Displaying Good Manners as Ministers of God
“Become imitators of God.”—EPH. 5:1.
1, 2. (a) Why are good manners important? (b) What will be discussed in this article?
CONCERNING respectful conduct, author Sue Fox writes: “There’s no such thing as a vacation from good manners. Politeness works everywhere, all the time.” When people make a habit of being courteous, problems with others are minimized and often disappear. But the opposite is also true. Treating others in an ill-mannered fashion leads to conflict, resentment, and sadness.
2 Good manners generally flourish in the true Christian congregation. Still, we must guard against adopting the bad manners that are common in the world today. Let us see how applying Bible principles in the matter of courtesy can protect us in this regard and draw people to true worship. To understand what displaying good manners entails, consider the examples of Jehovah God and his Son.
Jehovah and His Son—Examples of Good Manners
3. What example of courtesy has Jehovah God set?
3 Jehovah God sets the perfect example of courtesy. Despite his high position as Sovereign of the universe, he treats humans with great kindness and respect. In addressing both Abraham and Moses, Jehovah used a Hebrew term often translated “please.” (Gen. 13:14; Ex. 4:6) When his servants commit errors, Jehovah is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and trueness.” (Ps. 86:15) He is far different from some humans who explode with fury when others do not meet their expectations.
4. How can we imitate Jehovah when others speak to us?
4 God’s good manners are also evident in the way he listens to humans. When Abraham raised questions regarding the people of Sodom, Jehovah patiently answered each one. (Gen. 18:23-32) He did not view Abraham’s concern as a drain on His time. Jehovah listens to the prayers of his servants and to the cries of repentant sinners. (Read Psalm 51:11, 17.) Should we not imitate Jehovah by listening when others speak to us?
5. How can imitating Jesus’ courtesy improve our relationships with others?
5 Among the many things that Jesus Christ learned from his Father was courtesy. Although his ministry at times placed great demands on his time and energy, Jesus was always patient and kind. Lepers, blind people reduced to begging, and others in need found Jesus ready and willing to help them. He did not ignore them, although they came to him without an appointment. He often stopped what he was doing in order to help a distraught individual. Jesus was extraordinarily considerate toward those who put their faith in him. (Mark 5:30-34; Luke 18:35-41) As Christians, we follow Jesus’ example by being kind and helpful. Such conduct does not go unnoticed by our relatives, neighbors, and others. Moreover, such conduct glorifies Jehovah and brings us happiness.
6. What example of warmth and friendliness did Jesus set?
6 Jesus also showed people respect by using their names. Did the Jewish religious leaders dignify others in that way? No. They viewed those who did not know the Law as “accursed people” and treated them as such. (John 7:49) It was not so with the Son of God. Martha, Mary, Zacchaeus, and many others heard him call them by their name. (Luke 10:41, 42; 19:5) While cultural norms and circumstances may dictate how we address people today, Jehovah’s servants cultivate warmth toward others.* They do not allow class distinctions to curtail the respect their fellow believers and others deserve.—Read James 2:1-4.
7. How do Bible principles help us in showing courtesy to fellow humans everywhere?
7 The gracious way that God and his Son treat people of all nations and ethnic groups dignifies such individuals and attracts those rightly disposed to the truth. Of course, what constitutes good manners varies from place to place. Hence, we do not follow rigid protocol in regard to manners. Rather, we allow Bible principles to give us flexibility in dignifying fellow humans everywhere. Let us examine how treating people with courtesy can lead to our being more productive in the Christian ministry.
Greeting People and Talking to Them
8, 9. (a) What habit might be interpreted as bad manners? (b) Why should we allow Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 5:47 to affect the way we treat people?
8 In the fast-paced life that is common in many places today, two people often pass each other without saying “hello” or “how are you?” Of course, no one is expected to speak to everyone passing by on a crowded sidewalk. In many other situations, however, it is appropriate and desirable to greet others. Is it your custom to greet people? Or do you often walk by without a smile or a pleasant word? With no bad intention, a person could develop a habit that is in reality ill-mannered.
9 Jesus gave us a reminder when he said: “If you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing?” (Matt. 5:47) In this regard, consultant Donald Weiss wrote: “People resent it when others look through or past them. There’s really no excuse you can make that will appease those who have been ignored. The remedy is simple: Greet people. Talk to them.” If we do not let aloofness or coldness on our part chill our contact with others, we will have good results.
10. How can good manners help us to have a productive ministry? (See the box “Start With a Warm Smile.”)
10 Consider the case of a Christian couple named Tom and Carol, who live in a large North American city. They have made pleasant conversation with their neighbors a part of their ministry. How do they do it? Referring to James 3:18, Tom says: “We try to be friendly and peaceable with people. We approach those we see outside their homes and those who work in the area. We smile and greet them. We talk about what interests them—their children, their dogs, their homes, their jobs. In time, they view us as their friends.” Carol adds: “On a later visit, we give them our names and ask for theirs. We let them know what we are doing in the neighborhood but keep the conversations brief. Eventually, we can give them a witness.” Tom and Carol have won the confidence of many of their neighbors. A good number have accepted Bible-based publications, and a few have shown greater interest in learning the truth.
Showing Courtesy in Difficult Circumstances
11, 12. Why should we expect mistreatment while preaching the good news, and how should we react to it?
11 At times, we face impolite treatment as we preach the good news. We expect this, for Christ Jesus forewarned his disciples: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) But responding in kind to disparaging comments does not produce good results. How should we react? The apostle Peter wrote: “Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:15) Our displaying courtesy—responding mildly and respectfully—may soften the attitude of those who insult us.—Titus 2:7, 8.
12 Can we prepare to face negative comments in a way that meets with God’s approval? Yes. Paul recommended: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Col. 4:6) If we make it a habit to be courteous to family members, fellow students, coworkers, members of the congregation, and people in the neighborhood, we are better prepared to face mockery and insults in a way worthy of a Christian.—Read Romans 12:17-21.
13. Give an example of how showing courtesy may soften the attitude of opposers.
13 Displaying good manners in difficult situations brings good results. In Japan, for example, a certain Witness faced ridicule from both a householder and his guest. With a courteous attitude, the brother left the door. As he continued preaching in the territory, he noticed that the guest was watching him from a short distance away. When the brother approached him, the man said: “I’m sorry about what happened. Even though we said unkind things to you, I noticed that you kept smiling. What do I have to do to be like that?” Because that man had lost his job and his mother had just died, he lacked all hope of being happy. The Witness offered him a Bible study, which the man accepted. Soon he was studying twice a week.
The Best Way to Develop Polite Behavior
14, 15. How did servants of Jehovah in Bible times train their children?
14 Godly parents in Bible times made sure that their children learned basic points of courtesy in the home. Consider the polite way in which Abraham and his son Isaac addressed each other at Genesis 22:7. The good training from his parents was evident also in the case of Joseph. When imprisoned, he was courteous even to his fellow prisoners. (Gen. 40:8, 14) His words to Pharaoh show that he had learned the proper way to address a person of high office.—Gen. 41:16, 33, 34.
15 The Ten Commandments given to the sons of Israel included this command: “Honor your father and your mother in order that your days may prove long upon the ground that Jehovah your God is giving you.” (Ex. 20:12) One way for children to honor their parents was by having good manners at home. Jephthah’s daughter showed outstanding respect for her father by complying with his vow in a very trialsome situation.—Judg. 11:35-40.
16-18. (a) What can be done to teach children good manners? (b) What are some benefits of teaching children good manners?
16 The value of training our children to be well-mannered cannot be overestimated. To get along well as adults, young ones need to learn the proper way to greet visitors, to answer the telephone, and to eat a meal with others. They should be helped to understand why they ought to hold doors for people, show kindness to the elderly and sick, and offer to help those carrying heavy packages. They need to understand the importance of sincerely saying “please,” “thank you,” “you are welcome,” “may I help you?,” and “I am sorry.”
17 Training children to be courteous need not be hard. The best way is by setting a good example. Twenty-five-year-old Kurt says this about how he and his three brothers learned to be polite: “We watched and listened as Mom and Dad spoke kindly to each other and treated other people with patience and consideration. At the Kingdom Hall, Dad would take me with him before and after the meetings to speak to the older brothers and sisters. I heard his greetings and saw the respect he had for them.” Kurt goes on to say: “In time, his manners became mine. Treating people with courtesy becomes automatic. It is not the way you have to act, but the way you want to act.”
18 What is likely to happen if parents teach their children good manners? The children will be able to make friends and will maintain peace with others. They will be well-equipped to work with employers and coworkers. Moreover, children who are courteous, mannerly, and upright will bring their parents joy and satisfaction.—Read Proverbs 23:24, 25.
Good Manners Make a Difference
19, 20. Why should we be determined to imitate our gracious God and his Son?
19 “Become imitators of God, as beloved children,” wrote Paul. (Eph. 5:1) Imitating Jehovah God and his Son involves applying Bible principles, such as those considered in this article. By doing so, we will avoid the hypocrisy of showing courtesy just to curry favor with a superior or to get a material advantage.—Jude 16.
20 In the last days of his evil rule, Satan is bent on wiping out the standards of respectful conduct that Jehovah has established. But the Devil will fail to eradicate the good manners of true Christians. May each of us be determined to follow the examples of our gracious God and his Son. Then our speech and conduct will always be in contrast with the actions of those who choose to be ill-mannered. We will bring praise to the name of our well-mannered God, Jehovah, and will attract sincere people to his true worship.
In some cultures, it is considered poor manners to address a person older than oneself by his first name unless invited to do so by the older one. Christians do well to respect such customs.
Do You Recall?
• What do we learn from Jehovah and his Son about displaying good manners?
• Why does greeting people warmly reflect well on us as Christians?
• How does being courteous contribute to a productive ministry?
• What role do parents play in teaching their children good manners?
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Start With a Warm Smile
Many people hesitate to start a conversation with someone they do not know. Because of love for God and for their neighbor, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses make an earnest effort to learn how to converse in order to share Bible truths with others. What can help you to improve in this area?
A valuable principle is stated at Philippians 2:4, which reads: “[Keep] an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” Think about these words in this way: If you have never met a certain person before, he views you as a stranger. How can you put him at ease? A warm smile and a friendly greeting may help. Yet, there is more to consider.
By attempting to start a conversation with someone, you may have interrupted his thoughts. If you try to get him to discuss what is on your mind without concern for what is on his, he may not respond favorably. Therefore, if you can possibly discern what the person may have been thinking about, why not use that to start a conversation with him? That is what Jesus did when he met a woman at a well in Samaria. (John 4:7-26) Her mind was on getting water. Jesus initiated his conversation with her on that basis, and he soon turned it into a lively spiritual discussion.
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Being friendly to people can lead to giving a good witness
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Good manners are always appropriate