When Christians Aren’t Nice

Farm Dog

I wish I could like that woman, he said, shaking his head. But the whining and worrying and woe-is-me sure make it hard. Her sky is always falling.

I knew what my husband meant. Mrs. Olson was definitely an EGR.

Old Mr. Jones was an EGR, too. Both required extra grace. He was a crusty carmudgeon whose scowl could scare any smile away. And I do mean any. I’d watched bright chubby cheek toddler smiles grow cold and plenty of friendly greeter smiles disappear from his frosty frowns.

And he, and she, are Christians.

And let’s not forget one Mrs. Wallace. I know her inside and out. No one wants to be near her when her service gets showy and and her (little) intellect gets impatient or when her helping turns harsh and her eager zeal interrupts. 

Tough nut, that Wallace. She’s clearly got her faults.

And those faults, I happen to know, come despite the fact she listens to a half-dozen sermons and memorizes a handful of verses each week and leads a ladies’ life group and prays before she even gets out of bed each morning. Her lapses happen after all that. 

Those three, not always so nice Christians, raise two big questionsOne is reasonable. The other one is not.

The fair and right question first.

Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously better, nicer, than they used to be? 

In a word, YES!

The Bible- Jesus and John and Paul-repeatedly affirm: A tree is known by its fruit, and No one born of God makes a practice of sinning. Transformed from glory to glory, renewed in the spirit of our minds, we make no provision for the flesh. We are to grow up in every way into him who his the head.

So, yes. It is fair to assume and expect every single believer will be kinder and more patient and more loving than he or she would be without Christ. Every born-again person becomes better. Better than who he or she would have been.

But what about Mr. Jones and Mrs. Olson and Wallace? What about the ones who are ornery and edgy and difficult and often EGR? What about them? 

Why is it your faithless neighbor seems so much nicer than they are? 

Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously nicer than all non-Christians?

Not necessarily.

In a chapter near the end of his masterwork, Mere Christianity, you’ll find a chapter called, “Nice People or New Men.” Lewis spends most of that chapter called explaining that it is, in fact, unreasonable to expect that Christians will always be obviously nicer than non-Christians.

Only God knows the raw material. Only he knows the mass of nerves and hurts and natural temperament and early environment and everything else that made EGR’s what they are. 

Lewis explains how,

[G]od has allowed natural causes, working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin, to produce in Miss Bates the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness. He intends, in His own good time, to set that part of her right…  

We must, therefore, not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones

But it is reasonable, he says, is to expect that Christ in his life will improve the old man. Jones will be more kind and Olson more trusting and Wallace more gentle, than each of them would naturally be.

If Christianity is true, Lewis explains, you can expect both that a) any Christian will be nicer than the same person if he were not a Christian, and b) that any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before. 

Lewis doesn’t leave it at that, though. He offers up a warning. 

A Warning For Nice People

You can’t expect God to look at Mrs. Olson (or nice Miss Bates) exactly the way we do, he says. If you’re naturally one of the nice ones, take heed. 

…If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness.

There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. 

And one of the expectations for nice folks is that they bear with the weak. 

A Command For Us All

Therefore as a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:1-3

Bearing with, or forbearing, means “to hold oneself back.” It means holding back your annoyance at Mrs. Olson and not telling off old Mr. Jones. It means listening to her worries and smiling through his frown. It means resisting the urge to get angry at one friend’s forgetfulness or irritated by another’s compulsiveness. 

Matthew Henry said it means, 

[B]earing their infirmities out of a principle of love, and so as not to cease to love them on the account of these. The best Christians have need to bear one with another, and to make the best one of another, to provoke one another’s graces and not their passions. 

We all have need to bear with one another. The frets and rubs are beneficial. Brushing shoulders with EGR’s gives us a chance to grow. 

We all know them. Look in a mirror if you don’t. We bear and forbear and if we cannot like them, we love them still. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ

And if you look in the mirror and you see one, Lewis has one more word for you.

Keep Driving

But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21

Lewis concludes, 

If you are a poor creature-poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels…nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends-do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) he will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all-not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.  (Mere ChristianityNice People or New Men)

You’ve been praying and reading and worshipping and still you worry and hand out harsh words to the kids. Take heart. He knows our frame. God knows our wretched machines go and grow in fits and starts. 

God knows what hard things happened early in life to nervous Mrs. Olson. He knows that her compulsions and worries used to lock her up in her house. He knows old Mr. Jones, whose frowns can freeze the sunniest smiles. He came to faith late and now his furrowed brow eases out his violent old raging ways.

And He knows how much more harsh and impatient and puffed-up that Mrs. Wallace would be without God and all his means of grace. Just imagine me without the sermons and study, the fellowship and all that Scripture memory. 

He knit me. He formed me. He knows.

So press on and don’t despair, no matter the car you drive. Keep on, do what you can.

And know that we’ll forbear.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  

Romans 14:4

Gone Fishin’

Let another praise you and not your own mouth; 

a stranger and not your own lips. 

Proverbs 27:2

Modesty is the only sure bait when you are fishing for praise. -Lord Byron

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all. -1 Thessalonians 5:14

If you fish for compliments and angle for praise, this post is for you. If you love an angler, it’s for you, too.

Did you find that gift I left?  I asked Liz, sheepish. 

It had been three months since I delivered the gift, a family read aloud. Our boys had loved the Easter adventure and I hoped Liz’s kids would too. But I hadn’t heard from my friend. Had they started reading it, or even found it?
We know as Christians we’re to give expecting nothing in return. We know if we give to be seen by men, we have received our reward in full. We know that the Father sees the hidden gifts, and that our reward is heaven.
We know. We get it. And sometimes we’re weak.

My last post was a tribute to praise. It was in praise of the pleasure we feel when we aim to please another and do. It was also a call to heed Proverbs 31:30 because A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

But it was a guarded, wary praise because love of human praise can enslave. Praise can turn idol. What we worship becomes our God. Inordinate desire for praise leads us to sacrifice at that altar. 

Even with those distinctions, a niggling question remains: 

Is it ever okay to fish for a compliment?

The subject still strikes a nerve. Last month, our ladies’ life group split right down the middle. Never, said some. How will you know unless you ask, said others. You’ve received your reward, came the reply. What about “Help the weak”? another asked. 

Where do you fall? Do you ever find yourself biting your tongue and wondering, Didn’t they noticeDoes he have a clue how hard I worked to put that meal together? Does she know what I gave up to watch the kids? 
We itch and sometimes we can’t resist scratching. So we fish for compliments and angle for thanks. I’ve been there, and truth be told, I return from time to time. Ask my husband and Liz-if you must.
Some of us shake our heads, and roll our eyes at the vanity, the weakness. We’re not so needy as to fish in those waters. We’re strong and confident and our praise is in heaven.

Not so fast, you eye-rollers. C.S. Lewis lets us in on a little secret about the anglers among us:  

The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a child-like and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you (Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 8).

Weakness is not sin. In Greek, weak– asthenēs is also translated sick, infirm, feeble. It’s used in Matthew 25 when Jesus was asked, When did we see you sick, or in prison or thirsty? It’s used in Acts 5 when the sick were brought that Peter might heal them and in Romans 5, When we were still without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 

A friend and fellow blogger wrote about her struggle, her weakness to wean from man’s praise as she adjusted to stay at home status: 

The grades, awards, and stellar performance appraisals at work fed me. They told me I was worth something, that I contributed meaningfully. As SAHMs [Stay At Home Moms], we don’t get this regular feedback. Well, we get feedback, but it generally doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. We get tantrums and turned up noses at dinner. 

So what do we do in the interim? …When I really need someone to tell me I’m doing a good job, I ask for it. People cannot read my mind. When I need reinforcement, I ask, “Did you like dinner? Did you notice I scrubbed the floors? How do they look?” Yes, this is fishing, but it helps. When I’m feeling desperate, it gives me the pat on the back I need to feel like my day was worth something.

But, as I mature, my dependence on these kudos wains.

I love her honesty. My friend Jess admits her fishing is a desperate measure, borne of weakness. But she’s maturing in Christ. She’s growing in faith. And growth means less dependence on man’s praise.

Both weaning and growth are gradual. But, we can help each other grow up in the faith. We are called to present each other mature in Christ. To that end, I offer these tips.

For fellow anglers:

1. Pray.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24) Ask the Spirit to convict you if your fishing is borne of pride or greed for praise.  

2. Then wait. 
The Lord is good to those who wait for him (Lamentations 3:25). Wait and wait until it hurts; longer than you thought you possibly wait. Then, baited in humility, go fish. Realize you might not catch. She might not like the gift, he might not care for your cooking. Be meek, ready to “take no.” 

3. Remember.
If you catch your compliment, you’ve had your reward. If you get the praise now, you forfeit the righteous reward later. And even if you do land a big one, remember, It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the LORD commends (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Non-anglers, you’re not off the hook. You’ve got some responsibility, too. Sanctification is a community project.

For you who love us anglers:

1. Help the weak, be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
Take the bait. How well-chosen words can nourish a weak soul. One son needed a little extra praise to get over his double-digit borrowing hump. He got bigger ‘atta boy’s and more feedback than the stronger student. Go out of your way to praise the good done in fear of God and love for man. 

2. Strengthen his hand in God
That’s what Jonathan did when David needed encouragement. Try to tie your praise to God’s promised blessings for those who keep his way. It might sound like, That is good of you to open your house. Your hospitality pleases God (Hebrews 13:16).

3. Help the weak, be patient with all. 
Resist the bait. Sometimes silence may be better help. If you discern that’s a better help. If you discern flattery on your part, or greed for praise on his part, help by withholding. Jesus did. Martha, Martha, you are concerned over many things, he said. But Mary has chosen the better.  

*     *     *     *     *
Yes, we press on into maturity. We wean ourselves from man’s praise so that one day we’ll receive that eternal weight of glory, that far outweighs them all. We lift up the drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees. 

We train and deny ourselves, we wait until it hurts.Then in weakness, we fish if we must. Our God knows our frame; he remembers we are dust. So he sent one who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. 

When a weak angler comes fishing on our shores, let’s stop shaking our heads and offer some help. A little slap on the back can go a long way. This side of glory we are His hands.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 

-Paul, to the Colossians