Teaching & Suggestions

Was Jesus Nice?

by Steve Ray on July 5, 2015

I'm OK, you're OK. Be yourself! Gotcha covered buddy!

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me. “That was not very Christ-like.” This response usually comes after being honest to the point of making someone upset.  The implication is that Jesus was a cuddly little nice guy who was always smiling, always accepting with kind words – in short NICE.

In America we tend to be pretty nice, except maybe if you live in New York City. But in contrast to the rest of the world we tend to be very polite, genteel, gracious and nice. Tour guides in other countries say that Americans are the nicest people. We transpose our niceness onto Jesus and think he was a lot like us.

But does LOVE = NICE?

Of course Jesus was loving. He is God after all and God is love (1 John 4:8). We also know that love does not always equate to NICE. God allowed Paul to have a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (2 Cor 12:7). Three times Paul prayed for it to be removed. God said NO.  God was not acting very American. He certainly wasn’t very nice about it.

Nice is defined primarily as “pleasant or commendable, kind or friendly” (Collins English Dictionary). It originally comes from the Latin meaning “simple, silly or ignorant.”

"He's not a tame lion, afterall" Quote from Narnia series

There is such a thing as “tough love.” It is the kind of love that cares enough to be honest, to confront, to discipline, to cause temporary pain to bring about eternal glory.  On the surface “tough love” does not always appear to be nice. How often has a child, sent to the corner blurt out “You are not very nice!”

Was Jesus nice?

Like Aslan the Lion in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Jesus is approachable and loving, but don’t ever consider him “tame” or too cuddly. Jesus is God as well as man. He expressed the wrath and anger of God as well as the mercy and love of God.

Imagine coming to the Temple in Jerusalem one day to pray. You hear a great commotion and run over to see an angry man throwing over tables, grabbing the money from the merchants and throwing the money on the ground.

Whipping the money changers and dumping over their tables

But worse, you see him make a scourge of cords – a whip – and striking people with it. You are shocked that anyone would be so rude and destructive, so inconsiderate and mean to lash people with a whip. People ran in fear! Everyone was upset. Jesus was red in the face and scowling.  It certainly wasn’t very “Christ-like.” How nice was that?

Jesus was always loving, but he was not always nice, as we Americans count niceness. Here is just one example. Jesus spoke very harshly to his fellow Jews.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. . . .  You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:27,  28, 33).

Ouch! Doesn’t sound very kind and courteous: not very thoughtful or nice!

So, maybe there is more to WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) than we’ve been led to believe. Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about being nice, being liked, acting like  genteel Americans. Maybe we ought to be more honest and forthright about the things that really matter.  Maybe we should be more willing to hurt some feelings, step on some toes, show tough love to those in sin.

Maybe we should be more Christ-like.

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We miss a lot when reading the English Bible. We’re at a great disadvantage. The early Christians read the writings of the apostles in the original language – they understood the words and expressions must better than we do. The original language of the Bible is full of rich imagery, stark reality, and colorful terminology.

Toilets.jpgFor example, Paul writes that he considers all things as refuse that he might gain Christ (Phil 4:8).  We lose the impact of his graphic language. Paul wrote in Greek and in Greek the word refuse means human waste or crap. In Paul’s day it might have been the equivalent of the “sh–” word forbidden in proper communication. Paul used crude language, and it was very graphic for the original readers. Our English translations are very “proper”.

(Picture: Steve sitting on old stone Roman toilets in Philippi, filming in “Paul, Contending for the Faith“)

As a Pharisee, Paul tried to earn his righteousness by his self-righteous efforts and pride. But now that he has learned of faith in Christ and salvation by grace along, he considers his old efforts and self-righteousness to be nothing but crap. English Bibles santize this wording for us :-)

Let’s look at another crude example.  In Galatians 5:12 Paul reacts to the Jewish converts who tried to make the Gentiles get circumcised.  They said the pagans must be circumcised and obey all the 613 laws of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1).  The heretics made Paul so mad that he says he wished the false teachers would not just cut off the foreskin of the penis but slip and cut the whole thing off.  Ouch!

Flint Knife.jpgEverywhere else this Greek word is used in the New Testament, it is translated “cut it off” but in this passage most prim and proper English translations render the word as “mutilate themselves” though a few say “castrate themselves” or “go all the way and emasculate themselves.”  Paul didn’t mince his words, nor hide his anger and frustration.

(Picture: Ancient flint knife, the kind used for circumcisions in biblical times)

One of my favorite gold nuggets that I discovered in the New Testament is a Greek word used only twice in the whole New Testament. This word relates to God’s two creations.  By reading the English Bible you would never know these two different passages use the same Greek word. But you would never know it from reading the English. When you dig deep you find gold!

What are these two creations of God?  The first is obviously the physical world created “in the beginning.”  The second creation is the Church, into which we are ‘born again” through baptism, a new creation. Both creations were “born” out of water with the Spirit of God hovering over the water (Gen 1:2; Mk 1:9-110, John 3:1-5).

Ready? Well here are the two verses; I have italicized the English words that have the Greek word in common:

First, the physical creation: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).

Second, the spiritual creation: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Was I right? Would you have known that the underlying Greek word in both verses is poiema? It is the Greek word from which we get our English word poem. In Romans 1:20, five English words are used to translate one Greek word: poiema which refers to the physical created universe.  The word workmanship is what you are, what the Church is. The poem of the Church includes you.

So, God has “written” two poems: the physical world and the Church.  God is a poet, He is an artist, and his two great works of art reveal much about Him as an artist. You can learn a lot from looking at the paintings of an artist or by reading the pages of a poet.  Just as any poet can be understood by reading his work, so God can be understood to some degree by reading his poetry.

Solar System.jpgGo out at night and look at the sky –  ponder the masterpiece of God’s creation. Look at the symmetry and beauty of a flower, the power and creatures of the oceans, the majesty of mountains and thunderstorms. Then look at the Church around the world as she redeems sinners. Think of the billions of people that have accepted her embrace and been born into a heavenly family, a culture of love and blessings. Two marvelous, breath-taking creations.

Any you? You are part of God’s two creations, you are written into his poetry and painted on his canvas.  He treasures you.  You are not a random mass of molecules that happened to appear on lonely planet earth spinning meaninglessly around the sun. No, you are part of God’s glorious poetry that angels admire and God cherishes. Be proud, be thankful!  Live worthy of your place in God’s heart.

So, the New Testament is rich in its vocabulary. It is richer than the English language reveals. Like Paul says, anyone that tries to please God by their meager human efforts has nothing but crap to show for it, unworthy of the kingdom of God. Anyone who says we must be circumcised to be a Christian opposes God’s plan of free grace. Paul wanted them to castrate themselves.

Actually the New Testament is rich in imagery and figures of speech.  You are blessed to be freely made part of God’s two creations. You are beautiful. The Word of God says so!

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indexnobeefIF YOU EAT ANIMALS YOU ARE VIOLATING THE PLAN OF GOD.

YOU SHOULD BE A VEGAN AND EAT NO ANIMAL PRODUCTS, INCLUDING FISH, EGGS, MILK, YOGURT, LOCUSTS OR MEAT.

IS THIS **REALLY** GOD’S PLAN?

MY RESPONSE TO A VEGAN CRITIC (updated 4/22/11)

The original blog and comments

An added comment. It was asserted that many saints and Catholic ascetics were vegans. My response:

“One more comment about ascetics who supposedly ate a vegan diet. In modern terms, they were not vegans. Veganism today is usually not simply a simple diet but an ideology which says that eating meat is cruelty, exploitation of animals and is morally wrong.

Christian ascetics ate a simple diet as a form of fasting and penance. They did NOT avoid eating because they thought eating an animal was immoral. To do so would be to say Jesus had acted immorally. They avoided meat because it was an extravagant pleasure.

Just as they would not wear a mink coat because it was an extravagance, so they did not eat meat because it too was considered – not a sin or immoral act – but an extravagance. For most of history meat, like a fur coat, was an expensive indulgence of the rich.

This distinction is important in the discussion of Christianity and veganism. The ascetics were not vegans in the same sense or for the same reason as most modern ideological vegans. They simply ate a simple diet which avoided luxuries like meat (and fur coats).”

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