RW … More Than Being Nice

RW … More Than Being Nice

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A few days ago, a friend asked me if relational wisdom isn’t simply “being nice.”

He’d recently read my “Serving a Barista” post, which gave him the impression that relational wisdom applies only to the easy, pleasant encounters of life.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” I told him.

Not that it doesn’t apply to casual encounters. It certainly does. That’s one of the things I love about relational wisdom: you don’t have to wait for a conflict to apply it.

From the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, you can practice relational principles, such as “READ Yourself Accurately” and “SERVE Every Person you Meet,” again and again in every human encounter … whether with a lazy teenager, a discouraged spouse, or an insecure or forgetful coworker. As 1 Thessalonians 5:14 teaches,

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all …. “

This “throughout-the-day” applicability of relational wisdom gives you frequent opportunities to practice the principles so they become more and more natural … which prepares you to apply them in the midst of major conflicts and relational crises.

The crisis-resolving power of relational wisdom is beautifully illustrated in Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables. Early in the story, Jean Val Jean (played by Liam Neeson in the movie clip below) has just been released from prison after serving twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread. A kind-hearted bishop gives him a meal and place to rest as he journeys to the city where he will serve his parole.

Having no hope of a meaningful life under the harsh parole system, Jean Val Jean assaults the bishop in the middle of the night and steals his silverware. Watch how the “nice” qualities this bishop cultivated for a lifetime enable him to do what is utterly unnatural in the midst of this crisis. (If video screen does not appear below, click here.)


Most of us, if faced with this situation, would have still been so consumed with anger and resentment that we would have gladly turned Jean Val Jean over to the gendarmes. Only later, after we had cooled down, would we have realized we had missed the opportunity to imitate the mercy of God.

But, as Victor Hugo implies, the bishop had been dwelling on the mercies of God all his life. This inspired him to cultivate the mind and character of Christ, which led to his exercising kindness, patience, and gentleness—or, in other words, being nice—in countless human encounters.

As a result, when a major conflict erupted, he was able to master his emotions and return good for evil, thus fulfilling the more challenging call of 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15:

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Being nice to people in the casual encounters of daily life may not seem to be of great significance, but it all adds up. Being faithful in the little things is what prepares you to be faithful in the big things (Luke 16:10).

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions:

  • Note how many passages of Scripture call us to exercise relatively “easy” character qualities as a prelude to, or even preparation for, exercising more difficult qualities (e.g., Col. 3:12-13; Phil. 2:1-11).
  • How does being kind, patient, gentle, empathetic, or encouraging to people in casual encounters prepare you for handling major relational crises?
  • What is it that makes a Christian’s being “nice” different from a nonbeliever’s being “nice”? (Hint: our motivation is fundamentally different; see, e.g., Rom. 12:1; John 13:34-35)
  • Tell a friend that you want to practice either the READ principle or the SERVE principle in the casual encounters of your life every day for two weeks, and that you will email him or her a brief daily report on what you are experiencing and learning.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2013 Ken Sande

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12 Responses to "RW … More Than Being Nice"
  1. Many times God uses this story to remind me that I need to show grace and pray for those in darkness. The results have glorified God and brought others into the light of His mercy, grace and salvation.

  2. Thank you so much for the tools you give us to enable our ministry. The power they carry I’m sure is because they are rooted in God’s Word. This time I’m referring to the READ and SERVE principles. I originally read over them lightly snd thought “Good idea, I’ll remember that.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember the specifics unless I memorize and it is not the ready tool it should be if I want to truly ‘Glorify God, serve others, and become more like Christ.’

    Thank you again, Ken, et al, for glorifying God, serving others, and becoming more like Christ. It’s a great journey Together, isn’t it!

  3. I’m the same way, Marsha. I encounter biblical concepts I want to build into my life, but if I don’t hang them on simple, practical “hooks,” I often forget about them or find it difficult to remember how to apply them. That’s why I love acrostics: simple tracks to run on. To give you a hand, I’m going to send you a one sheet summary of these principles you can keep in your Bible or purse for easy review.

  4. Ken, I really get inspired when I read your newsletters. You are gifted with the ability to communicate God’s principles in a way that touches your readers hearts. Les Miserables is such a beautiful picture of what Jesus has done for us. Thank you for the reminders on how to go and do likewise. Blessings, Debbie

    • Thank you, Debbie. This is also one of my favorite stories. It is such a powerful echo of the sacrifice God made of his Son (infinitely more precious than some candlesticks!) to buy us back from darkness and to bring us into the Kingdom of Light!

  5. I love this clip, it brings tears to my eyes. And I love your blog, it is always fresh and it reminds me of how I often fall short of wisdom in my relationships.

    But to the point of “just being nice”, I would still like to hear your thoughts on how to confront people in their sin, and how to break a relationship in a godly way. I realize your focus is on “peacemaking”, but there are times for confrontation, and even willingness to risk the loss of relationship, right? I believe you would say that peacemaking should not come at the expense of truth, and I would be helped by balancing examples where the hard choice is made to stand for truth and justice. Justice can be as difficult as mercy.

    Thanks for your great work, you are a blessing to God’s people. I signed on to your blog when I heard you speak at a conference in NC at the end of May.

    • Excellent insight, Gary. Reconciliations are wonderful but there are definitely times when confronting and pursuing justice, even when relationships are damaged, is the right course to follow. I’ve written quite a bit about that in my book, The Peacemaker, but it would be good for me to do some blogs on it as well. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  6. Thank you Ken for all your hard work helping all of us incarnate Christ in this world.
    I read that you had a one sheet summary of the principles to keep handy for quick access and check-up. Would it be possible for you to send me a copy of it? Thank you.
    Blessings to you and your loved ones as you seek God this coming year.

    • Thank you for your encouragement, Elisabeth. I’ll send the summary sheet to your email address shortly. May God enable you to teach RW to many of the people in your circle!


  7. Funny thing happened to me – i’m sitting in my car (in the Safeway parking lot) eating my lunch and doing this lesson. The vehicle next to me is a pick up, the guy comes out of Safeway gets into his pick up and hits my car with his door. I instantly get irritated as he doesn’t even realize or know that he just hit my car. Needless to say by the end of this lesson ( especially after watching the video ) I changed my tone.

  8. Just being “nice” can be as phony as a 3 dollar bill. We can be ‘nice’ and hate and gossip. Being firm and loving is harder, but more encouraging and more likely to last. “Tough love” has its place in raising kids and maintaining real friendships and love relationships. The Bishop’s statement that he is turning Jean Val Jean over to God now will prove to be tough love at its best.

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