The Difference Between Being Nice and Being a Servant

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Let me begin by saying that I come from the South, where you can get away with an hour’s worth of gossip looking like a saint, so long as you add “bless her heart” to the end of each insult to soften the blow (eg: “She’s completely out of her mind, bless her heart”).

Niceness is a way of life down here.  It’s a part of the culture in the same way that football, grits, guns, humidity, and religion are a part of the culture.  I don’t mind it, really. In fact, I kind of like Southern friendliness and hospitality; it fosters a sense of community and neighborliness. But every now and then, as I’m reading through the Gospels and examining the life and teaching of Jesus, I realize how often I rely on my nice, Southern charm to serve as a sort of watered-down version of Christlikeness.

I tell myself that as long as I am nice to the waitress who messed up my order, as long as I smile at the poor immigrant shopping at the thrift store, as long as I share encouraging words the single mom, as long as I show up to the wedding shower with a $25 gift, as long as I am polite to the needy friend and tolerant of the drama queen friend, as long as I roll my eyes in private and keep my judgments to myself—then I am following Christ’s command to love my neighbor.

But as I’ve been thinking about what it means to participate in a holy, set-apart kingdom, a kingdom in which even the greatest are called to be servants, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the only way for such a kingdom to remain distinct in this culture is for love to transcend mere civility.

Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Such actions go WAY beyond niceness.

Jesus said, “love your enemies,” “do not judge,” and “bless those who curse you.”He said, “When you have a party, don’t invite the ‘cool’ people; invite the poor, the hungry, and the sick.” He said, “If you want to be great in My kingdom, become like a servant.” He said, “Be willing to live a life that is so counter-cultural, so radically giving and loving and just, that you become a target of the oppressors.”

Such actions go WAY beyond civility.

And so recently I’ve been asking myself a new question. Instead of, “How can I show kindness to this person?” I ask myself, “How can I serve this person?”

I don’t always like the answer. Sometimes it involves sacrificing my time, (which I actually find harder than sacrificing my money). Sometimes it involves checking my pride at the door. Sometimes it involves being inconvenienced. Sometimes it involves being uncomfortable.

But it always involves becoming a little more like Jesus by blessing not simply in word, but in deed.

Do you ever find yourself copping out of true servanthood by relying on nicenss? What are some practical ways in which you have forced yourself to go beyond mere civility to practical service and sacrifice?

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