Surely none of us can doubt that we live in a discourteous age. But why has this come about? Today everybody has rights, but few seem to think about fulfilling responsibilities. Accordingly, we live in a very selfish society with little thought for respecting and honouring others. Hence there is an absence of good manners in dealing with one another. In fact, the anti-social behaviour and “yob” culture which causes such significant problems is simply bad manners demonstrated in a big way.
The concept of rights makes everyone feel very self-important. It leads to pride. “I deserve to have so many things and therefore I must be someone special” is how people reason things out. This kind of self-importance is at the root of all sin. It is “me”, not God, who is the king of the universe and therefore I do what I want to do. With this mindset there is no tendency to say “please”, “thank you” or “sorry”. Why say please when I have a right to have it?! Why say thank you when I deserved it anyway?! Why say sorry when it was your fault for getting in my way?! With this kind of thinking it is not surprising that, in the society around us, we find there to be such bad manners.
This lack of courtesy manifests in other directions as well. Inappropriate dress, refusal to follow instructions, failing to keep appointments, shunning people when it is personally advantageous to do so, barging in front of others, refusing to give up your seat to those in need. The list could go on. And why does all this happen? When self-importance pre-dominates “I” am the centre of reference for everything, then these things emerge. So we do not think in a situation about whether we have unnecessarily hurt someone. Rather we think about ourselves. If someone got hurt in me getting what I want then so be it; I am not bothered. This is all very reminiscent of the society in the time of the Judges when Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (Judges 21:25).
There is an even sadder thing, though, and that is that among Christians good manners are so often absent. This should surely not be. The reason why it should be so very different with ourselves is that we have a completely different centre of reference. We are not taken up with ourselves, but with God. This tendency to put God first and give Him priority in everything is at the heart of our Christian experience. The pattern of prayer taught by our LORD Jesus gives this emphasis when it commences with bringing us to look towards God. ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9b-10). We start (and continue) the Christian life through repenting and believing the gospel. In doing this the Christian is acknowledging how great God is and how poor he/she is. This attitude is at the heart of all genuine repentance. We only really confess and turn from our sin when we appreciate how great God is.
The consequences of all this, in respect of our manners, are substantial. The Christian realises he deserves only eternal punishment and yet he has received eternal blessing through Jesus Christ. This is grace! Knowing how much God has done for us then, how can a Christian be anything but courteous to others. So “please” and “thank you” are a natural part of our vocabulary. We are also always ready to say “sorry” to anyone who has been unnecessarily hurt by our behaviour. All this is because, as people blessed by God, we are no longer obsessed with our rights, but with blessing others. Good manners should ooze from our beings as naturally as breathing. Christianity is an others first religion. Let us ponder these words: Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves (Rom. 12:10).
The total inappropriateness of bad manners among Christians is seen in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Eph. 5:3-4). The opening statements here seem to embrace all that bad manners could involve. Whereas good manners revolve around thankfulness
Every kindness that the Christian receives should then lead to thankfulness. In fact we should be seeking opportunities to be thankful. Has someone shown you hospitality? Then why not send a thank you note. Has someone blessed you through their prayers? Then thank them. Has a workman been efficient and helpful in doing something for you? Then thank him. In all this we are remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “ (Acts 20:35).
The same inclination should be found when we need to request something from someone. In such instances we should always be ready to say “please”. And when we offend someone, and there is need of repentance, we are ever ready to say sorry and seek to bind up the wounds of the offense.
In the light of all this why is it that Christians are so bad-mannered. Surely it is that we have so little appreciation of how gracious God has been to us. The more we appreciate how poor we are and how kind God has been then the more good manners will be seen in our lives. It is only the proud and those pre-occupied with themselves who refuse to exercise the common courtesies of life.
To conclude then let us heed the words of Paul who said: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves (Phil. 2:3). And when we remember that surely we will be well-mannered.
(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter from November 2009)