I follow good people on Twitter, and I’m quick to unfollow to keep it that way. When I open my Twitter feed, it’s usually a pleasant experience, because I’m careful about who I follow.
I made the mistake the other day, though, of reading responses to a couple of good tweets. I was disappointed by what I read: accusations, assumptions about motive, and the least charitable reading of the original tweet possible. All of these were written by people who, from the context of their comments, claim to be Christians.
I’m learning to enjoy the people I follow in Twitter, but to be cautious about reading the responses to their tweets. The tweets are encouraging; the responses can be discouraging, especially because they don’t seem much better than angry conversations I see on Twitter in general.
Let’s Not Be Nice
I sometimes hear people argue that we need to stop being nice. After all, niceness isn’t commanded in Scripture. In fact, we can find plenty of examples in which niceness gets in the way of who we should be as Christians. We’re called to be more than nice.
As usual, definitions are everything. If nice is defined as pleasant or agreeable, then niceness isn’t a biblical virtue. Sometimes we must say hard things. Sometimes we must contend for the truth. Niceness can be dishonest. If we aim to be both helpful and truthful, niceness can sometimes fail both. It can be both unhelpful and untrue.
So agreed: let’s not be nice. Niceness falls short of the goal.
We Must Be Kind
Let’s pursue something better instead: kindness.
Kindness, unlike niceness, is essential. It’s commanded (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12). Paul includes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It’s the quality of being warmhearted, considerate, humane, gentle, and sympathetic. It’s a generosity of spirit to others, particularly when they don’t deserve it.
Kindness is an attribute of God himself. His whole relationship with us could be characterized as being kind. “Kindness is utterly inconsistent with abusive talk or rudeness,” observes Clinton Arnold. There’s never a good time not to be kind.
Kindness doesn’t come naturally to us. When someone pushes our buttons, or when we think they’re wrong on some important issue, harshness flows easily. That’s why kindness is a fruit of the Spirit: we need God’s help for this virtue to grow in our souls.
Kindness should characterize all of our interactions, including those online.
Again, I’m not advocating for bland niceness or an unwillingness to tackle tough subjects. I am advocating for what Scripture commands: an attitude that reflects the kindness that God has shown to us. The higher the stakes, the more important this becomes. Make the most charitable interpretation of what others say. Think the best. Be considerate in how you express yourself. Lean toward gentleness instead of harshness. If in doubt, delete your response rather than post it.
Kindness is not just the domain of those who have irenic temperaments. Nobody’s exempted. Kindness doesn’t reflect weakness or a disregard for the truth. It reflects God’s actions toward us.
Kindness is what the Spirit produces in the heart of all Christians as he does his work, and it should be the goal of everyone who claims to serve him. We may not be called to be nice, but we’re surely called to pursue kindness, in person and online, for the building up of others and for the glory of God.