4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7 NIV)
Perhaps you’ve noticed that good manners have become an endangered species, although they have yet to gain “protected” status. Almost everyone still enjoys being on the receiving end of polite treatment, but few seem to care to cultivate the behavior in themselves-and good manners have to be cultivated, they seldom grow naturally. Clearly there is a lot to be said in favor of practicing good manners, much to be gained by simple politeness, but it takes some real effort and motivation to incorporate good manners in our normal behavior. For Christians that motivation is simply expressed when Paul says that “love is not rude” (or “ill-mannered” or “unseemly,” 1 Cor. 13:5).
Though it can be shown that good manners are of value to everyone and good for all of society, people cannot generally be expected to behave well for a vague or intangible reason. The easiest and perhaps most natural response to bad behavior is bad behavior. Even if we know that bad manners contribute to societal decay and an overall atmosphere of violence and intolerance few people think about such concepts in a moment of anger, frustration, or impatience. Many of the ways that we interact with strangers today seem to be almost designed to promote the attitudes that provoke bad manners (freeway driving, shopping lines, drive through service, telephone sales, etc.) In fact, in keeping with the general decline in the practice of good manners, there are multitudes of training programs today that actually encourage bad manners as a device for personal success under the banner of “assertiveness.”
Some seem to think that the solution to the problems associated with bad manners in general is to be found in fear (“an armed society is a polite society”) or else in regimentation and mandated conformity (dress codes, regulations). These are unlikely solutions though. They do not address the basic problem of (not) respecting and caring for other people. While either fear or rules can provoke an attitude, neither can provide effective motivation for a sustained good attitude. The attitude that produces good manners is a product of training and motivation. People will not behave well unless they 1) want to behave well and 2) know how to. “Love is not rude.” People (you and I) have to learn-again-to value people. Christian leaders are directed to teach people “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:2 NRSV). The gospel of God’s love supplies the motive to want to behave well and the church is to be a training ground for good manners, teaching believers how to behave well. The Christian way of life is directly based on values that demand good manners, respectful and polite treatment of other people-thoughtfulness, even toward anonymous strangers. Wherever society’s manners may go, the Christian mandate is to behave well among the misbehaving. Good deeds truly begin with good manners. Jesus summarized the concept by saying, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” (Matthew 7:12)Share this article: