Manifesting Christian Manners
“In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves. . . , by long-suffering, by kindness, by holy spirit, by love free from hypocrisy.”—2 Cor. 6:3-6.
1, 2. What complaints have been voiced as to modern manners?
CHRISTIAN manners are rare, even in Christendom. On every hand there is thoughtlessness and lack of consideration for others. People are in such a hurry they seldom think of saying “Please” or “Thank you.” In fact, people are so unaccustomed to hearing such expressions that it caused a traffic jam on an eastern United States toll road when the attendants began using them!
2 In January of this year the New York Times Magazine told of the “Tragi-Comedy of No Manners” in New York’s subways during rush hours. A little more than a year before, it painted a dreary picture of New York as the “Metropolis of Bad Manners.” Not that only New York has bad manners. This article went on to show that in leading cities throughout the world manners are constantly worsening.
3. Why may it be said that this deterioration of manners was foretold?
3 The Word of God foretold this worsening of manners in that it prophesied that ‘in the last days men will be lovers of themselves, self-assuming, haughty, with no loving-kindness, having no natural affection, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, and having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.’ Certainly all such traits make for bad manners. Christians must therefore be on their guard lest they imitate the bad manners of those all about them.—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
DEFINED AND ILLUSTRATED
4, 5. What are manners, and why are they important?
4 What are manners? They are defined as habitual conduct, behavior, deportment, and refer to our manner of dealing with others. Synonyms for (good) manners are politeness, courtesy, thoughtfulness, considerateness, kindness and tact. Good manners may be termed “benevolence in trifles.” They consist of little sacrifices we make for the sake of others. Good manners make for smooth relations between persons, help to avoid misunderstandings and build up good will. Their basic underlying principle is love, consideration for others. Their purpose is to make others feel at ease, to be helpful and to avoid giving needless offense.
5 A Christian knows that the important things are knowledge of God’s Word, God’s holy spirit and engaging in pure worship. Compared to such basic and vital things, good manners may seem insignificant. However, they are important; for all the good a Christian may try to accomplish, he may undo by poor manners.
6. To what may good manners be likened?
6 Good manners therefore may well be likened to certain trace elements, such as cobalt, molybdenum, boron and the like, which play such a vital role in the health of plants, animals and man. They resemble the small amounts of flavoring extract and salt that a housewife uses in baking a cake and without which the cake could not possibly be a success. Good manners may also be compared to the oil and grease that keep machinery lubricated and running smoothly, and to the air in the tires and the cushions on the seats of our automobiles that help make travel a pleasure instead of a hardship. Many persons who are very careful about their appearance neglect their manners; yet their manners are more important than their appearance.
7, 8. (a) What can be said about the manners of some? (b) When do Christians need good manners, and why?
7 True, many who are not Christians stress good manners. But more often than not these care little about sincerity or the motive. For them manners are merely a veneer, put on because it pays. Christian manners, however, are good manners based on love of God, love of righteousness and love of one’s neighbor. Such Christian manners will keep one from being “found fault with,” for they are wholly based on “love free from hypocrisy.”—2 Cor. 6:6.
8 When do Christians need good manners? Only on special occasions, when they are concerned with making a good impression, when they are trying to influence others? Not at all! Rather, the principle applies: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” So they want to manifest good manners at all times: in the home, when traveling, at work, in the Christian congregation as well as in the Christian ministry.—1 Cor. 10:31.
IN THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
9. Christian manners dictate what as to one’s appearance?
9 At all times Christians should “behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ.” What does this require of one when going from house to house, making calls? When one knocks at a door he wants to become a guest of that house as it were. Christian manners require that he appear presentable—to the extent that his circumstances permit—neat, clean, shoes shined, hair combed, suit pressed. While women are less likely to err in this regard than are men, they must be on guard against going to the other extreme. Overdressing calls undue attention to one’s self, which likewise would not be Christian manners.—Phil. 1:27.
10, 11. What kind of greeting is effective, and to avoid offending needlessly requires what?
10 A sincere and friendly smile and greeting are also a part of Christian manners. Abraham “bowed down to the natives, to the sons of Heth.” That was good manners in his day. When Jesus sent out the seventy evangelists he told them to greet each household with “May this house have peace.” Friendly introductions are important, or Jesus would not have mentioned them in his instructions.—Gen. 23:7, 12; Luke 10:5.
11 Christian manners require one also to be careful about what he says. Not to needlessly offend and so close the ears of the listeners to the good news of God’s kingdom the Christian must be alert and observant. If he notices a Jewish mezuzah on the doorpost he will proceed differently than if he sees a crucifix hanging from the neck of the householder. At the same time he should not “talk up” to the “cultured” householder nor “talk down” to the lowly one.—1 Cor. 9:20, 21.
12. What should be the manner of one’s speaking?
12 Consideration for his listener also requires that the Christian exercise care as to his manner of speaking. If he fails to speak clearly and distinctly there is something wrong with his Christian manners, even as there is if he should speak too dogmatically or in a harsh and overbearing manner. Christians must remember that First Peter 3:15 tells them, not only to be ready to give to everyone that demands of them a reason for their hope, but that they should do so with “a mild temper and deep respect.” That is the very best kind of manners! Not to be overlooked is the need of drawing the householder into the conversation. Should he appear diffident, Christian manners will dictate trying to get him to express himself by friendly and tactful questions.
13, 14. How will Christian manners prompt one to act, and in what situations?
13 What about Christian manners when preaching the good news on busy street corners? They require one to be tactful, friendly, not shouting, not overly insistent, not interfering with the flow of passers-by. And when making return visits on persons interested in the Bible, Christian manners indicate that one deport himself as a guest, showing appreciation for the hospitality extended by maintaining a proper reserve. One must be on guard lest he take too much for granted, becoming unduly familiar.
14 When refreshments are offered—perhaps under a mistaken sense of duty—what is to be done? If kept up, this hospitality could easily become a burden to the host. So rather than thoughtlessly or eagerly accepting it, one should manifest a reluctance so that the one offering the hospitality has the opportunity to show that he really wants to extend it and that it is not merely a matter of form. Jesus set the pattern. After comforting the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, he made as if he would go farther. “They used pressure upon him” before he consented to stay and share their evening meal with them, even though he preferred staying so that he might reveal himself to them.—Luke 24:28-32.
AT THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION
15, 16. What are Christian manners at a congregation meeting place?
15 What about Christian manners at the congregation’s place of worship? Coming late shows bad manners, for it disturbs both the speaker and his listeners. Mothers with small children show consideration for others by taking seats in the rear and near the aisles so as to disturb as few as possible should it be necessary for them to get up and leave during the meeting. Ushers, of course, need to co-operate.
16 Christian manners rule out one’s dozing, whispering or reading other material while a minister is trying to hold the attention of his audience, as well as turning around every time a latecomer enters. Likewise ruled out are eating candy and distracting chewing of gum. There is a time for every purpose under the sun, and surely when a minister is addressing the congregation is the time to be giving him 100-percent attention out of respect for him and his message.—Eccl. 3:1; 1 Cor. 11:22.
17. Toward whom should be shown special consideration, and in what ways?
17 Welcoming a stranger that may happen to enter is also a part of Christian manners. He should be greeted as a guest and made to feel that he is among friends. Give him every assistance so that he can fully benefit from the program. Nor should the aged and infirm be overlooked. The principle still applies: “You must have consideration for the person of an old man.” So also does the rule to treat rich and poor alike.—Lev. 19:32; Jas. 2:1-9.
18. How may some in effect be saying that Jehovah’s table is something to be despised?
18 In fact, wherever Christians assemble for worship, be it in a private home for a neighborhood Bible study or at a gigantic stadium for an international Bible convention, Christian manners call for respectful attention and consideration for others. To grow careless and excuse oneself because of the large numbers is tantamount to saying: “The table of Jehovah . . . is something to be despised.”—Mal. 1:12.
AT HOME AND ELSEWHERE
19-21. Christian manners require what of the members of a family?
19 What about Christian manners in our own homes? Fallen human nature is wont to feel that just because we live close together as members of a family and see so much of one another every day, Christian manners can be ignored. Not so! Rather, especially toward those with whom we live and who have to put up with our imperfections we owe it to show kindness, thoughtfulness and consideration. In even such little ways as keeping the tone of our voices kind and warm we can give and receive much happiness.
20 The married apostle Peter counsels husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel.” Certainly that includes Christian manners. On the other hand, the apostle Paul counsels wives to be submissive and to show “deep respect.” For a wife to disagree with or criticize her husband in public is evincing a serious lack of Christian manners.—1 Pet. 3:7; Eph. 5:33.
21 And what about when gathered for a meal? We may not be schooled in all the fine points of etiquette, but we can show consideration. And do we thoughtlessly use the phonograph, radio or television set when another needs quiet to study or to sleep? The same principles, of course, apply to all our relations with others, whether at work, when traveling or in recreation.
22, 23. What is required of young folk in the way of Christian manners, and why do they in particular have to watch their manners?
22 And you young people, what about your Christian manners? Do they show that you know your place and that you appreciate that you come to the congregation meeting place to listen and to learn? Bad manners show a lack of respect for Jehovah God, for his Word, for his congregation and for your elders, including your parents. Some of you have the bad habit of repeatedly running out to the rest rooms during meetings. You, no doubt, acquired this habit from the juvenile delinquents with whom you are obliged to rub elbows in the public schools and who use it as a means to give expression to their frustration and rebellion. Beware of imitating them! You know they will perish at Armageddon, while you hope to survive it and live through it into the new world, do you not?—1 Cor. 15:33.
23 Christian manners are also expected of you at home. Do you always listen with respect when your parents speak to you? You should. Do you at all times address your parents in a mild manner and with proper respect, and in the way they want you to, appreciating their God-given position as well as all they have done and are doing for you? You young folk, because of the notoriously bad examples all around you, have particular need to watch your manners!—Eph. 6:1-3.
KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM NEEDED
24, 25. (a) In what way does knowledge aid in displaying Christian manners? (b) How does wisdom aid?
24 What is needed to have good Christian manners? We must apply in our daily lives the four cardinal attributes of wisdom, power, justice and love. Note first the importance of wisdom, of which knowledge is an integral part. Manners vary greatly in different parts of the earth, and so if one comes to be in strange surroundings he must acquire knowledge of the customs of the people and observe them—provided they do not violate any Christian principles. As the apostle Paul expressed it: “I have become all things to people of all kinds, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.”—1 Cor. 9:22, 23.
25 “The tongue of the wise ones is a healing,” says God’s Word. That means we must know what to say and do, and when and how. “The heart of the wise one causes his mouth to show insight, and to his lips it adds persuasiveness.” Especially when engaging in the Christian ministry does a man have “rejoicing in the answer of his mouth,” if he uses wisdom. Yes, “a word at its right time is O how good!” “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” “The congregator” not only “sought . . . the writing of correct words of truth,” but also “sought to find the delightful words.” Heeding the apostle’s admonition as to “handling the word of the truth aright” would therefore include tact as well as accurate knowledge.—Prov. 12:18; 16:23; 15:23; 25:11; Eccl. 12:10; 2 Tim. 2:15; Prov. 15:2.
POWER AS EVINCED IN SELF-CONTROL
26-28. (a) How is the attribute of power as evinced by self-control involved in Christian manners? (b) What is the result to others?
26 Christian manners also require one to make good use of the attribute of power, power as manifested in self-control. “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city.” Fallen human nature is prone to be impatient with the failings of others, thereby betraying a lack of self-control. Impatience causes us to raise our voice and to change its tone, making others feel ill at ease, all of which is bad manners. Or one’s facial expression may betray that he is annoyed. At such times it is well to call to mind that “better is one who is patient than one who is haughty in spirit. Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” By exercising self-control, by ignoring the annoyance and keeping pleasant, we will be showing good Christian manners. Then “in no way [shall we be] giving any cause for stumbling,” but “by longsuffering, by kindness, by holy spirit, . . . by God’s power” we will ‘in every way recommend ourselves’ as Christians.—Prov. 16:32; Eccl. 7:8, 9; 2 Cor. 6:3-7.
27 It also takes the power of self-control to heed the instructions to ‘keep yourself restrained under evil, as with mildness you try to instruct those not favorably disposed.’ It is not easy to manifest mildness when dealing with unreasonable persons, but it is very much worth the effort, for it keeps true Christianity from being found fault with. “An answer, when mild, turns away rage,” and so does a tactful answer, as illustrated by Gideon’s reply to the grumbling Ephraimites and recorded at Judges 8:1-3.—2 Tim. 2:24, 25; Prov. 15:1.
28 Christian manners get results: “By patience [length (slowness) as to anger] a commander is induced, and a mild tongue itself can break a bone.” In fact, the less self-control others exercise, the poorer their manners are, the more imperative it is for a Christian to manifest good manners by exercising self-control. Even as “the patience of our Lord [is] salvation,” so for the Christian to show patience to others may result in their salvation.”—Prov. 25:15; 2 Pet. 3:15.
JUSTICE AND LOVE
29. Why does a keen sense of justice aid in displaying Christian manners?
29 A keen sense of justice is also a requisite for Christian manners. How so? Did not Jesus say: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them”? Surely! So, looking at it solely from the standpoint of what is right and just, manifesting Christian manners is merely conducting oneself toward others as one would have them conduct themselves toward him under similar circumstances. No one wants a caller at his door to be thoughtless, rude, unduly insistent or careless in the treatment of his property, does he? The fact that one means well and acts from pure motives does not justify forgetting about Christian manners.—Luke 6:31.
30, 31. (a) But, above all, what quality is needed for Christian manners, and why? (b) What example did Paul set in this regard?
30 But, above all, Christian manners require application of the quality of love. Love makes for thoughtfulness, for consideration, for warmth, friendliness, pleasantness, all of which are the warp and woof of Christian manners. In particular does love help one to avoid the pitfall of thoughtlessness, for it will cause one to think of others and to appreciate their viewpoint and interests. Christians not only want to keep their hearts pure and serve God unselfishly, but also want to give expression to that pure motive in the most effective manner possible, with love. Love helps to avoid both extremes as to manners: hypocritical flattery, and tactlessness or thoughtlessness. It will keep one from speaking smooth things, from compromising, and it will keep one from wanting to “tell fire to come down from heaven and annihilate” one’s opposers.—Isa. 30:10; Luke 9:54.
31 The apostle Paul set a fine example for us in avoiding these two extremes, as can be seen from his letter to the Thessalonian Christians: “At no time have we turned up either with flattering speech, (just as you know) or with a false front for covetousness.” That is what manners in the business world often amount to: just so much flattering speech and conduct because of covetousness, greed. “To the contrary,” continues Paul, “we became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” He not only meant well, but showed loving, gentle consideration for them.—1 Thess. 2:5, 7.
32. Why may love be said to be the sine qua non of Christian manners?
32 Since those who engage in the Christian ministry do so because of love, they must let love give them eyes and ears to note what is the best thing to do and to say under given circumstances. Love will make them concerned with doing the most good and causing the least possible hurt and will therefore make them careful. While love “rejoices with the truth,” at times it may even indicate an ambiguous, evasive or cryptic reply rather than a tactless blurting out of the blunt truth. Love may well be said to be the sine qua non, the indispensable factor, in Christian manners: “Love is long-suffering and obliging. Love . . . does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. . . . It bears all things, . . . endures all things.”—1 Cor. 13:4-7.
33. What testimony have those on the outside given as to the Christian manners of the New World society?
33 No question about it, Christian manners are important. Their value is driven home to all by the reputation they have gained for the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses. Typical thereof is the lengthy report a certain United States senator had read into the United States Congressional Record. The gist of it was that the manners of Jehovah’s witnesses are “out of this world.” And a certain New York Herald-Tribune reporter wrote: “They are clean looking, have good manners and show respect for people of all ages. They are sociable in such a nice way that it makes you feel ashamed of the ill-mannered natives of this dirty and cold city of ours.”
34. In conclusion, what may be said about the value of Christian manners?
34 Small and insignificant though Christian manners may seem to be, they are vital: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.” By means of them Christians will not only “have a favorable testimony from people on the outside,” but enjoy good relations both in the family circle and in the Christian congregation, to their mutual upbuilding and to Jehovah God’s glory!—2 Cor. 6:3-7; 1 Tim. 3:7.