Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. (Acts 14:12–20)

Beginning in the early seventies, Chrysler began advertising that the leather upholstery in some of their luxury vehicles was made of Corinthian leather. In the commercials, actor Ricardo Montablán, lending a bit of his natural gravitas, often described it as “fine,” “soft,” or “rich” Corinthian leather. What most people didn’t know at the time was that Corinthian leather didn’t come from Corinth, Greece; it was manufactured in Newark, New Jersey. Even more striking, there was nothing that differentiated Corinthian leather in Chrysler’s luxury cars from the leather in the rest of their automobiles; it was the exact same leather used in both, but one got the veneer of luxury, all thanks to an advertising agency that thought this would help Chrysler sell more cars.

Sometimes niceness is a lot like Corinthian leather. The words “nice” and “kind” are not equal, despite how we often use them as such. There is a weight to kindness that is not found in niceness. Kindness is embedded in our hearts and souls, while niceness is a skin-thin veneer. Kindness is built on actions, but niceness is often empty words. Being kind means genuinely caring about others; being nice often means only being concerned with perception. Those who are kind continue to be so even when it is hard, but those who stick to only being nice tend to lose their niceness in the face of confrontation. We can try to pass niceness off as something more, something better, something greater than simply “being nice,” but rather than actually being kindness, it’s just Corinthian niceness.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey writes about the difference between what he calls character-based ethics and personality ethics. The former is all about who you are as a person, but the latter is only concerned with who people perceive you to be. Kindness, being rooted in who we are as people of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, is character-based, but niceness is only a personality ethic.

As is the case with all spiritual fruit, God is the epitome of kindness. He cares for us beyond our perceptions of him; whether we worship him, ignore him, or blaspheme his name, he shows kindness to us by giving us rain from heaven and crops in their seasons, by providing us with plenty of food and filling our hearts with joy. It was the kindness of the Holy Spirit that served as the driving force behind Paul and Barnabas’s actions in Lystra, leading to them being perceived as Greek gods. The culmination of this was Paul being stoned and dragged outside the city and left for dead. That he got up and walked back into the city does not negate the pain he went through for the sake of being kind by healing a lame man and telling the people about the God who cared for them.

Are your actions driven by the Holy Spirit at work inside you, leading you to be a person full of kindness? Or is it the perception of you by other people that is the stronger motivator of how you will act toward them? Are you kind, or simply nice?