Wise as Serpents — Stop Being ‘Nice’ (Part 22 of sermon series)
So many of these modern preachers are much nicer people than the Apostle Paul! They never say a word against anyone at all, they praise everybody, and they are praised by everybody. They are never “negative”! They never define what they believe and what they do not believe. They are said to be “full of love.” I am not misjudging them when I say that that is not the explanation. The explanation is that they do not “contend for the truth,” they are innocent (ignorant) concerning the “wiles of the devil.” It is not for us (pastors) to decide what to leave out and what to drop for the sake of unity. My business is to expound this truth, to declare it — come what may! We must not be interested primarily in numbers, we must be interested in the truth of God.D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-13, p 119
Nice People are Not Often Wise People
Most Christians in the church today have a skewed idea of who a Christian is and of what a real Christian is like. And that means that they have a deficient view of what Jesus Christ is like. We want to be more and more like Jesus; but in many cases what people are being taught in the churches is another Jesus. A Jesus that is only ‘nice’ is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Here is an excellent observation that a lady sent to me this week –
“…the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8).
I take this verse to mean that non-Christian people are often more wise in dealing with evil men than the church, or in Jesus’ day the covenant community. I also take His counsel to mean that this ought not be — and yet it is so.
What I have learned in recent years is that people I thought to be part of the true church, are likely not. The true church responds via the Holy Spirit to discern truth and provide comfort. Most professing Christians I have met will not even consider that evil exists in their own ranks.
There it is. Nice people will not consider that evil is right in their midst, disguised, deceiving, and leading them away from the truth in Christ. We’ve been studying evil for several weeks, months; and we could go on and on about it. The reason we could go on and on about it is that the Bible goes on and on about it. We’ll never actually fully leave this subject. We will pick another book of Scripture next and go through it, but on page after page of the Bible there are warnings about evil that the Lord gives to us.
Years ago when I was a police officer, the people I worked with quite readily acknowledged evil all around us. They were forced to see it in all the years they dealt with lawbreakers. They heard the lies. They saw the schemes. Oftentimes they were hearing the lies from people who professed to be Christians. One time an officer came in to the station and slammed his books down on the desk and said: “If I have to talk to one more crook that tells me they’re a Christian, I’ll throw up!”
But when I became a pastor, I found just the opposite to be true of the people I worked with. They would not hear of evil. They were just too — nice. As a result, my wife and I met all kinds of evil in the church. In the church. That was where our primary battlefield was. That niceness is not only dangerous, it is sinful disobedience to our Lord’s commands. It is rank disobedience to our King.
If we insist that we are going to be nice to everyone — well that word ‘everyone’ necessarily means — what? Are you talking about even the devil and his emissaries? Yes; that’s what it comes down to: even an emissary of the devil who comes into our midst is to be treated nice. We must love them to Jesus, right?
Let’s see what Carla van Dam says in her book The Socially Skilled Child Molester (Amazon Affiliate link). It’s not a very big book and it’s relatively expensive for a paperback, but it would be a bargain at twice the price. It’s an ugly book because it’s about pedophiles. But if you’re a Christian and you want to be wise as serpents regarding evil, this book would be an excellent place to start.
As I quote from her book I am going to broaden what she says. She’s talking about pedophiles but what she says applies in large measure to the tactics of many kinds of evildoers: teachers of a false gospel, pedophiles, sociopaths, malignant narcissists, domestic abusers and so forth. So while she writes about socially skilled child molesters, I am changing the wording in this except so it applies to a broad range of evildoers and I’ve indicated my word changes with bold face.
Why are we concerned with this? For the same reason as Peter had to warn, “The devil is like a roaring lion; he’s always on the prowl.” These are people who we can expect to come our way, disguised as Christians. Carla van Dam says:
Addicts primarily associate with people who can help them facilitate their goal, and [who] do not interfere with that goal. [For example, if they are drug addicts, their goal is getting drugs.] The evil doers described in this book similarly primarily associate with adults [people] who can provide them with access to the object of their addiction…. everything about their behavior is ruled by their desire… every encounter with people facilitates that goal. Every activity is designed to get better access to their goal.
Now, in the case of domestic abusers who are functioning as a hypocrites in the church, their goal is power and control. And self-glory.
Think about this: Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are children of the devil; and whenever he speaks, he lies; and whatever he does, he murders; because that’s who he is. He is the father of lies; and he was a murderer from the beginning.”
Remember: all sinners are not the same. This kind of wicked person, this evildoer, this child of the devil: everything that he does is designed to achieve his goal.
If he’s a drug addict, his goal is to get his drugs; but actually the drug addict is one of the less dangerous kinds of evildoers. If he’s a pedophile, his goal to get access to children. If he’s a spouse abuser, his goal is power and control over his spouse. If he’s a controller in the church, his goal is getting control of the congregation, the eldership board, the pastor (if the pastor is a true man of God), and ultimately the whole kit and kaboodle of the denominational structure. They are always ‘on task’. Every thought they have, every action they take, every decision they make, is designed to achieve their goal. Their religion, their supposed Christianity, the car they drive, the job or career that they pick, the person that they marry, the people they surround themselves with, the church they join, the entertainment and clubs and political groups they join. Everything they do. Here is Carla Van Dam again:
They are always on task, looking for opportunities to abuse. Their image management serves to give them access to victims. Their good deeds are meant to get them closer to victims. Their constant activities, leaving them almost no personal time, are geared toward accessing victims.
The reasons these evil doers so frequently succeed [is this:] the people responsible for protecting victims are sometimes enchanted by the smooth talk, friendly action, and kind support these groomers provide.
Van Dam goes on to describe the responses of the “nice” people we are looking at this morning:
The people responsible for protecting victims also often find the topic [of evil] shameful, embarrassing, and frightening.
The first few times I spoke in a church on the subject domestic abuser and their evil and how they creep in the church, you could tell from the dead silence, that the people found this subject shameful, embarrassing, and frightening. There were whispers, “Why is he talking about that in the church?”
As a result, they frequently keep quiet and assume whatever happens to be their fault, a one-time error in judgment, or a misunderstanding. However, their very embarrassment and discomfort with the topic helps foster a willingness to accept lame excuses from the evil doer.
Lame excuses. Your gut tells your something’s wrong; but your fear and your niceness and not wanting to offend makes you think “Oh well, he’s got this excuse.” Even if it’s a lame excuse.
Furthermore, because they cannot fathom that people they know and love could be evil doers… they incorrectly presume “it can’t happen here,” thereby making themselves more vulnerable to attack.
Why does that attitude that “it can’t happen here” make us more vulnerable? Because evildoers always have their radar out: they are evaluating constantly,”Is this person an easy mark?”
Evil doers also gravitate to those people who are most likely to be too polite to fend them off, too shy and anxious to tell them to leave, too dependent to be assertive, and too impressed by rank, power, status, or money to do the right thing. Evil doers deliberately associate with people who cannot [or will not] address these issues. They seek out adults who worry about hurting people’ s feelings. They charm people who do not believe it could happen.
In other words, the victims most at risk of being abused by these groomers, these evildoers, are the people who are surrounded by people who cannot stomach learning about evil.
And suddenly, a church congregation full of ‘nice’ people becomes pretty ugly. Because it turns out that those kinds of ‘nice’ people will not protect the innocent. And they will ignore much of the Bible because they can’t stomach learning about evil.
If you say that you’re a Christian, but you can’t stomach learning about evil, you’ve got a problem!
Many of us grew up in pretty protected worlds — maybe you grew up in a truly Christian home or a very moral home and as you’ve been learning about evil it’s hard to believe, it’s so foreign to what you grew up in. If so, we need to realize that the sheltered protective world we grew up in is entirely foreign to many people in the world.
Van Dam continues to note that these “nice people” may therefore inadvertently
be more likely to welcome evil doers into their homes, organizations, or communities, ignore the evidence, overcome concerns, and talk themselves out of believing possible suspicions. Adults who are timid, shy, obedient, and polite and who ignore suspicious discrepancies for fear of hurting the feelings of child molesters, are unaware that these characteristics are more likely to make them lightning rods for evil doers.
The abuser thinks: There’s a target! I’m going for it! These people are fools! I’ve got them!
And yet these evil doers, these pedophiles, sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, domestic abusers who so frequently choose the church, who crave power and control and self-glory —
are far more likely to appear wherever vulnerable victims congregate. They choose careers and hobbies that give them access to children [or other potential targets]. They become coaches, educators, therapists, child-care workers, babysitters, priests, ministers, hospice care providers, or pediatricians.
And yet, if it weren’t for the “nice people” who are supposed to be protecting these victims from evil, the wicked ones would not be able to gain access to them.
Is it any wonder that the church is one of the favorite arenas of evildoers?
Not very often do these kinds of wicked people talk about their schemes; they are masters at lying and deceiving and covering up. When they do talk about their schemes, they are usually bragging — for example they brag to the forensic psychologists they meet in prison if they happen to get incarcerated for a few of the multiple crimes they have committed. And when they talk honestly about their modus operandi, they say, “I chose the church as my arena because Christians are so nice, so forgiving, so stupid. I know that they’ll believe me. I know that I can have plausible deniability and they’ll believe it! After all, Christians are indoctrinated to see only good in everyone; they are so enamored with things like grace and mercy and kindness and love; they are so willing to admit that they are sinners too, no better than the worst evil person, right?”
The church claims to be a body of Christ’s followers. In a church where all kinds of signals are sent out that no one is willing to monitor boundary violations, where it is communicated to wicked people that “subtle cues of misconduct will be overlooked, ignored, or tolerated “ (Van Dam), that kind of church gives the evildoer a perfect arena to practice his wickedness.
What does this tell us? It tells us we’ve got to be on the stick! We’d better take it seriously when Christ says beware of men. When Peter says: Beware! Watch out! The devil is like a lion on the prowl looking for whom he can devour! — we’ve got to take it seriously.
Here is another piece of wisdom about this from one of our readers at A Cry for Justice. The particular evil she experienced was the domestic abuser, but what she says can be applied directly to any of these evildoers we are speaking of –
I think people who have not been in abusive situations don’t really have a clue how desperate and dangerous it is. Abuse is not what the abuser does, it is who he is. It is foolish to think that ‘being nice’ to the abuser will create a safe and loving home environment. To try that approach is just to delay facing up to the reality of the situation. Get out while you can, while you still have life, and claim the hope and future that are God’ s plan for you,
How Niceness Almost Destroyed the World
Listen to Winston Churchill writing about how the denial of the reality of evil almost destroyed the British nation, evil that was forming right smack in front of the eyes of the British people —
[The English people’s] sincere love of peace actually played a part in leading to an infinitely more terrible war. Mussolini’s bluff [to invade part of Africa prior to the outbreak of WW2] succeeded, and an important spectator, Hitler, drew far-reaching conclusions from the fact. Hitler had long resolved on war for German aggrandizement. He now formed a view of Great Britain’s degeneracy, which was only to be changed too late for peace and too late for him. In Japan also there were pensive spectators.
Britain’s “niceness” to fascists like Mussolini, Britain’s refusal to act, her desire for peace, was watched by evildoers like Hitler and Japan. And they each separately decided, “Hey; these guys are wimps! We’re going to take over the world!”
As the general election moved forward… this thinking was greatly to the advantage of Mr. Baldwin [the British Prime Minister] and his supporters. ‘The League of Nations would remain as heretofore the keystone of British foreign policy’: so ran the government’ s election manifest. ‘The prevention of war and the establishment of peace in the world must always be the most vital interest of the British people….’.”
As Britain played “nice” with Mussolini, Adolph Hitler and the powers in Japan were watching. And what did they conclude from this “niceness”? That Britain was weak, unwilling to stand up to them, and therefore conquerable. And they were almost right. This “niceness” almost destroyed Britain. And it almost destroyed the principles of democracy and freedom.
By and large, the local church is being taught today that the prevention of war and conflict, and the establishment of peace in the world, must always be the most vital interest of the Christian. The keystone of Christian policy. And this teaching is destroying lives! It’s destroying people: the victims of these wicked ones who creep in.
Does the Bible liken the Christian to a soldier? to a warrior? Yes — because we’re in a battle!
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor 10:5 NIV)
Turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of his body, so that his spirit may be saved on the Day of the Lord. … Stop associating with any so-called brother if he is sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunk, or a robber. You must even stop eating with someone like that. After all, is it my business to judge outsiders? You are to judge those who are in the community, aren’t you? God will judge outsiders. “Expel that wicked man.” (1 Cor 5:5, 11-13 ISV)
Even a couple of years before Hitler invaded Poland, he could have been stopped without the loss of a single life. He wasn’t supposed to be re-arming Germany; the peace treaty at the end of WW1 forbade it. But the people of Britain thought “we’re going to be nice.”
And people who profess to be Christians embrace this idea, that we are going to be nice to the wicked. Make no mistake: when we play “nice” with the wicked, with the abuser who has crept in among us in the church, with the divisive, power-hungry person who would pervert the gospel and bring us into all kinds of bondage, not only will that wicked man see us as weak, so will others. Other evildoers will then become emboldened to come among us and carry out their evil as well.
Evil begets evil. Evil acts like a magnet to attract more evil.
This is why many churches are so widely infected with it. A lot of so-called church growth is merely the growth that happens because more evil people are attracted to the church which has already given privileged place to evildoers. Christ warned us –
“How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:11-12)
We must beware — be aware. That necessarily requires we know what the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is, what their false teaching is. A person who is just going to be “nice” where their “niceness” defines their Christianity, he or she can’t be a person who is being aware. Because that person will necessarily accept whatever people in the church tell them: the mantra of “niceness’ means they can’t think evil of anyone, especially of people in the church.
We have tended to think that the leaven is legalism; or rank liberalism. But it’s not that easy. The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is the misuse and distortion of scripture — and it can be extremely subtle. Largely, it is the leaven of evil. And it’s motivated by prideful self-conceit, disguised under the cover of humble-brag. And it craves power. We must know what evil is, what it teaches, how it hides as a hypocrite behind a most convincing disguise of “godliness.”
Wicked ones are watching. These people who have an appearance of godliness, but they are evil people parading as Christians, looking for a field of operations, looking for the naive and foolish churches who will not set boundaries, who will enable the evildoers to access their goals. And if you or your church makes nice with evil, you can be sure that an invasion is coming, if it has not already come and eaten out your church already like termites eat out the structural timbers of a building while never revealing their termite channels on the outside veneer of the framing where the light would shine on them. When a church has a theology of niceness, no one is going to avoid them! So many churches have a sign outside, “Everyone Welcome” … Is the devil welcome in church? Some people would say Yes.
What is “Nice” and What does it Look Like?
Nice. Think about that word. We use it all the time. “Hey, that’s a nice fish you caught.” “This party is really nice.” “She is a very nice person.” “Have a nice day!” “It was nice talking to you.” “She plans to start running more when the weather gets nicer.” “Now Timmy, be nice.” We train our children to be nice, to smooth things over. I made this mistake some with my kids too. How many times have we as parents told our children “Be nice” when they really had a legitimate protest?
Here is a dictionary definition of “nice” —
- giving pleasure or joy
- good and enjoyable, attractive or of good quality, kind, polite, and friendly
Now, do you begin to see the foolishness of all this? If evil people like our company, we need to take a hard look at whether we are really of Christ at all! When we are facing evil, when a wicked one comes our way, our response must NOT be “nice.” We are not to give evildoers pleasure or joy. We are not to see evil as “nice”. We are not to be kind, polite and friendly to evil. And yet I would suggest to you that largely this is exactly what Christians are taught they must do; and if they do not, if they respond to evil with UN-friendliness or any kind of “UN-kindness,” they are roundly and quickly condemned for being “UN-Christian.”
Evil should not have pleasure or joy in our presence. Evil must not be treated as if it were good or enjoyable to us.
Evil must know that we are NOT friendly to it. Evil must know that in fact we are its enemy.
This is shown to be true in many many Scriptures. Here are some scriptures which show Jesus and his apostles being not at all “nice” to evildoers –
Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. [It’s not nice of Jesus to say You can’t bear to hear the truth!] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45)
But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, [Paul, a Christian, is not at all ‘nice’ in calling this man a son of the devil] you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. (Act 13:8-11)
Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (2Tim 4:14)
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Gal 2:11-13)
Paul would have been hammered today. People would have said to him, “That wasn’t nice, Paul. You should have been nicer to Peter. You should have talked to him privately.”
holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1Ti 1:19-20)
If Paul had been in the Nice Church today, he would have been accused of gossip and slander. And if Paul had been Paula, oh double woe to her, let her slink out with her shame plastered all over her. Sin of all sin: Paul named names! He named people who are alive and members of the church! And what’s more, he handed them over to Satan! He judged them! He declared them unbelievers! Tut tut, Paul! Are you God? How can you know their hearts! How can you say that they are not going to heaven!
And we could go on and on and on. It is not difficult to find examples of God’ s servants like Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah not being nice. Much of their calling was to confront evil and they were viewed as anything but “nice” by those they rebuked.
But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” [He’s not nice; he says bad things about me!] And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” (1 Kings 22:7-8)
Think on this very carefully. How much of the Bible would have to be cut out if only “niceness” were allowed? Here’s a challenge to our readers. Go to a second hand shop and buy a Bible. Often you can get one for next to nothing. Take it home and read though it, crossing out every passage that does not evince “niceness”, every passage which condemns evildoers, every passage which exposes or teaches about the wicked tactics of evildoers, every passage in which the inspired writers of scripture rail against evil. And then report back to us: how much of your bible is not crossed out? And what proportion is crossed out, never to be thought about or heeded, because it is “not nice” ? We would be most interested in your results!
I remember some years ago when we had to deal with some wicked people. When we confronted them and put them out from among us, one of their parting phrases was “Now, please be nice when you tell the church about us.”
You see, evil plays on this “nice card.” It uses the lie that Christians are required by God to be “pleasant, enjoyable, agreeable” at all times to all people, even to evil ones. But this is an obvious and great lie.
“Niceness” shown toward evil is actually more accurately called “cowardice.” The Bible says that cowards will not be permitted in the kingdom of God.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8 ESV)
When it is not a prudent and carefully gauged response to the oppression of an abuser, “niceness” is incredibly selfish. The selfish aspect of the “niceness” philosophy comes from how it desires to be popular with everyone, even with the enemy. The lie, the false idea, the whole keystone of this “niceness” philosophy is that if we are sufficiently “nice” to everyone there will be no trouble, no suffering. And the victim of abuse has this lie thrust down her (or his) throat… and often she or he buys it, because it seems so “nice.”
Evil loves to parade as the nicest person in the entire church. It accuses those who speak truth of being unkind, unmerciful, and harsh. An it does this in order to deceive, to draw people away from Christ and cause them to follow evil instead.
Don’t fall for this trap. Stop being nice and sending out the message that evil will find a welcome home in your life or in your family or in your church. Be strong. Be courageous, and the Lord will be with you.
We will close with an excerpt from a card sent to Christ Reformation Church, Tillamook, Oregon:
I was married for thirty years to a highly abusive man. And I found no help in the church. In the early years I met with three different pastors, shared some of the agony, and all three of them told me to go home and God would honor my sacrifice. Oh the damage from such soul-shattering counsel! It took twenty-five years before the light dawned (that’s a long story in itself). And then I knew that I had been believing lies. I knew the truth and could not continue. It is still a daunting and difficult path. Untangling the evil is part of this journey.
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Audio and PDF versions of this sermon here.