The Difference Between Nice and Kind—and Why It Matters

Barry Corey has written an important book, Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He advocates true kindness without reducing it to mere cosmetic niceness. Too many Christians choose between standing for truth and demonstrating grace, and the result is self-righteous meanness disguised as truth or indifferent tolerance disguised as grace. Love Kindness attempts to avoid both errors, and it’s full of both grace and truth, with warm and heart-touching stories. (I was particularly moved by the example of Barry’s dad.)

The church today desperately needs the humility that rejects mean-spirited religion and exemplifies kindness while upholding biblical truth. You needn’t agree with everything in this book to profit from it immensely—it will make you think, reflect, and see yourself as others may see you. Most important, it may prompt you to ask Jesus, “Will you help me to love kindness?” —Randy Alcorn

Dr. Barry CoreyI’ve been distressed in recent years by so many Jesus followers who are more interested in picking a fight than making a friend. Someone told me recently that we never lead our enemies to follow Jesus, but we do lead our friends. Christians have been quick to bypass kindness and prefer to begin a shouting match, or they just talk among themselves about how awful the other side is. We have ranted before we’ve related, deeming the latter too soft on sin. Christians—and I’ve seen this especially in American Christians in recent years—have employed the strategy of winning the combative way, and it’s not working.

The “culture wars” have done little to change our society, and we’ve lost many if not all of these wars. As a result, the church too often is marginalized and mocked, and increasingly people are viewing the Bible as just as intolerable as our aggressive tactics. It’s time for a new way of living lives of radical kindness, not to be accepted but to be faithful. I’m willing to bet that if Christians leaned more into kindness and understood more its revolutionary power, the world would see a side of us that would cause many skeptical and irate folks on the other side to take notice. Our radical gestures of kindness may be rejected. They may be received. But they will not be forgotten.

By kindness, I’m not talking about when you buy a stranger coffee or when you bring in your neighbor’s trash cans or when you tell someone they have food in their teeth. These are nice random acts. But kindness is not a random act. It’s a radical life. Kindness is not limited to grandmothers or Boy Scouts. Never mistake kindness for niceness. Kindness is all over the Bible, plentiful in both Testaments. But you won’t find niceness in the Bible once—nor the word nice, for that matter. Kindness is fierce, brave and daring. It’s fearless and selfless, never to be mistaken for niceness. They’re not the same and never were. Kindness is neither timid nor frail. Niceness is kindness minus conviction. I think we should scrub “nice” from our vocabulary. We need to stop telling children to be nice and instead tell them to be kind, and then tell them the difference.

The virtue of kindness is rooted in Scripture, forged on sound Christian theology and modeled over the centuries by followers of Jesus. Since the early church, disciples have walked the risky and sometimes dangerous road of kindness. Kindness is a radical way of living biblically. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit on Paul’s short list in Galatians 5. It’s not a duty or an act. It’s an imperative. It’s the natural outcome of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We exhale kindness after we inhale what’s been breathed into us by the Spirit. Kindness radiates when we’re earnest about living the way of Christ, the way of the Spirit. Kindness displays the wonder of Christ’s love through us.

Niceness may be pleasant, but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. Niceness trims its sails to prevailing cultural winds and wanders aimlessly, standing for nothing and thereby falling for everything. Kindness is certainly not aggression, but it’s also not niceness. Niceness is cosmetic. It’s bland. Niceness is keeping an employee in the job, knowing he’s no longer the right fit therefore failing him and the company because you don’t have the courage to do the kind thing. Kindness calls you to tell him he’s not the person for the position and then dignify him in the transition.

Kindness is a dimension of God’s common grace through us. It’s a civility grounded in gentleness and respect. At the same time, kindness is neither milquetoast nor weak. It is fierce and passionate. The God-authored spirit of kindness in us has the power to upend the enemy and season the world around us for the good. Kindness as Jesus lived it presents the highest hope for a renewal of Christian civility, a renewal needed now more than ever.

Dr. Barry Corey serves as the president of Biola University and is the author of Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue. Barry and his wife, Paula, have three children. 

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