It’s true that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but the prophets of old were not guided by that ancient axiom or anything like it. After all, they were not trying to catch flies; they were trying to confront people with the Word of the living God. Neither they nor their message received much public acclaim. Likewise, the disciples of Jesus were not out to win any popularity contests either. They weren’t studying how to develop pleasant personalities. They had no Dale Carnegie to tell them how to win friends and influence people; but they had the Messiah, who taught them to tell the greatest truths in the plainest possible way.
The early Christians didn’t post a slogan on a church announcement board stating, Come to the friendliest place in town.” They didn’t assemble to make friends; they came to meet and worship God. The early church didn’t win any architectural awards either, often meeting in caves and out-of-the-way places because of persecution. Those who came to worship were not drawn by beautiful cathedrals or super-friendly people. They simply realized the power of God and that those assembled were themselves the beautiful temples of God.
You see, God never commanded his people to be “nice to one another.” He requires that we be faithful to him, and that we love one another as he loved us. That doesn’t necessarily mean trying to be “nice.” Rather it involves the proper attitudes and unselfish acts that promote another’s best interests.
How far the church has strayed from the Lord’s original mandate! One might think that the Great Commission was: “Go ye into all the world and be ye friendly and nice to people; and when they ask of thee, ‘Why art thou so nice?’ thou shalt say to them, ‘It is because Jesus hath made me sweet and lovable.” What, then, if they don’t ask? “Niceness” is not enough.
Let’s face it. The Apostle Paul didn’t act on advice from market research experts telling him where to find the best target audience. Nor was he prompted by public relations consultants on how to manage his image. Instead, he allowed himself to be propelled by the Holy Spirit to go to people and places he might have been inclined to avoid. And when he got there, he didn’t mince words in order to sweeten his message.
Certainly, many of life’s situations call for “niceness.” For example, sales people who are earnestly trying to sell their product are “nice” to their potential customers. But those whom we are trying to win to Christ are not clients who might “buy” our message if only we treated them kindly. By all means, good manners are important; but the good news of salvation can be obscured by good manners if we concentrate more on how to behave than on what we believe and how to bear that all-important message to others. Our emphasis on cordiality, good manners and good fellowship could result in winning people to ourselves rather than to the Lord. If that should happen and we were to continue to remain silent about the life-or-death matter of Calvary, we would betray our friends as we cheered them on their way to a Christless eternity.
Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t think that it’s necessary to be stern-faced and filled with vinegar in order to serve God properly, or to “preach” constantly at unbelieving friends. Nor are we ever justified in using a belligerent manner. We must be filled with the Spirit, be open to his leading and walk in God’s love as we proclaim his message. Of course it doesn’t hurt to smile while we’re at it. Nevertheless, we must stop stumbling over the silly shallowness of superficial cordiality. That kind of surface niceness makes us seem less than sincere.
Friendship is not a posture; it’s a position. Friendship is more than a smile and an affable greeting or exchange of pleasantries. It is a commitment to be someone—something—to another person. True friendship means more than being nice to one another in the occasional social encounter. It means standing with another in the midst of unpleasantness. It means doing the difficult thing when necessary.
I like tough friends—people who are not put off when I have to face adversity, even if that adversity has come upon me because of my own inadequacy or foolishness. My very best friends are those who will tell me when my attitudes or actions are wrong and then will stand by me anyway. That’s the way God is my friend. When I’m wrong, he doesn’t tell me that I’m right just for the sake of giving me confidence to go on. He tells me that I’m wrong. Then in many ways he proceeds to show his love and commitment to me.
We make a big mistake when we put more effort into presenting a “nice” image to those outside the church rather than giving them the life-giving gospel. We also err in placing so much value on putting on a friendly face in church. Surface friendliness with no commitment is as bad as surface sincerity. Neither is appropriate to our obedience to the Lord’s command. According to John 15:1-5 and Galatians 5:22 and 23, our major efforts as God’s children ought not to be aimed at being nice but being fruitful. There is only one way to be fruitful, and that is to draw from the root into which we are grafted, the True Branch, the Fruitful Vine. In him we can bear good fruit, and that’s more important and more efficacious than merely trying to be nice.
So stop trying to be nice! Stop trying to be friendly! All your attempts to do it on your own will only produce a veneer of behavior. Don’t even try to be fruitful. That will not work either, any more than an apple tree can succeed in producing figs merely by trying.
All that we need to do is to rest securely in Christ, the Root and the Vine into which we have been grafted. Then the life juice of the Holy Spirit will flow through us, causing us to sprout, blossom and bear an abundance of fruit. We cannot be our own spiritual horticulturists. True fruitbearing is not a “do-it-yourself” activity. God is the grower. We are merely the vine branches; yet look at the fruit he will produce as we yield ourselves to him: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. And with that kind of fruit in our lives, we don’t need to try to be nice. We are nice.
So don’t try to be nice—be fruitful!