Cultivating Christian Manners in an Unmannerly World
“Look! How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”—PSALM 133:1.
1. What has happened to good manners?
“MANNERS have taken a beating these last 25 years,” says columnist Ann Landers. “It isn’t just that men aren’t opening car doors for women or offering them seats on subways or buses. It goes deeper than that.” Indeed, everywhere we look, we can see evidence that we are living in an increasingly unmannerly world. People barge ahead in lines, smoke in crowded elevators, play loud music in public places, and so on. Daily experience tells us that in spite of improved educational opportunities and standard of living, by and large ours is an age in which Thank You and Please have become foreign words, and common courtesy and civility have largely been forgotten.
2. Why is the lack of good manners today not surprising?
2 Is all of this surprising? Not really. It merely brings to mind what the apostle Paul was inspired to say about the behavior of the people in “the last days” when ‘critical times hard to deal with would be here.’ Among other things, Paul foretold that people would become “lovers of themselves, . . . self-assuming, haughty, . . . unthankful, . . . having no natural affection, . . . without self-control.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) Even a casual observation will reveal that such behavior is prevalent today among people of every age, class, and nationality. Why is this so? What are the causes contributing to the general lack of good manners?
Causes of Ill Manners
3. How does “the air” of this system promote bad manners?
3 The expression “lovers of themselves” well describes the “me generation,” which refers to those who have been brought up with the emphasis on assertiveness, individualism, and self-expression. This spirit, which permeates “the air” around us, is in direct opposition to the Bible’s counsel that Christians be “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just [their] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Ephesians 2:2, 3; Philippians 2:4) The result? A generation raised with the idea of ‘do your own thing’ is surely not going to care much about how their behavior will affect others.
4. How are those viewed today who flout accepted standards, and what should be a Christian’s view of the matter?
4 One thing that formerly played a major role in maintaining a degree of civility among people was peer pressure. Concern for what others may think has long been a restraining force. Today, however, the more shocking and outrageous a course of action is, the more popular it will likely become with many people. Those who ignore the accepted standards are no longer viewed as ill-mannered or boorish but as chic or sophisticated, much to be admired. Remember, though, that “sophisticated” means “not in a natural, pure, or original state.” It comes from the same Greek root as the term rendered “artfully contrived” at 2 Peter 1:16. Surely, true Christians will do well to shun such an attitude.
5. What is another factor contributing to the demise of good manners?
5 “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad,” says Ecclesiastes 8:11. Herein lies another factor contributing to the dearth of public manners. Because people find it so easy to get away with things, they grow callous about infractions of the accepted standards of behavior. “Citizens who would be thoroughly shocked to be identified publicly as part of the criminal element have nonetheless been breezily breaking all sorts of laws in public—traffic laws, drug laws, littering laws,” says a New York Times editorial. As a result, “rowdiness, vandalism and graffiti-scrawling” have all become an inescapable part of our daily experience. Thus, civility, along with respect for other people’s rights, property, and privacy, suffers further setbacks.
6. How are people’s manners affected by their busy lives, and how was Jesus different in this respect?
6 Since good manners are generally regarded as among the finer touches in life, they are easily forgotten when people are in a hurry—and most people seem to be in a hurry much of the time nowadays. As a result, they pass one another without a word or a change in expression. They shove and push in queues, or they cut impatiently in and out of traffic lanes just to save a few minutes or seconds. Often, individuals become so preoccupied with their personal affairs, or their schedules are filled with so many things to do, that any unexpected event or visitor becomes an annoyance or intrusion. Reflect on how different this is from the way Jesus responded to the people who came to him even at inconvenient times.—Mark 7:24-30; Luke 9:10, 11; 18:15, 16; John 4:5-26.
7. What must true Christians be on guard against with respect to manners?
7 Even though we live in a fast-paced world, and demands on our time and energy are ever mounting, allowing such pressures to cause us to act rudely certainly will not make things any better. On the contrary, such a course leads to so much of the senseless violence we hear about—arguments, fights, feuds, even murders—resulting from people’s returning rudeness for rudeness. All of this is part of the spirit of the world of which true Christians must be no part.—John 17:14; James 3:14-16.
Superior Models of Good Manners
8. Though surrounded by unmannerly people, what are Christians encouraged to do?
8 Surrounded as we are by people who show little regard for others, it is easy to give in to the pressures and let good manners escape us. However, remembering the Bible’s admonition to “quit being fashioned after this system of things,” we can look to the many outstanding examples in the Bible and endeavor to uphold the high standards of Christian manners in today’s unmannerly world. (Romans 12:2, 21; Matthew 5:16) Our actions should show that we wholeheartedly agree with the psalmist who declared: “Look! How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”—Psalm 133:1.
9. What do the Scriptures reveal about Jehovah’s way of dealing with people?
9 The foremost example in showing fine manners is the Creator and Father of all, Jehovah God himself. It is common for those who are in high positions or who wield power over others to ‘throw their weight around’ and demand that their wishes be honored. Yet, the highest Personage in the universe, Jehovah God, is always mannerly when dealing with those below him. When granting his friend Abraham a blessing, he said: “Raise your eyes, please, and look from the place where you are.” And again: “Look up, please, to the heavens and count the stars.” (Genesis 13:14; 15:5) When giving Moses a sign of His power, God said: “Stick your hand, please, into the upper fold of your garment.” (Exodus 4:6) Many years later, Jehovah, through his prophet Micah, said even to his wayward people: “Hear, please, you heads of Jacob and you commanders of the house of Israel. . . . Hear, please, this, you head ones.” (Micah 3:1, 9) In this respect, have we “become imitators of God” in saying “Please” when dealing with others?—Ephesians 5:1.
10, 11. (a) What can be said about Jesus’ ways and manners? (b) How can we imitate Jesus in being well-mannered toward all people?
10 Jesus Christ, the one “who is in the bosom position with the Father,” is another outstanding example worthy of imitation. (John 1:18) In dealing with people, he was tender and compassionate on the one hand, forceful and firm on the other; yet he was never rude or unkind to anyone. Commenting on “his extraordinary gift of being at ease with all sorts of persons,” the book The Man From Nazareth says: “Alike in public and in private he associated with men and women on equal terms. He was at home with little children in their innocence and strangely enough at home too with conscience-stricken grafters like Zacchaeus. Respectable home-keeping women, such as Mary and Martha, could talk with him with natural frankness, but courtesans also sought him out as though assured that he would understand and befriend them . . . His strange unawareness of boundaries that hemmed ordinary people in is one of his most characteristic qualities.”
11 Treating everyone with due respect and consideration is the sign of a truly well-mannered person, and we would do well to imitate Jesus Christ in this. Yes, most people manage to be respectful to certain ones, particularly those in higher positions than they are. But to those whom they consider below or even on the same level with them, they often are aloof, distant, and rude. Somehow that seems to give them a feeling of superiority and power. But well has it been said that “rudeness is a weak man’s imitation of strength.” Thus, the Bible urges: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) If we do our best to follow that advice, we will not be far from being well-mannered toward all people, as Jesus was.
12. What is the essence of Jesus’ teaching on human relations?
12 This positive, outward-reaching quality is exemplified also in Jesus’ teachings, particularly in what is called the Golden Rule: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) Interestingly, in the Analects, one of the Four Books of Confucius—long considered the acme of moral behavior in the Orient—the master was asked by one of his disciples if there was one single word that could serve as a principle of conduct for life. “Perhaps the word ‘reciprocity’ (shu) will do,” replied the teacher, and then he added: “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.” In contrast, we can easily see the superiority of Jesus’ teaching. For warm, pleasant, and amicable relations can result only when one takes the initiative to ‘do unto others’ what is good.
Christian Manners Based on Christian Love
13, 14. (a) What has recently been observed about public manners? (b) What motivates the current interest in manners and etiquette?
13 Because of the prevalence of bad manners, there is some talk today about returning to proper behavior. “We had a revolt against manners in the ’60s,” says Marjabelle Stewart, a popular writer and teacher on the subject, “but a new revolution is reinstating them. People are acknowledging their importance and want to know what the social standards are.” This renewed interest in manners is reflected in the proliferation of books, manuals, advice columns, and TV talk shows on everything from which fork to use at a formal dinner to how to address someone in today’s complex and rapidly changing social and family relationships.
14 Why, though, are some people becoming more conscious of manners? “In today’s competitive society,” explains Stewart, “manners are a matter of survival.” In other words, good manners are being viewed as a means to help one to get along and to get ahead. So people read books and attend classes on etiquette to learn how to dress for success, how to make a good impression, how to be accepted in the board room, and so on.* A problem with all of this is that manners have become a matter of expedience, like a mask one puts on during a performance and takes off when it is over. It is not surprising, therefore, that time and again we hear about the most shocking white-collar crimes committed by people of the finest ‘breeding’ and ‘class.’
15, 16. (a) What does one authority on manners say about “the finest rules for behavior”? (b) How does 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 relate to true Christian manners?
15 That is a far cry from what good manners should be. Amy Vanderbilt, a respected authority on the subject, writes in her New Complete Book of Etiquette: “The finest rules for behavior are to be found in Chapter 13 of First Corinthians, the beautiful dissertation on charity by St. Paul. These rules have nothing to do with the fine points of dress nor with those of superficial manners. They have to do with feelings and attitudes, kindliness, and consideration of others.”
16 What Amy Vanderbilt referred to, of course, is the passage at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where Paul describes in detail the various aspects of Christian love. Consider the results of a few points that he made. For example, one who is “long-suffering and kind” will surely be patient and respectful in dealing with others. “Does not behave indecently” is another way of saying ‘behaves decently,’ and “decency” is defined as “conformity to standards of taste, propriety, or quality.” Thus, as J. B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English renders this phrase, “Love has good manners.” It is hard to imagine anyone manifesting such love being considered ill-mannered.
17. Of what are our manners an indication?
17 Clearly, then, Christian manners are directly related to Christian love. They are not just a means to an end or something to be put on when it is to one’s advantage to do so. Rather, our manners—the way we deal with others, our bearing, deportment, and habitual conduct—are an indication of how much we care about other people and of the depth of our love for them. Young or old, we should endeavor to heed the Bible’s counsel: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) Thus, as an aspect of Christian love, Christian manners are an identifying mark of Jesus Christ’s true disciples.—John 13:35.
Well-Mannered at All Times
18. What should we be determined to do in spite of what we see around us?
18 Regarding our generation, Jesus foretold that “because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.” (Matthew 24:12) This cooling off of love is clearly reflected in the uncaring and self-centered attitude on the part of so many people today. Rather than being induced to react in the same uncaring manner, however, we need to keep in mind Paul’s counsel: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:17, 18) It should be our resolve to be well-mannered at all times, whether our efforts are appreciated or not.—Matthew 5:43-47.
19. How do our manners affect all aspects of life?
19 Yes, Christian manners are the natural outward expression of the love and concern for others that we have in our heart. Just as our speech reveals what we are inside, so our manners show how much we care for others or if we are uncaring. (Matthew 12:34, 35) As such, manners should play an important role in all aspects of our life. They should be a way of life. How should they be applied more fully? How can wholesome Christian manners be more fully developed? We will consider this in the next article.
The word “etiquette” comes from a French root meaning ticket or label. The book Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories, by Wilfred Funk, explains: “The first rules of etiquette were tacked up in conspicuous places in the army posts. The list gave the rules of the day . . . Perhaps we could say that etiquette is a ‘ticket’ to polite society.”
Can You Explain?
□ Why is it not surprising that good manners are waning?
□ What are some causes of bad manners?
□ How are Christian manners different from the manners and etiquette of the world?
□ Why should we endeavor to be well-mannered at all times?