life being too nice. Thanks for linking up.

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  6. Great review of what sounds like a very interesting book. My mother would say that ‘nice’ is like ‘pretty good’. And she always detested when my father would say something – especially dinner – was ‘pretty good’. Somehow it sounds hollow and insincere.
    I am afraid I try to be nice at times when I really feel like shaking someone. Need to be more true to myself and stop going for the figurative thumbs up.

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  7. Michele,
    Your is the second review I’ve read on the book, “Nice”. Maybe God is giving me a hint?? So true that people will use niceness as a means to manage and manipulate others. God does not value what the world values and their is a distinct difference between “nice” and “righteous”. We can do “nice” on our own, but we can’t do “righteous” on our own…big difference. Looks like a book I need to pick up and read…thank you!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. I think I’ve read at least a couple other reviews of the book, and am SO glad I got to read it as well. Only as we begin to love what God loves and value what he values do we have a true picture of biblical “niceness.”
      Thanks for reading.

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  8. So thankful to have you sharing about all these great books. You are a much faster reader than I. So at least though you I can know what books are about!

    Thanks too for sharing at the Legacy Link-up.

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  9. This sounds like a fascinating read. “Blessed are you when you look good and say good things–preferably in fewer than 280 characters”…how sad but true that this is the world we live. We can all use these little reminders. Thanks for joining my Link Up On the Edge!

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  10. Great review as always. I understand the idea that we can fake niceness. I remember working with a principal who continued to say how nice someone was even though she was ineffective at her job. It used to drive me crazy. May I continue the slow work of “nice” and connect who I am and who I say I am with the journey toward righteousness.

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  11. Michele, this is a powerful book. Nice is not the answer. Obedience is the answer. Purpose is the answer, but niceness for the sake of niceness is not the answer. I love this take on what has become a way of life for so many even me at times. It challenges us to be more!

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  12. This one really got me thinking, Michele! I loved digging a little deeper into the history of this common word and finding the distinction between being nice and being kind. I’m going to deliberately remind my kids to be “kind” instead of “nice” from now on! Love this review!

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  13. I didn’t know that about the origin of the word “nice,” Michele. Interesting and so very illustrative of this problem in our lives. I do appreciate niceness, politeness, consideration, but not at the cost of integrity. Not just to be a people-pleaser! Thanks for this review, my friend! Very interesting book premise, indeed!

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    1. Great insight there on the fine line between being nice and being integral. By grace, we can do both, but I think many of us need our understanding of “niceness” sharpened.
      Thanks for reading.

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  14. Michele, this sounds like a book I would enjoy reading, definitely saving it to my list. I just finished a post myself on a similar topic for a couple of days from now so it was especially interesting to me. It always comes back to wanting to look good on the outside without really challenging ourselves to grow and become like Christ. What a mess we are!

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  15. Wow. I added this book to my “to read” list long before I finished reading your review. Sounds like a timely message for today. We’ve done each other a disservice by shifting our focus from Truth (which sometimes hurts) to niceness. And we’ve become deadened to constructive criticism or godly correction because it doesn’t fit into our “nice box”. This results in moral and spiritual stagnancy.

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  16. I love these words on Nice. It’s not one of my favourite words. I remember an episode of MASH (I’m pretty old) where Frank Burns said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” It’s so much more important to have a deeper understanding of what Jesus asks of us.

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  17. Ahhh, Michele. What a challenging book with a crucial truth. As I read your post, I found myself thinking through actions wondering what motivated my “nice.” I’d like to think it is part of the presence of the Lord pouring through me. But, if I’m honest, that isn’t always the case.

    These words sum things up so well: ” Nice is our call to close the gap between who we are and who we are called to be; to be who we say we are; and to begin the slow work that produces the fruit of righteousness, the only fruit that lasts for eternity.”

    Thanks for sharing this, friend.

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  18. Congratulations! Your post was my feature pick at #OverTheMoon this week. Each Hostess displays their own features so be sure to visit me on Sunday evening and to see your feature! I invite you to leave more links to be shared and commented upon. Please don’t forget to add your link numbers or post title so we can be sure to visit!

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  19. I don’t think I’ve ever given thought to the concept of being nice, but there is so much truth here! I see so many times (in myself and in others) that we compromise on what the Bible says because we want to be “nice” and not offend other people. The problem, of course, is that ignoring the truth in favor of being nice isn’t loving. What’s loving is being honest and following Scripture. This doesn’t mean we have to be jerks–that’s not what God wants–but we can be patient, kind, generous, gentle, etc. without compromising.

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