Nice is Not a Fruit of the Spirit

 

“Some people are naturally good, you know, and others are not. I’m one of the others,”  LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables.

Anne with an “e” didn’t quite get her theology of original sin correct, but she certainly voiced the experience we all have as “one of the others.” Preschool is an excellent laboratory to prove that no child ever must be taught to be selfish, but needs a basic lesson in civilization to “be kind”.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

In his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul encouraged them to be kind, not just in general, but specifically to “one another”. Why is it easier for us to be kind to strangers and let someone in front of us at the checkout, but get quickly annoyed with a family member who has a bad day and is a bit grumpy?

If that’s not enough, Paul carries the instructions a step further when he adds the word: “tenderhearted”. And then, as if to stretch us to an impossible limit, he continues: “forgiving each other, JUST AS God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

This is one of those familiar verses that those of us who grew up in church have known from infancy. The old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt”, or at the very best “complacency,” fits well right about here. It was helpful to me to learn that “nice” is not a fruit of the spirit. Being kind and being nice are not the same thing. One can be nice and observe outward boundaries of civility and have an unkind and selfish heart. One of the most powerful illustrations of this is played out in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The novel is a masterfully written contrast of law and grace, of niceness and kindness. Set in early 19th century France, the story follows a man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. He is shown mercy and kindness by a friendly bishop and his life is forever changed. In contrast, he is hunted by a police inspector who doesn’t understand kindness and mercy, but sees them as a weakness.

The fictional story is true in that we cannot extend kindness until we realize, like Anne and Jean Valjean, our own lack of goodness and accept God’s forgiveness.

About the Writer:
Nan is so grateful to belong to God’s people. She loves getting to know all kinds of people and enjoys discovering new places, which is a good thing since she’s moved twenty five times. She has been married to Jim, a pastor, for 34 years, and together they have four grown kids, a son in love, and three grand puppies.

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