When I did my basic training in the Air Force we had an Administrative Officer who taught ‘O & A’ which was an abbreviation of ‘Organisation and Administration’. If one cadet was a bit rude to another cadet, this officer would rebuke us by saying, “Be nice!”. His name was Flight Lieutenant B.N.P. Thompson and, behind his back, we would joke that his initials stood for ‘Be Nice Please’.
But, as Christians, are we meant to be nice all the time?
Clearly, we’re called to be gracious in our speech (verse 29) and to treat one another with kindness, compassion and forgiveness (verse 32). Is that the same thing, though, as being nice?
In verse 25, the Apostle alludes to a passage in the Old Testament Book of Zechariah:
These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbour; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbour; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ Says the LORD.” (Zechariah 8:16-17)
In this text the Lord instructs us on what to do and what to avoid. We are to speak the truth and judge righteously. We are not to plan evil strategies or swear falsely.
The question boils down to this: Are there times when judging righteously and speaking the truth could be considered less than ‘nice’ in our modern society?
In our modern culture, we are loath to bring a rebuke to those who are acting improperly. Yet the scriptures command us to bring rebuke when appropriate. Consider the following texts:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. (Leviticus 19:17)
Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)
Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. (Proverbs 27:5)
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3)
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed (Galatians 2:11)
Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. (1 Timothy 5:20)
Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. (Titus 2:15)
If I rebuke my neighbour for doing the wrong thing, how can I be sure that I’m not ‘thinking evil in my heart’ about him?
The test we can apply to our actions is also be found in chapter four of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ (Ephesians 4:15)
If my motivation is anger, I may well be out of line. But the truth, spoken in love trumps being ‘nice’ every time.